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The Pomodoro Technique: A GTD Alternative?

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The Pomodoro Technique logoNot a fan of Getting Things Done (GTD)? It might be hard to imagine for some, but it’s not everyone’s favorite productivity methodology. “The Pomodoro Technique” by Francesco Cirillo is another option might be a better fit for your needs. This technique works well for folks who feel anxiety when thinking about the “ticking clock” and deadlines.

The Solution to Anxiety-ridden “Becoming”

The Pomodoro Technique aims to erase the uneasiness that come with “Becoming.” The “Becoming”concept is a tough one to explain. Yet, when you put it to practice, it instantly makes sense. At first, I couldn’t make heads or tails of it, but when I tried out the process, it clicked it. (More on that in a moment.)

So here’s the official definition of “Becoming” from Cirillo: “An abstract, dimensional aspect of time, which gives rise to the habit of measuring time (seconds, minutes, hours); the idea of representing time on an axis, as we would spatial dimensions; the concept of the duration of an event (the distance between two points on the temporal axis); the idea of being late (once again the distance between two points on the temporal axis).”

In general, the Pomodoro Technique shifts time away from the stressful “Becoming” to an approach that takes the pain out of working with it. The Pomodoro web site offers a free download of the book that explains all of this in detail. If it sounds complex, don’t worry — it’s actually quite simple when you start using it. The technique uses minimal tools and just five steps to help the mind focus better and get things done.

How to Use the Pomodoro Technique

Many of us probably fall into the trap that we find ourselves distracted by other things while working on a task that lasts longer than 30 minutes. The Pomodoro will slash these interruptions.

Want to give it a shot? Grab a kitchen timer, pencil, eraser and a sheet of paper before you get started. Apply the Pomodoro Technique by following these five steps:

  1. Pick the task.
  2. Set the timer to 25 minutes.
  3. Do the task until the timer dings.
  4. Take a short break.
  5. Take a longer break for every four completed Pomodoros.

You won’t need to buy a timer if you use the free Focus Booster app, which applies the Pomodoro Technique with its built-in timers. You can try either the Adobe Air desktop or the web-based version.

Focus Booster App

My First Attempt

Intrigued? I was. I tried to write this article in several 25 minute sessions. I kept checking email during the first session. That’s one big bad habit I have there.  But my next session was much more successful: I worked on the article for the entire 25 minutes sessions after that without stopping — not even to read email.

Furthermore, I exercised for 25 minutes straight without letting myself stop for a minute to check my text messages or email. This approach does feel less stressful and offers a great option if I find myself in a rut. I can see how the Pomodoro provides a dollop of hope for those struggling with focus and time management.

Visit the Pomodoro web site for more info on the technique.

Have you tried the Pomodoro Technique? Does it work for you?

29 Responses to “The Pomodoro Technique: A GTD Alternative?”

  1. I use both GTD & Pomodoro Technique to get my work done. GTD takes care of what I need to do, and Pomodoro Technique helps me get it done!

    They fit perfectly together, and part of the review of a GTD system can be to look at the pomodoro’s it is taking you to complete tasks, then try and workout how to improve the timing/quality of your work.

    I turned a 4 day, 32 hour project into a series of 25 min sessions with 5 min breaks and long breaks every 2 hours. Completely works for me!!!!!

  2. The problem I have with any of these programs is this, I don’t have a problem figuring out which task is most important or completing any task on time. I do have common sense and I know what needs to be done now and get it done, I think most people do. I also think sooner or later I’ll be ‘forced’ along with my co-workers, to attend one of these programs.

  3. So, basically the “technique” is, knock of the phony “multitasking” and do one thing at a time.

    I’m not knocking it, actually. But it seems sad that we’ve let ourselves get so distracted to begin with.

    • Yes, it is, to an extent. It’s a good way to force concentration, because if you know that you only have to concentrate on a task for set period of time (rather than “I must concentrate on this till I finish it”) you’re much more likely to be able to make it through without reaching for a distraction (that’s my experience, at least)

      • Simon gave the best explanation. When you have an open-ended amount of time to work on something, you don’t focus as well as you would with a set time. If 25 mins is too long — start with 15 and work your way up. No reason why you can’t do that.

  4. I find that this enhances my GTD techniques. GTD helps me keep organized and prioritized. The Pomodoro keeps me focused on task for a responsible time and fair breaks.

    I rather due focused work for 50 minutes an hour with two 5 minute breaks than spend 15 minutes an hour working with 45 minutes of trying to figure out what to do first/next.

    If anything, these two techniques compliment each other.

  5. Seems to me GTD is “what to do” and Pomodoro is “how to do it” — Pomodoro as an “alternative” to GTD is a bit of apples & oranges comparison. Once you’ve got a list of what to work on (GTD), then, work it efficiently (Pomodoro).

    Thanks for your post.

  6. Ferdinand

    I just discovered the Pomodoro technique two weeks ago. It already helped me tremendously. Sometimes I feel really stressed and overwhelmed by multiple tasks. This simple technique gives me ease of mind and makes me more productive.

  7. This system sounds great, thanks for the heads up! I’ve been looking for something to help structure my day and the 25-minute increments with breaks seems perfect. Thanks for saving me from another “lost day.”

  8. Stan.Dev

    The Pomodoro method does not represent an alternative to GTD, since it focuses only on one aspect of the method, namely “Doing.”

    Pomodoro is a way of executing on a task you have already identified. It is not unlike a similar method propounded by Merlin Mann at 43 Folders (, which describes another form of “procrastination-buster” one can use to get moving on a project or task.

    GTD, on the other hand, is a complete system for handling all the incoming information in one’s life. You capture, process, organize, review and do. Pomodoro could be an excellent method for working in the last phase of GTD, but it does not in any way represent a true alternative to David Allen’s method.

  9. I’ve been using this technique with a kitchen timer for the past 5 years and it’s a literal godsend.

    As a peak performance coach with professional athletes, I could go on and on about how your brain chemistry loves this approach… but it would just bore you :)

    So instead… trust me when I say – you’ll start to actually feel different biologically when you implement it.

    You’ll experience the ‘flow’ state or ‘zone’ daily.

    Thanks for the great app… now I can stop using my iphone timer!

  10. I was just reading about this on a GTD Wave and it struck me as something interesting enough to look in to further. It’s nice to have this post to refer back to. I love that WWD always comes through for me.

    Now that you’re a couple days in – are you still using it?


  11. I started using the technique consistently 3 years ago and collected around 5000 pomodoros/year. It changed the way I work by improving focus ability, removing waste (unnecessary distractions) improving productivity and definitely removing anxiety even in case of tight deadlines. I’m also able to produce more reliable estimates. When I started, I was searching for a way to remove the bad feeling of those days where I couldn’t get anything done. Now I experience just a constant throughput without any frustrations. The Technique is really simple to adopt but a huge effort to get it done right: always expect this when the goal is to change yourself. GTD is a nice complement to the technique: while GTD focuses on organization and planning, the Pomodoro Technique focuses on execution. My suggestion to start: don’t let the software distracts you, pick the most simple timer and track pomodoros with paper and pencil. Good luck.

    • Reborg, thanks for sharing your experience. I agree — you can go deeper with the technique and find out how long it takes you to do different tasks, which will help us be better at quoting projects. But starting with the five steps will make it easier to dive into it and then add more later.

  12. This is a fantastic suggestion and really does work for a lot of people. This is the way a lot of authors get their books completed- by doing several sprints of focused time. I see this being helpful for completing those tasks that are especially easy to procrastinate on – just set the timer and dive in! Excellent suggestion here!!

  13. I really like this idea because it helps encourage the concept I support of turning your day into a series of “short sprints.” When you plan out your priorities and time bound them, your energy and focus dramatically improve. (An unplanned day with a ton of work is like a never ending marathon!)

    • OXM, 25 minutes does sound short — but in reality, it works because it’s neither too short or too long. Some people struggle to do something for even 10 minutes, so making it longer will faze them.

      You said you were going to try it. How did it go?

    • 1 Pomodoro is 25 minutes with a 5 minute break. The break is to allow you to mentally “regroup”. For longer tasks you string Pomodoros together. If it will take more than 5 Pomodoros then you need to break that task up.

      If it’s a small task then you can look over your activity list and combine like tasks to fit into 1 Pomodoro. Or you can just include that simple task with another task.