The Pomodoro Technique Doesn’t Always Work

Photo by Enikő Tóth from Pexels

Any productivity advice will include something like the Pomodoro technique. Most will mention it. I have tried different Pomodoro techniques to increase my productivity, and I have mixed feelings about it.

What is the Pomodoro Technique?

The Pomodoro technique is a method that recommends working in small time increments and taking short breaks between them. You repeat that three/four times and then take a longer break. Traditionally the Pomodoro technique requires you to work 25 minutes, take a  5 min break and then make your longer break 20 minutes. That is a 25/5/20 format,

You can adjust it in many ways that you see fit. You can decide to work for 50 minutes and take 10 minutes to break, for example, and make your longer break 30 minutes. The trick is to find something that works for you.

The Pomodoro technique is said to make work easier by allowing you to take a break just before you reach that level of resistance. Your break will allow you to come back refreshed. If you do it right, you will be able to this for hours, enabling you to be more productive.

That is very appealing. We want work to be easy or just the right amount of challenging, and we want to be more productive.

My Story With The Pomodoro Technique

I started off with the traditional way of using the Pomodoro technique.  And, from the get-go, I didn’t really see it staying with me. So I’m took another direction where I would work in 14 minutes increments, small break for 5 minutes and have 10 minute big breaks (14/5/10). That also didn’t work out so well. I tried the 40/10/20. That also didn’t work out, and then I tried about an hour and 15-minute breaks, with the long break being 30 minutes. Didn’t work.

I got to a point where whichever way I sliced it up, it just did not work for me because I couldn’t do it consistently enough, and the point of all of this was that I should be able to do this consistently and produce results predictably. That’s the most important thing.

It was also supposed to make my job easier, but it didn’t; I still felt like my brain was mush at the end of the day. The Pomodoro technique has its moments, but I don’t think the disadvantages are discussed enough.

So I thought I should share some of the disadvantages I found when I was using the technique.

Pomodoro Technique Disadvantages

Here is my small list.

It makes you focus on the endpoint instead of the process

Anything involving timers and alarms gives a sense of false urgency. Whenever I use the Pomodoro technique, I would always have to think about when the focus period would end.

You’re working focused on the endpoint instead of just being free to explore the task. Sometimes you look at the timer, and you think, “x minutes is left, I gotta do something to fill in that time with whatever activity that can pass as work,” which is basically cheating and takes your focus away from what you are supposed to be doing.

It turns the process into a chore

They say loving your work is a ticket to exploitation. But would you rather not love your work and be exploited, or love it and be exploited? I bet you would pick the latter. Things are simply better when we enjoy doing them. It makes us value them more.

The Pomodoro technique, by taking your focus away from the process, turns your tasks into a chore. Instead of doing a task and seeing what happens, you just want to do y in x minutes. That is a totally different mindset.

Interrupts flow

The Pomodoro technique interrupts flow because every time you take a break is an opportunity for you to lose your momentum and this has happened to me.

Sometimes I would be working on something, and I would be into it. Then the alarm would go off and  I would have to take a break. Man, that would be a bummer! You can say I didn’t have to, but the point was preserving mental energy so I could be productive overall.

I would just think, “I wanna keep working on this until I crash! I’m in the zone! The freaking zone!” This is what psychologists call the flow state.

That state of joyful work is so sweet and powerful that I recommend smashing your timer and burning all the energy you have to offer. Some people are going to say it’s dangerous; that I should take a break for my mental and physical wellbeing, and other stuff like that. And I agree.

The reason why I feel strongly about exploiting those moments of high engagement is because you will get a lot done, and your body will tell you when you need a break. Trust the body, it knows what it’s doing. As I write this, my body is telling me I am thirsty, that is an opportunity to get up and take a small break. I will walk to the kitchen, pour myself a glass, and come back to my desk. Next time I will be tired and I will open up a tab, watch Bloomberg or read news sites.

The flow state often comes to me when I stop thinking about time, benchmarks, deadlines and just sit down and focus on the process of doing the job and doing the job well. The first 5 minutes may suck, but something just clicks, and you couldn’t remove me from my laptop with a crowbar. And I love that!

Final Thoughts

In the end, no model or technique is inherently bad or faulty. I think the Pomodoro technique works for a lot of people. It has worked for me in circumstances where I was working on multiple projects and I needed to keep tabs on all of them or put in equal amounts of effort. But I tend to produce more when I’m highly focused on one task, and I just let myself get lost in it for as long as possible. That generally lasts for about three hours and then I deflate. That block does not occur in one go without any interruptions or short breaks where I have to drink water or something. In the end, I’m pretty much exhausted and down for the day, which is pretty disappointing because I would love to get more out of my time.

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