How to stop procrastinating using the Pomodoro technique

by | Nov 10, 2020

How to stop procrastinating? That was a question Francesco Cirillo asked himself.

In the late 1980s, in his first year of university, he was troubled by the lack of focus and motivation he was paying to his academic performance. He procrastinated…a lot

One day, he forced himself to focus intensely on his studies for 10 minutes. He used a kitchen timer shaped like a Pomodoro to assist him.

In that challenge, he found the process intriguing and decided to use it to improve his study process. Thus, the Pomodoro technique was created.

What is the Pomodoro technique?

The Pomodoro technique is a time-management technique devised to improve productivity by completing more in less time.

  1. It breaks down the completion of a task into small intervals of 25 minutes.

2. After 25 minutes, we take a break for 5 minutes in order to complete what Cirillo calls a “Pomodoro”.

3. At the end of our 4th Pomodoro, instead of taking a 5-minute break, we will take a longer 15-30 minute break.

In 2006, Cirillo went on to write a 130-page book about this technique which he offered online as a free download.

Over 2 million people downloaded it before he took it down in 2013. Since then, the Pomodoro technique has gone on to receive significantly more attention.

Let’s look at how we can use the Pomodoro technique, why it’s effective, and apps that can help us carry out the technique to end procrastination once and for all!

How to stop procrastinating using the pomodoro technique

Step 1: Planning

First, plan the tasks we wish to complete today.

We have done up a format (date, time, type, activity, Pomodoro needed and notes) below using Notion, a notebook app (you can read about our review of it here):

Step 2: Start the first Pomodoro

Set a timer to 25 minutes and start the first activity on your To Do Today sheet.

Once the 25 minutes is over, stop working and take a 3-5 minute break. During the break, keep away from engaging in any activities that require serious mental effort.

Once the break is over, mark a Pomodoro in the table that you’ve created, you can choose different units to represent a Pomodoro, we’ve decided to use tomato as shown:

Then set the timer to 25 minutes and begin the next Pomodoro.

Important rules to note:

  • The Pomodoro is an indivisible unit of time. If you’re interrupted or distracted by someone or something, the timer should be reset and a fresh new Pomodoro has to be started.
  • Once the 25 minutes are over, you shouldn’t continue even if you believe taking a few more minutes would complete the task. This is to ensure that your mind fully takes in information during the short break.

Step 3: Take a longer break

After every 4 Pomodoros, record it down in the table and take a 15-30 minutes break:

Again keep away from any task too complex. Once the break is over, begin a new Pomodoro.

If you finish a task while the timer is still ticking, instead of stopping the timer, use the excess time to focus on revising or checking what you’ve done.

This is the opportunity to make small improvements, modifications and reorganize the information in your head.

Step 4: Track progress

Once you’ve completed all your task, your table should look like this:

Tracking your progress has several purposes, it allows you to:

  • Understand your work process
    At each Pomodoro, you are able to view the stage of your task towards completion. Thus, you will know how long each stage would take. This is a great asset for time-management when you have to complete a routine task, you will be able to estimate how long each stage would take.
  • Improve efficiency 
    By understanding the work process, it allows you to understand, cut-out, and reorganize processes or activities in order to improve efficiency.
  • View efforts expended in terms of Pomodoros instead of time
    When you view your time in terms of a succession of events, it helps to reduce your anxiety. This will be further explained in the section below.

Why is the Pomodoro technique effective?

1. Reduces anxiety

We usually view time as becoming. Every second, minute, and hour that passes, we are becoming.

The idea of time passing regardless of what we do makes us anxious especially when we have a project deadline to meet. 

Let us know if a thought like this is familiar: “Three hours have passed and I’m still not done, I need a break so I’ll do it later”. Before we know it, we start procrastinating.

Yes, negative moods like anxiety can cause procrastination.

However, there is another perception of time through which the Pomodoro technique allows us to see.

Viewing time as a series of events like waking up, showering, having breakfast, heading to school. This perception doesn’t cause the anxiety that becoming does.

The Pomodoro technique uses Pomodoro units (the tomatoes used in the tables above) to reduce time-related stress.

By incorporating breaks into the routine, there will continue to be a sequential series of Pomodoro recorded at least until the task is completed or when you have to stop for something.

2. Raises concentration

Short breaks help to improve focus. And improved focus can reduce procrastination.

2011 study conducted by the University of Illinois found that diverting attention away briefly from a task significantly increases concentration.

The results of the study subscribe to the idea that the brain is programmed to respond to change.

A study break acts as a good refresher to the brain and in turn, helps to maintain concentration levels.

When our brain is constantly stimulated by something, we start to lose awareness of it.

In this case, prolonged attention to our studies reduces concentration and increases the likelihood of procrastinating.

3. Maintains decision-making capacities over prolonged periods of time

If you are occupied by tasks that require decision-making, the Pomodoro technique can help ensure that you have the capacity to make good decisions.

A study found that judges tended to give parole to prisoners either early in the morning or after breaks when they felt energized.

In contrast, after a sequence of cases without breaks, their mental capacities depleted and they became more likely to take the easier route — reject the prisoners’ requests.

The lesson here is simple: the more decisions you have to make, the more mental fatigue you’ll feel.

Make better decisions by taking breaks.

Pomodoro Apps to help you stop procrastinating

1.) Forest

Must have apps: Forest

Availability: iOS/Android
Pricing: Costs USD 1.99 on the App Store/Free on the Play store
Appstore reviews: 4.8/5

Forest works by setting a timer to focus on a task. Once a timer is set, it plants a seed that grows fully into a tree by the end of the timer’s duration. Leaving the app halfway will cause the tree to die.

The highlight of the app comes from its rewards. After you complete a set time, you get a few virtual coins. If you accumulate 2,500 virtual coins, you will able to spend them on a tree.

Forest donates real money to Trees for the Future, which uses that money to plant trees in Africa.

Unfortunately, due to budget constraints, each user is only entitled to 5 real trees per user. To date, they’ve planted over 912,000 trees.

If you are an environmentalist, this app is perfect. It’s a really great tool to stay focused and, as a bonus, do real good for the environment.

Availability: iOS/Android
Pricing: Free (offers in-app purchases)
Appstore reviews: 4.8/5

If you’re looking for an all-in-one super productive tool. Focus To-Do is the perfect app.

The app is specifically tailored to be a Pomodoro timer. You can customize the number of Pomodoro for a task, the length of breaks, and set white noises.

The app includes task-management features like schedule planning, task organizing and providing reminders. If that’s not enough, it also provides reports containing detailed statistics of the tasks completed.

The only downside is that to unlock most of these features, you will have to pay £2.99 to unlock the premium version.

That sucks, but the good news is that the Pomodoro timer function is still available in the non-premium version.

3.) Tide

Availability: iOS/Android
Pricing: Free (offers in-app purchases)
Appstore reviews: 4.8/5
Tide is an app that combines elements of nature, travel and minimalism to enhance physical and mental care.

It’s designed to help procrastinators focus, people with sleep problems sleep and those with anxiety and stress relax. It was featured on the App Store Best of 2017.

Tide has a minimal interface that’s easy to navigate. In its home page, you have a calm background picture and an inspiring quote.

You can choose whether to focus, sleep, nap or breathe. After picking one of these options, the sound of the background picture will begin to play.

For instance, if you selected a rain scene, the background picture will be that of rain and the sound when played will be rain itself.

Tide can also be used for meditation. They have plenty of tracks made specifically to guide you through a meditation practice.

When downloaded, there are only a certain set of free sounds to listen to. If you’re bored of those sounds, you can always search for more on Tide Plus.

Tide Plus is a membership subscription service that offers you plenty of sounds to suit your needs ranging from sounds of whales to sounds of the wilderness.

Tide Plus costs S$17.99 a month but offers a 7 day free trial for anyone who wants to try it out before making a decision.

With amazing features and aesthetics, it’s one of the best focus apps to use for students.

Final words: How to stop procrastinating?

There’s no clear winner between these 3 apps simply because they are made for people with different preferences. 

But they all help to improve focus and minimize procrastination.

Nonetheless, they all perform exceptionally well. The trick to this technique is to strictly adhere to its rules, and that requires self-discipline. If it’s time to take a break, take a break. The apps can only assist, but the rest is up to you.

For those who have given the Pomodoro technique a try, ask yourself whether it works for you and whether it’s something you can see yourself using for the long-term.

The key to being productive is not to use what you know, it’s knowing what to use.