March 15, 2018

Work Effectiveness: Infusing the Pomodoro Technique with the Art of Mindfulness

Anxiety & Depression

Productivity and work effectiveness in the workday is often a large cause for stress. Making sure that you complete a multitude of tasks with varying deadlines while also remaining focused throughout the day understandably leads to the sensation of feeling “burnt out”. Studies show that individuals with higher levels of work-related burnout report more psychological and physical health problems, including anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance, memory impairment, and neck pain (Peterson et al., 2008). But, let us consider how productivity could be enhanced simply by committing to short and effective time management tool infused with the art of mindfulness.

In the 1980’s Francesco Cirillo pioneered a time management tool that continues to be utilized in the workplace today. As a university student, Cirillo took advantage of a simple tomato-shaped kitchen timer (pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato) to divide his working hours into smaller 25 minute segments of intentionally focused work followed by a five minute break. A number of follow-up studies have shown that the average amount of time an individual can concentrate on any specific task is between 25-40 minutes.

Here is the traditional Pomodoro Technique outline:

  1. Decide on the task to be done.
  2. Set the pomodoro timer (traditionally to 25 minutes).
  3. Work on the task.
  4. End work when the timer rings
  5. Break # 1 (3-5 minutes)
  6. Set the pomodoro timer (traditionally to 25 minutes).
  7. Work on the task.
  8. End work when the timer rings
  9. Break # 2 (3-5 minutes)
  10. Set the pomodoro timer (traditionally to 25 minutes).
  11. Work on the task.
  12. End work when the timer rings
  13. Break # 3 (3-5 minutes)
  14. Set the pomodoro timer (traditionally to 25 minutes).
  15. Work on the task.
  16. End work when the timer rings
  17. Break # 4 (15-30 minutes)
  18. Start the process over

Coupling Mindfulness & Pomodoro

Now consider what might happen if you decided to be more intentional about your break times. Below are mindfulness exercises to infuse the Pomodoro Technique with intentional mental health breaks. Simply insert them into the break segments listed above.

Break #1 (3-5 minutes): Mindful Grounding

      • Sit somewhere and notice what surrounds you:
        • Name 5 things you see,
        • 4 things you hear,
        • 3 things you feel,
        • 2 things you smell,
        • 1 thing you taste.

Break # 2 (3-5 minutes): Mindful Breathing

      • Find a place to close your eyes, relax, and breathe:
        • Breathe in for three seconds
        • Breathe out for five seconds
        • Repeat for a total of ten full breaths

Break # 3 (3-5 minutes): Mindful Presence

      • Try to sit and merely be mindful of your existence.
      • If a thought comes into your head, acknowledge it, and let it go for now.

Break # 4 (15-30 minutes): Mindful Movement

    • Find a place that is appropriate within your workplace.
    • Move your body slowly; intentionally stretching, flexing each of your muscles one by one.
    • If you are familiar with yoga movements, feel free to implement those here.

As you prepare for your workday consider how a mindful approach to productivity could enhance your productivity both at work and at home while saving you from burning out.


U. Peterson, E. Demerouti, G. Bergström, M. Samuelsson, M. Asberg, A. Nygren. Burnout and physical and mental health among Swedish healthcare workers. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 62 (2008), pp. 84-95


Written by therapist Keri Sawyer

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