Focus Sessions and Periodic Breaks: A Personal Exploration of the Pomodoro Technique

–By a student who would like to remain anonymous (June 2020)


Personalizing one’s study habits and developing time management skills is an essential part of academic success. According to previous studies, an effective study habit is one that promotes focused learning and academic achievement, while an ineffective study habit is one that inhibits learning and academic progress. One time management technique, the Pomodoro Technique, has gained popularity over the years as a productivity booster and procrastination reducer. Alternating between 25-minute focus sessions and 5-minute breaks, the Pomodoro Technique has the potential to be an effective study habit by facilitating intentional learning and improving efficiency. To test whether this technique could improve my studying, I conducted a two-week, personal study. For one week, I observed and characterized my regular study habits using a journal. For the second week, I implemented the Pomodoro Technique and timed my study sessions using the phone application “Focus Keeper.” After comparing the average time studied per day, the average time per study session, the average number of phone interruptions, and perceived effectiveness of study sessions between the two weeks, I experienced an 8.95% decrease in daily study time, a 46% decrease in distractions, and a significant increase in motivation and focus with the Pomodoro Technique. From these results, I concluded that the Pomodoro Technique was an effective study habit that I could implement into my busy schedule.


Whether in grade school or university, students of all ages have struggled with developing effective study habits and time management techniques. To aid in student learning, previous studies have proposed various frameworks to measure and evaluate study habits (Rabia et al., 2017; Burns & Dobson, 1984). One definition by Alzahrani et al. (2018) suggests that a good study habit is systematic andefficient, allowing students to plan, execute, and achieve learning objectives consistently and thoughtfully. Other scientists argue that a good study habit is measured by improved academic achievement, such as higher test scores and grade point averages (Jafari & Khatony, 2019; Purdie & Hattie, 1999). Still others—for example, Mustafa et al. (2010)—believe that a good study habit encourages flow, a state of uninterrupted engagement, focus, and effort on an academic task or topic. Although many of these studies identify characteristics of effective studying, few studies recommend specific study habits since these habits vary student to student based on learning styles, academic resources, and motivations (Idika, 2017). To improve my own study habits, I conducted a personal study to assess whether the Pomodoro technique could lead to more effective studying.

In the late 1980s, Francesco Cirillo developed the Pomodoro Technique as a university student struggling with a busy schedule, low productivity, and a lack of motivation (“Pomodoro® Press Center,” n.d.). Wanting to accomplish more in less time, Cirillo challenged himself to study effectively within the time allotted on a tomato-shaped kitchen timer (Cirillo, 2018). This pomodoro, or tomato in Italian, eventually became the logo for his business consulting firm and time management system. Comprising of six steps, the Pomodoro Technique breaks down larger projects into smaller tasks. The individual (1) chooses a task to complete, (2) sets a timer for 25 minutes, (3) works on the designated task for the allotted time without distraction, (4) stops working once the timer rings, (5) breaks for 5-minutes, and (6) repeats these steps three more times before taking a longer 20-minute break (Cirillo, 2018). One 25-minute focus interval is defined as a “Pomodoro,” and completing all six steps, or four Pomodoro’s, is known as a “Pomodoro Cycle” (Cirillo, 2018).

For the last two decades, the Pomodoro Technique has gained popularity in technology companies (Abrahamsson et al., 2008; Ruensuk, 2016) and business magazines, such as Forbes, The Guardian, and Harvard Business Review (“Pomodoro® in the News,” n.d.). Recently, the Pomodoro Technique has also reached mainstream audiences and students through self-help blogs and productivity articles that herald it as an effective time management system and study habit (Jubbal, 2016; Productivity tip: the Pomodoro technique, 2019; Boogaard, 2020). Although some observational studies have analyzed the Pomodoro Technique’s effectiveness (Feng, n.d.; Ahmed et al., 2014), to the best of my knowledge, few experiments verify its effectiveness for students. Despite this paucity of evidence, the Pomodoro Technique’s systematic, goal-oriented approach and intense, distraction-free focus intervals satisfy many of the aforementioned criteria for a good study habit. Additionally, studies have shown that short, intentional mental breaks during long intervals of work can improve performance and prevent fatigue or procrastination (Ariga & Lleras, 2011; Strongman & Burt, 2000). Thus, the Pomodoro Technique’s alternating system of intense work and mindful breaks has the potential to facilitate effective studying.

I am a current full-time, undergraduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles taking 20 units in Spring 2020. As a premed struggling with balancing extracurriculars, homework, and classes, I have had a growing interest in productivity and study tips that maximize my time. A few months ago, a medical student (whose channel I was following) posted a video explaining the Pomodoro Technique and its simple set-up. Curious to try this study habit, I designed this two-week study to examine whether I could use the Pomodoro technique as an effective study habit. During the first week, I evaluated my regular study habits as a control. During the second week, I implemented the Pomodoro Technique and used a phone application to time my study sessions. Over both the control and experimental weeks, I collected quantitative data (e.g. time spent studying each day, start and stop times, and the number of distractions) as well as qualitative data (e.g. journal entries about my mood and focus).

To compare my regular study habits to the Pomodoro Technique, I analyzed differences in average daily minutes of study, average minutes per study sessions, number of tasks completed each day, and perceived effectiveness of study sessions between the two weeks. Based on the data I gathered, I concluded that adding periodic breaks and focusing on one task at a time with the Pomodoro Technique resulted in fewer distractions and more effective studying.


For the first phase of the study, I characterized my regular study habits as a control. During this week, I tracked how long I studied each day, the number of distractions (namely, phone interruptions) per study session, and the start and stop times of my study sessions. Since I was not prone to open unrelated tabs or applications on my computer, I instead recorded the number of times I reached for my phone during a study session. I defined a study session as a prolonged period of studying with a maximum of 15 minutes of break time. Additionally, I recorded each task that I planned, the number of tasks I completed, and a short description of my mood or focus each day.

For the second phase of the study, I implemented the six-step Pomodoro Technique and used the iPhone application “Focus Keeper” to time my 25-minute focus sessions and 5-minute breaks. Like the control period, I noted the time studied each day, the number of distractions per session, the start and stop times of my study sessions, the number of tasks completed, and a short description of my mood or focus. I also recorded the number of Pomodoro’s I completed each day.

            Due to variations in daily workload and the time needed to familiarize myself with the new study habit, I decided to collect data on the Pomodoro Technique for a week. Once the control and experimental periods passed, I inputted the data into Excel to calculate the mean of the following variables: time studied per day, time per study session, number of distractions per day, and the number of tasks completed each day. I then calculated the percent change of these variables by subtracting the experimental statistic from the control statistic and dividing the result by the control statistic. This allowed me to compare the relative differences between the experimental and control statistics. If a variable had a percent change of more than 5% or less than -5%, the difference between the control and experimental week was considered significant.Additionally, I calculated the standard errors of the average time studied per day and the average time per study session to compare the variability, or spread, of the control and experimental data.


Regular Study Habits – Based on my journal entries, my regular study habits were consistent day to day. Since mornings and afternoons were dedicated to lectures and meetings, most of my studying occurred in the evening. Before beginning my study sessions, I prioritized my tasks based on deadline. Once I began a task, I tended to complete it in one sitting with minimal breaks. When I did pause, it was to use the restroom or eat.

Each day, I studied an average of 314.13±25.83 minutes that I divided into three to four study sessions. These study sessions lasted about 88.83±10.90 minutes each. Additionally, I averaged 6.50 phone interruptions and completed 4 major tasks per day.

On days I woke up early (Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays), I recorded more instances of fatigue and sleepiness. On these same days, I completed more tasks than when I was well-rested or energetic. This was most likely because I had more hours in the day to study.

The Pomodoro Technique – Since data from the first two days were significantly less than my daily averages later in the week, I discarded these outliers. Based on my journal entries, I initially struggled with dividing tasks into neat 25-minute blocks and finding a suitable phone timer that could record my study sessions as I completed them.

I averaged a total of 286.00±64.77 minutes studied, or 9.40 Pomodoro’s, per day. Study sessions, or periods of consecutive Pomodoro’s, lasted about 90.00±61.13 minutes. Throughout the week, I averaged 3.50 phone interruptions and completed about 4 major tasks each day.

Although general levels of fatigue and sleepiness did not differ from the control week, I felt more focused during my experimental study sessions than usual. I was less distracted by daydreaming, worries about deadlines, and lack of motivation to initiate and finish tasks.

            Percent Change – After implementing the Pomodoro Technique, my daily time spent studying decreased by 8.95%, and the number of distractions each day decreased by 46.00%. I did not observe significant changes in the average time per session or the average tasks completed each day between the control and experimental data.

Discussion and Conclusion

Based on the 8.95% decrease in average daily study time and my reflections on perceived focus during study sessions, the Pomodoro Technique significantly increased my focus during study sessions. The number of completed tasks each day did not change significantly; however, I was able to reduce the overall time spent completing them. My efficiency and concentration improved while studying because I was more intentional about dividing work into manageable 25-minute spurts. Instead of wasting time motivating myself to start a task or procrastinating, the Pomodoro Technique held me accountable with a strict timer.

Additionally, the Pomodoro’s did not allow for distractions while studying, as evidenced by the 46.00% decrease in phone interruptions. The short, 5-minute breaks were more than enough time to decompress and reply to notifications. This promise of rest time reduced the temptation to check my phone during the 25-minute focus sessions.

One surprising finding in the experimental data was the rather large standard errors for the average time spent studying each day and the average time per study session—64.77 minutes and 61.13 minutes respectively. Although the experimental averages for these two variables were significantly different from the control averages, the standard errors indicated a larger variability in the experimental data. Some possible explanations for this discrepancy include inadequate time to adapt to the Pomodoro Technique, early completion of tasks before the timer rang (resulted in shorter Pomodoro’s), or more variation in assignments and tasks that week. The standard errors would likely decrease with an additional week of data collection.

Other limitations of this study included a small sample size of one, possible bias in the self-reported data, and restricted measures of effectiveness. Although this study measured efficiency, intentionality, and focus, further research can be done to understand the Pomodoro Technique’s effect on learning, memory, and other factors that contribute to effective studying. Additionally, future experiments can better quantify the Pomodoro Technique’s correlation with focus (e.g. tests of concentration or quantifications of brain activity), implement more extreme versions of the Pomodoro Technique (e.g. locking students out of browsers or enforcing longer focus sessions), or test alternative study habits, productivity systems, and apps.

Through this experiment, I concluded that the Pomodoro Technique was a simple yet powerful study habit that promoted intentionality, discipline, and focus. Although it was not always feasible to divide my tasks into 25-minute blocks or 2-hour Pomodoro Cycles (group projects and assigned readings were especially harder to complete), I learned two skills, allotting specific times for tasks and taking mindful breaks, that can improve my efficiency and concentration for future study sessions. This study is not representative of the general population and may not suit most university students; however, examining and experimenting with systems like the Pomodoro Technique is a worthwhile exercise in understanding and improving one’s study habits.


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