Cycle Your Way into Productivity Improvement

Cycle Your Way into Productivity Improvement

One of my most useful productivity improvement strategies is the Pomodoro Technique. Francesco Cirillo, a student struggling with productivity, originated the technique after noticing how he kept being interrupted by distractions. In order to teach himself how to focus, he setup a series of work and relax cycles and thus, the Pomodoro Technique, named for the tomato-shape of his timer, was born.

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My variation of this productivity improvement technique

1. Decide how long you want your highly focused work period, or Pomodoro, to be. Francesco began with 10-minute intervals and as he learned to be more focused, he raised it to 25. My own Pomodoros are often a full hour, but half that is ideal for desk work because sitting for longer periods can cause back pain.

2. Choose the work you want to accomplish. It could be one long task, or it could be a series of shorter ones. If you opt for a series of tasks, it’s important to have them all lined up ahead of time so you can flow seamlessly from one to the next.

3. Decide the amount rest time you want. Five minutes is ideal. It gives you time to get up and do a few quick exercises, grab a glass of water, or check for critical emails.

4. After four Pomodoros or about two hours, take a 15-30 minute break. This is when you handle the interruptions you put off, go for a short walk, or eat lunch.

5. The most important element of this technique is to meticulously follow your timer.

6. Experiment with the time periods. Keep in mind that some days an hour may work well, but on others you may find it difficult to focus for longer than 15 minutes. Ideally, you’ll want to reach a standard length of time.


Keep in mind some important details about the pomodoro technique for maximum effectiveness and improving your productivity.

  • You cannot break up a Pomodoro. A 20-minute Pomodoro cannot be broken into two 10-minute sets.
  • Once you begin a Pomodoro, you must work until the timer rings.
  • If the timer rings when you’re in the middle of a thought or you have nearly completed your task, stop anyway. After the break, you’ll be able to return fresh to finish it up and review it.
  • If you really struggle with productivity and staying focused, it can be helpful to record your Pomodoros in a log. This helps you see how long you worked and on which task. Keeping a log can also help with time management. You get a better sense of how long certain tasks take and how much work you accomplish in a day.
  • During your short breaks, it’s important to do something completely different from your task to help clear your mind.
  • When unexpected tasks come up, such as calling someone, write them down and return to your work.
  • Protect your Pomodoros. Put your phone away, turn off notifications, tell people who interrupt you that you’ll get back to them later. Train the people around you to leave you alone during your focused work periods.


Productivity improvement takes effort. By following definite work and relax cycles, you give yourself a contained amount of time for intense focus and another for defined periods of rest. Without the first, it’s easy to fritter away your time. Without the second, you become increasingly less productive.

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