GTD, OmniFocus, and Pomodoros Part II: How the Pomodoro Works


The Technique’s Centerpiece

pomodoroThere is a pdf available on the Pomodoro Technique page that is well worth your time.

In short, the pomodoro technique involves setting a timer for a certain period of time (suggested 25 minutes) and dedicating oneself to a task or project for that time. This is then followed by a short rest period (suggested 5 minutes). Every 4 pomodoros, one takes a longer break of about 20 minutes. The timing is, of course, adaptable, but this is a good place to start.

The concept it focuses on coincides well with that of GTD’s: Respect the limits of your attention.

How It Works

The seeming simplicity may, at first, be off-putting. However, that simplicity, is what carries much of its potential. There is more to it than just setting a timer. Cirillo describes methods of working with it towards general productivity and has clearly evolved the technique and its use over time.

There are several ways that setting a timer around a task carries significant strengths:

  • First, it formalizes intention. The power of intention, I.e. simply saying that you are going to do something, is highly underrated. This is not about telling others your goal, rather, this is about telling yourself a single, bite-size goal.
  • Second, turning on a timer, reminds yourself that your task will end. Knowing that something has an end point can introduce a vitality to the task. You know that all your other tasks and worries can wait for you as your present task does indeed have an end point.
  • Third, the clock, either ticking away with a sound, or visually off to the side, is a constant reminder of the intention set. When the mind wanders, as it often does, the sound or sight gently helps bring the attention back to the task.

Together, these aspects of the technique crystallize:

  • The task,
  • The time, and
  • The concentration spent during that time.

There is nothing magical about that tomato.  Anything that does these three things can be equally as effective.  My brother has been doing something similar with music for years.  He would listen to an album while working.  During this time, he would focus entirely on the task.  Once the album finishes, he takes a break. Personally, I can’t do this as I get lost in the music.

Also, a set time like 25 minutes, offers an advantage in that one can actively carve units of time to dedicate towards tasks and projects. Though this is, in one sense, no different than simply scheduling with a clock, it does carry a subtly different weight of intention and concentration.

A Caveat

A very important point was brought up by Keith in the comments of the first post.  There is a time and place for a pomodoro.  The very different nature of how work and leisure are separated there and are not separated in GTD is part of a number areas where there is a potential for conflict.  Also, the very nature of a break in work can threaten to interrupt flow.  This aspect will also influence how one decides whether or not it can be useful.  I hope to address some of these in the next posts as we begin to get into the interactions between GTD and Pomodoros.

Finally, here are a couple of programs I’ve found useful:

  • Timer – Pomodoro Timer (freeware): can also use a kitchen timer
  • Isolator (freeware): bonus tool for concentration on a particular task.


  1. I’ve been using the Pomodoro technique for a month or so and have found it to be dynamite when used in conjunction with GTD.

    Initially I decided to ignore breaks if I was “in the flow”, however I’ve since learned there is great value in always taking breaks (at least when coding):

    – it restores perspective; it’s easy to get bogged down in something that in the bigger picture of things, isn’t that important. Or there’s another equally valid approach which could be taken. Coming back fresh after a break restores perspective.

    – it provides a break for your hands and eyes, not just your mind. Anyone making heavy use of a computer keyboard and screen is at risk of RSI and eye-strain. Taking a 5 minute break every 25 mins is an important precautionary step.

    – it promotes a rhythm of working and also makes you more aware of the passing of time. If time is running away with you on a relatively unimportant task, you notice if you always stop of 25 mins.

    • The perspective you note is spot on. I hadn’t quite thought of it, but you’re right: You can decide on the path you’re on and more actively decide if it’s still a good one.

      The nature of the break itself then becomes important in that one doesn’t run off to do something else, rather more actively lets the mind rest.

  2. This makes evitnrheyg so completely painless.


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