One Year of Pomodoros

(Pomodoros have been talked about a bunch on LW. I, like elharo, first started using the technique after attending a CFAR workshop. Cross-posted from my blog.)

The pomodoro technique is, in short, starting a timer and doing 25 minutes of focused work on a single task without interruption, followed by a five minute break. Choose a new task, restart the timer, and repeat.

Throughout 2013 I used pomodoros to execute on pretty much all of my life projects, organized into the following categories:

  • work – at MIRI

  • bizdev – other income-generating projects

  • growth – personal development projects (e.g. reading books, taking notes, making Anki decks; monthly reviews)

  • misc – miscellaneous life maintenance projects (e.g. banking stuff, knocking off a bunch of small todo’s, house cleanup)

  • health – exercise projects (mostly climbing, some running, some misc other stuff)

The Result: 5,008 Pomodoros

The end result was 2,504 hours of recorded work—5,008 pomodoros in total:

Stacked Pomodoros by Week in 2013


A summary, by category (with hours in brackets):

  • work – 2,457 (1,228.5h) – 47.3 (23.7h) avg/​week

  • bizdev – 700 (350h) – 13.5 (6.7h) avg/​week

  • growth – 996 (498h) – 19.2 (9.6h) avg/​week

  • misc – 448 (224h) – 8.6 (4.3h) avg/​week

  • health – 407 (203.5h) – 7.8 (3.9h) avg/​week

Grand Total: 5,008 (2,504h) – 96.3 (48.2h) avg/​week

My version of the pomodoro technique

To be clear, I didn’t use the pomodoro technique 100% faithfully. Certain things here, such as most Health (exercise) stuff, I never actually ran a pomodoro timer. But since I had a system for tracking where and how I spent my time, and since “claiming” all that time helped motivate me e.g. to climb regularly, I included them.

Ways I deviate from the “true” pomodoro technique:

  • I don’t always take breaks. For example, if I do two pomodoros, get in the zone, and work for another two hours straight, I’d still record that as 6 pomodoros (3 hours) total.

  • I don’t always use a timer. Sometimes I just start working, remembering to take small intermittent breaks, and record the total time in pomodoros (4h of work = 8 pomodoros).

  • I don’t record interruptions. You’re supposed to track all internal and external interruptions, but I don’t bother with that. I merely try remain conscious of interruptions and eliminate/​avoid them as much as possible.

  • I don’t let interruptions cancel out pomodoros. Let’s say I work for fifteen minutes and someone comes in to chat about something important that’s been on their mind. I know that “a pomodoro is indivisible”, but screw it, I chat, and when the conversation ends I count a pomodoro after ten more minutes of work. Pomodoro blasphemy? Maybe.

  • I don’t always set targets. I don’t constantly set detailed pomodoro targets and track how many pomodoros were actually required. I only do this occasionally if I think my estimating ability is getting really off. I do set weekly pomodoro targets by category.

How did I track?

Near the end of 2012 I whipped up a simple web app that I use for tracking all of my pomodoros. Here’s a sample screenshot from a week from earlier this year:


Every pomodoro added is given a description, project, major area, and count. This way I can view all pomodoros by project, area, over a given date range, etc. (I’m pretty sure there are other apps out there that let you do basically the same thing, but I haven’t taken much time to explore them.)

Why I think it’s worked really well for me

Of all the productivity hacks I’ve tried over the last decade, the pomodoro technique was, for me, the hands-down most effective technique. My thoughts on why the pomodoro technique has worked so well for me:

  • It helps you start – start the timer and then just start working. You’ve already decided what to work on, so just start already.

  • It helps you focus on one thing at a time – work on only one thing and ignore everything else.

  • It helps you prioritize – look at your lists/​projects/​tasks/​whatever, pick the most important thing to work on, and then just start already.

  • It helps create success spirals – when you have 5 successful pomodoros under your belt, it’s motivation to keep going.

In summary, if you haven’t yet, I highly recommend giving the pomodoro technique a try.