Does everyone around you swear by the Pomodoro technique but you just can’t make it work for you?
Well… the Pomodoro technique is just a tool, and just like any tool, it’s not universal. There are three major disadvantages that can make Pomodoros counterproductive in your situation.
Sometimes it takes you 20 minutes to focus
Many people need around 20 minutes to achieve maximum focus and productivity.
Given the fact that a typical Pomodoro lasts 25 minutes, you literally get 5 minutes of ultra-focused work until the timer rings and you have to take a break. The mindless timer becomes a tyrant that can mercilessly interrupt your flow at its whim.
Yes, you can still ignore the timer and work through your breaks because you don’t want to lose focus. But if you keep doing this… why are you using Pomodoro in the first place?
Keeping track of your Pomodoros is an extra distraction in itself
Ideally, you’re supposed to keep track of your Pomodoros on at least three paper-based worksheets (you can find the official printables here). You need an Activity Inventory (basically a list of ALL THE THINGS you have to do), a Daily To-Do List and, last but not least, the worksheet where you track your Pomodoros.
Does this sound like a lot of potentially distracting work?
If your answer is yes… don’t force yourself into doing it. You can still be productive without having to fill out a form every 25 minutes.
Personally, my Activity Inventory would never fit on a single page (I have around 40 projects to manage) and my daily to-do lists are conveniently generated by Nozbe, my productivity app of choice. If you’re like me, the use of paper-based tools is simply copying the same things from one place to another.
Pomodoro may tempt you to focus on shallow work
There are certain situations where the Pomodoro technique works really well: tidying up, sorting through piles of unread emails, studying for an exam when you aren’t interested in the subject matter, and other mildly boring activities that don’t require much creative thinking.
If you insist on using Pomodoros throughout your workday, you’ll probably be tempted to spend most of your time doing that kind of shallow work because it lets you tick off a lot of Pomodoros and feel satisfied afterwards – even though you should have spent that time on a deep work session instead.
Deep work doesn’t really agree with the Pomodoro technique so you might end up avoiding it altogether. It’s definitely better to avoid the tomato timer, at least when you’re planning to get into flow and create something awesome.
What to try instead
If you feel that the Pomodoro technique isn’t perfect for you, ditch the 25-minute timer and see if your productivity improves with longer work sessions.
I prefer working in 90-minute intervals with 30-minute breaks in between. This rhythm matches the brain’s natural cycles of focus and rest so you can do quite a lot of deep work without experiencing debilitating mental fatigue.
If 90 minutes of work sound like too much, you can also experiment with the 52:17 rule: 52 minutes of work followed by 17 minutes of rest. It sounds like a weird ratio, but I’ve seen good results with it and I can wholeheartedly recommend trying it out.
But what if you really hate timers? Try the Flowtime Technique. You simply work until you feel you need a break. Then you take your break and get back to work. This is a great way to explore your brain’s preferred patterns of work and rest.
In short: don’t force yourself to stick to a particular time management technique just because it involves cute timers and everyone seems to love it. Develop a toolbox of different productivity tools and use the ones that fit the work you’re doing.