How to Choose the Right Pomodoro Timer

What kind of timer should you use for your pomodoro learning day? This might help you to get it right.


The pomodoro technique is a great way to get really, really a lot done and have fun with it. Before we can start we have to choose a timer … which seems to be straight forward, right? Well, yes it is somehow. Still, over time I tried various timers and found out that it can actually make a difference.

Here’s why: it depends on WHY we use the pomodoro technique in the first place.


Start with Why

https://curt-krav-maga.blogspot.co.at/2009/06/how-to-eat-elephant.html

Source: https://curt-krav-maga.blogspot.co.at/2009/06/how-to-eat-elephant.html

Why do you pomodoro your day?

  • Do you want to work through your todo list as fast as possible?
  • Do you need the structure to stay motivated during a long day?
  • Do you need the motivation to start working on something
  • Do you need to do a very big piece of work and need to slice it?

The Timer

There are different timers available: hour glass, apps, kitchen timer or alarm, …
Two main features characterise our timer: how flexible is it to set a time span and will it eventually beep?

The Time

  • The simplest timer like an hour glass con only measure one predefined time span like 30 minutes.
  • A simple kitchen timer can be set to one specific time span.
  • With special pomodoro timers you can at least define two time spans:
    work time (like 25 minutes) and break time (like 5 minutes).
  • More complex tools like timeout can even differentiate micro breaks and normal breaks.
  • And even more complex timers that that can handle various time slots
    (like used for meeting agendas).

So this is the first thing you need to decide:

What features should your timer support?

And one more question here:

In which direction should the timer count?
Up (showing how much time is spent) or down (showing how much time is left)?

The Beep

Most of the timers we use will let us know when the time is over. A simple alarm will probably play some sound and apps like time out are even able to lock our screen and thereby force us to do a break.

This is super when we are very focussed and tend to forget making breaks. To make frequent breaks is key to ensure that we can work for a long time without getting exhausted. That is why we choose to get some kind of timer with a beep or some other sound.

But is that actually always a good thing? Maybe not …

Let´s imagine we struggle to motivate ourselves to sit down for learning!
Let´s imagine further we try to trick ourselves back to work by committing to learn for only 10 minutes (rule of the easy next step) … of course we hope that when we started we will be absorbed and just continue to learn. So we start and then …. Beeeeeeeeeep! … 10 minutes are over … what do we do now? Will we continue to learn or be proud of ourselves and make a break and thereby risk not to come back to work …

So that is now different, right?

What would happen if we would have used an hour glass that has no beep?
We would maybe look at it after the first minute, continue, look at it again after 5 minutes … back to work time is not yet up! … then we get absorbed and forget about time … no beep … we will just continue until we feel ready for a natural break …

Ha, sounds better, or?
– But wait, shouldn´t we make a break?, you ask.
Shure, but what is more important in that situation: to do a break or to get things done?

… and of course there is also this option:
we use an hour glass for the minimum of 10 minutes and
set an alarm with a beep to the maximum of 40 minutes to ensure a break.

The Break

Before starting into the break we note down the next easy step and set the beep timer to the time we want to spend on our break.
That will ensure that we will come back after the break is up because …

  • the alarm is calling us back
  • we know exactly where we left
  • we know exactly what we need to do next
  • this next step is very easy and therefore not scary

The Conclusion

I think it does make a difference and we should make sure to choose the right timer for each situation. Also: what worked yesterday might not be the best choice for today!

So, which timer is now best for the situation at hand?

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