Why I’m not yet sold on the Pomodoro Technique

As part of my research into Work Life Balance I have been reading John Sonmez’s book Soft Skills, which is an excellent book overall. John is a big fan of the Pomodoro Technique for maximizing productivity and does 50-55 pomodori per week.

While I can see that there are several advantages to using the technique, and many many people feel that it has worked well for them, there are several reasons why I am reluctant to adopt it:

1. I don’t believe 25 minute intervals are best for maximizing creativity. I don’t think creativity is something that you can force and you may just be starting to get into your flow when the 25 minutes is up.

2. I can usually focus quite well on a task for up to 2 hours. After a couple of hours I need a break. Breaking after only 25 minutes seems premature.

3. If I need a pee, I’d rather just go to the toilet now. Waiting for a kitchen timer for permission isn’t something I think adults should subject themselves to.

4. Interruptions happen for a reason. If I am 5 minutes into a pomodoro and another developer needs my help then there are often going to flounder for the next 20 minutes until I become available. I may have been more productive during my pomodoro, but this is outweighed by the lack of productivity of the other team member. As a scrum developer, my responsibility is not to maximize my productivity, it is to maximize the team’s productivity. I think this is the most important point of all. If a developer says “look at how much more productive I have been”, the answer may be “are you aware of the effect that your selfishness has had on other less experienced team members?”

5. Categorizing work into a simplistic binary system of productive and unproductive is dangerous – the work labelled as unproductive never gets done at all but some of that work is actually important. I know this isn’t what the Pomodoro technique advocates or is about, but I would not be surprised if people fell into this habit.

6. Overall, it appears to me to be a technique for micro-managing your time. While it is true that many, perhaps most people have problems with time management and this technique could certainly help with that, my view is all process is like a crutch: very useful if you need it, but an impediment if you don’t.

Now I am not experienced in the Pomodoro Technique so I could be wrong about these things. If you have had success using the pomodoro technique, I’d be very interested in hearing from you! Also, if you have tried it and found out that it didn’t work for you, I’d also like to hear from you.

Another interesting thing to note is 50 pomodori equates to less than 21 hours of work per week, but John is a workaholic and describes 50 pomodori per week as very hard work. The difference must be the additional effort that is required in order to perform focused work as opposed to regular unfocused work. I wonder what 50 pomodori translates to in terms of regular hours per week?

Update Jan 2017: I just read this article by John Sonmez which completely explains why the Pomodoro technique works so well for him. If this describes you too, then disregard everything I’ve written above and go for it.

4 thoughts on “Why I’m not yet sold on the Pomodoro Technique

  1. I’ve been using the pomodoro technique for a little over a month now and I really like it a lot. You do make very good points, but I’ve been able to work around most of them to make the technique work for me. I think the key is to be flexible with your needs.

    For example, 25 minutes could definitely be a time that doesn’t work for everyone. I’ve seen that a lot of people do 50 minute intervals instead. I really like the 25 minutes myself because the quick 5 minute breaks keep me from getting overwhelmed and are short enough to keep my focus. I can always pick up right where I left off. I used to work for several hours at a time. But after that time was up and I broke out of my focus I just felt completely exhausted and really struggled to get going again. However, if you don’t have that problem, then there is no reason to interrupt yourself every 25 minutes. Heck, if you are a machine and can go for 2 hours at a time, then why not? 🙂

    As far as interruptions go, they happen. I just had a co-worker stop by to chat. When that happens I generally just restart my timer and don’t hold the final count against myself at the end of the day.

    And yes, I do agree that it may be like a crutch for time management. But some people, including myself (depending on the project), need it and it is a useful way to stay on task.

    If you do ever try it, I’d be very interested to hear if your views change at all!

    • “Crutches” are almost always necessary. Ideally, I would never need to slow down my work with any TDD or any other testing of any sort ever. Unfortunately I am just like everybody else and make mistakes. So good testing is always a vital activity and it is almost always better to go steadily than try to be hyper productive because much as I hate to admit it, real world coding is too complex for perfection to ever be a realistic prospect. Doing 2 hours without any break is something I can do once or twice in a day, but it doesn’t seem to be possible to keep repeating it – by the end of the day I’m lucky if I’m half as productive as I was in the morning.

  2. I’ve been trying to practise the Pomodoro Technique for a long time but I feel that I can never get into the habit of actually time-boxing work for set Pomodoro’s. Often it never works out anyway because the work takes longer than required.

    Interestingly though I’ve increased my focus time, it doesn’t have to be 25 minutes with the Pomodor Technique you can increase it to up to 50 minutes with a 10 minute break if that works for me. Unfortunately I get into all sorts of problems with my health if I stay sedentary and don’t move around so I find getting up every 25-35 minutes to top up my glass of water works really well plus it keeps my hydrated. I’d actually argue that if you’re not consuming at least a glass of water every hour you aren’t drinking enough to keep you hydrated which is affecting your level of concentration.

    I think assigning a set number of Pomodoro’s works for tasks that you know are a set time but in general it doesn’t work for development. Instead I prefer just having a time to remind me to get up and using something like the Momentum Chrome plug-in with a TODO list to keep track of the most important thing and the stuff I have to do. Obviously you should use this in combination with your Calendar since we get interrupted by meetings etc.

    As a side note I’m still looking around for a suitable mechanism for converting my GTD technique into Kanban tasks so i can assign the appropriate Pomodoro’s (I’m using Omnifocus at present). Unfortunately I haven’t sorted that aspect yet.

    In answer to your last point to achieve ultimate pomodoro Zen I think John’s point is that with context switching / interruptions etc. it’s sometimes impossible to get more than 10-12 pomodoro’s done. Even then after completing that amount of 100% focused work you’re likely to be pretty fatigued.

    Thanks for a great article!

  3. For software development work you may want to extend your pomodoro to 50 minutes rather than using the default 25 minutes. I found it useful to get fresh ideas when the pomodoro time is up.

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