Customizing the Pomodoro Technique Time Blocks

Adjusting Pomodoro Technique Time Blocks

I’m a big fan of the Pomodoro Technique and recommend it as a way to improve your focus, concentration, and productivity. With some minor adjustments to the default time blocks, you can customize it to suit your personal needs and working styles.

Overview of the Pomodoro Technique:

In the Pomodoro Technique, you perform a series of “Work” / “Break” cycles.  Each cycle is 25 minutes of "work" followed by a 5 minute, "break". After the fourth cycle, you take a longer 15 to 20 minute break. (Note:  The Pomodoro Technique® is a registered trademark by Francesco Cirillo).

Each minute is a little thing, and yet, with respect to our personal productivity, to manage the minute is the secret of success.
— Joseph B. Wirthlin

I find the Pomodoro Technique works especially well when you have a pre-defined list of prioritized, “to do” items that you will focus on in your Pomodoro sessions. I also use dedicated Pomodoros each day to perform Email processing and triage.

The Pomodoro technique can greatly improve your productivity by allowing you to focus on a single task for a fixed length of time.  It also greatly reduces your urge to multi-task, which has time-and-again been shown to be a huge waste of time and a losing proposition.

(Learn more about this system by reviewing my previous post on the Pomodoro technique, or check-out the official Pomodoro Technique website.)

But over time, I have found that these fixed cycles doesn’t always match my personality or attention span.  And most importantly, they don't mesh well with my work schedule.  

My working world tends to exist in 30 minute and 1 hour time blocks:

Because my meeting times tend to fall on the hour or half-hour, I like to schedule my time in either 30 minute or 1 hour time blocks.  

In the standard Pomodoro schedule, the first two cycles are 25 minute work sessions followed by 5 minute breaks, which adds-up to a neat 30 minutes.  So two of these cycles fill-up a 1 hour block perfectly.

But the third cycle is another 30 minute block (25 minutes work, 5 minutes break). And the fourth cycle is again 25 minutes of work, but this time followed by a longer 15 to 20 minute break.

This means that the third and fourth sessions add-up to 70 or 75 minutes, which leaves me 10 to 15 minutes into the 2nd hour.  

If I then restart the series again, I get even more offset from an hourly schedule.

I often like to focus longer then the 25 minute standard Pomodoro:

In addition, I also found that the first two cycles allowed me to get “primed” to focus. But for the second hour, I tend to like to focus longer than just 25 minutes. In fact, my preference is to do a single 50 minute work session followed by a 10 minute break. This also rounds out perfectly to end on the hour.

My adjusted Pomodoro work blocks:

1st Hour:

  • 25 minute Work / 5 minute Break

  • 25 minute Work / 5 minute Break

2nd Hour:

  • 50 minute Work / 10 minute Break

So, you will notice that each hour rounds out to 50 minutes of “work” and 10 minutes of “break”.

It is uncommon for me to have more than two hours of “free time” on my calendar before a meeting or conference call intercedes.  

But the next time I have a free hour block, I restart again with the “1st Hour” schedule, followed by the “2nd Hour” schedule.

Since most of my meetings, as well as my lunch break, tend to fall in either 30 or 60 minute blocks, this cycle fits well with my typical workday.  

And any time I have a 30 minute meeting, or a 30 minute open "block of time", I try to use a 25 minute work / 5 minute break Pomodoro. This is perfect for performing any required follow-up activities from meetings, or to perform a focused Email Triage session.

Try - Experiment - Revise:

As always, there is no “right” or “wrong” answers for how to set your work/break cycles.

The key is to experiment and learn what works best for your personality, attention span, and work schedule.

Perfectionism prevents action. Waiting until you have devised the perfect solution to something is merely a form of procrastination.
— Staffan Noteberg

For many people, the standard Pomodoro cycles work well - and you should feel free to try and follow that system.

But for me, I found the standard cycles a bit  too frequent and short. They were also causing conflicts with my standard work and meeting schedule.

With just a bit of adjustment and “fine tuning”, I was able to adopt the Pomodoro technique work/break cycles to better suit my personality and work schedule.

What is your experience using the Pomodoro technique?

If you use this technique, do you use the standard timings, or a modified approach such as me?

Here are some books that you can use to improve your Productivity and Time Management: