The Best Pomodoro Timer Apps & Online Tools

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Understanding the Pomodoro Technique

Productivity hacks are ever-popular in a world full of digital distractions and the Pomodoro Technique one such method that can help you cut through the clutter. The technique, which takes its name from a tomato-shaped timer that inventor Francesco Cirillo used to track his work when he was a college student, aims to help you focus on tasks and conquer your to-do lists. Anyone who struggles with procrastination or feeling overwhelmed with large undertakings can see how this method can help tremendously.

The Pomodoro Technique is simple: you take large tasks and projects and break them down into smaller tasks and then tackle them over timed intervals, which are called Pomodoros. In between Pomodoros are scheduled breaks, during which you are encouraged to get up and stretch (if you're working at a desk) and do something fun or relaxing. You can find tips about the technique on the inventor's website, or even read his book for more guidance.

In general, a Pomodoro lasts 25 minutes followed by a 5-minute break. After four Pomodoros, you get a longer break of 15-25 minutes. Try it out and feel free to tweak the Pomodoro and break durations based on your workload and routine. There's no wrong way to do it as long as you don't deprive yourself of regular breaks. The idea is to be more productive, but not to the point where you experience mental or physical fatigue. You can use a kitchen timer or stopwatch to time your Pomodoros and breaks, of course, or one of the many mobile and online tools available, some of which we discuss below.

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Pomodoro Do's and Don'ts

woman at desk
woman at desk.

The idea behind the Pomodoro Technique is to cut out distractions and multi-tasking by getting users to focus fully on specific tasks and to reduce burnout by encouraging frequent breaks. If you're working on a project that doesn't mesh well with the Pomodoro method, then don't try to force it.

You can use Pomodoro for:

  • Writing projects
  • Clearing out your email backlog
  • Clearing our your inbox (IT support tickets, fixing software bugs, etc.)
  • Homework, term papers, and other student projects
  • Household chores
  • Home projects, such as garage cleanout
  • Nearly any large task or project that can be tackled in short intervals
  • Any task that you've been putting off for too long

Don't use Pomodoro for:

  • Leisure activities
  • Tasks or projects that don't benefit from frequent breaks, such as reading or research
  • Any task that doesn't fit within the technique after frequent attempts
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Take Out Your Notebook or Open a New Document

Notebook with coffee
Notebook with coffee.

The first step to implementing the Pomodoro Technique is planning, and the first tool you'll need is a notebook, spreadsheet, a Word or Google Doc, or your favorite note taking app. (If you're using an app, consider using Evernote, which, incidentally, can be used even when offline.) Start by creating a to-do list and then allocate each task to a "Pomodoro." Try to break down projects into digestible tasks that can be completed in one Pomodoro. If that's not possible, try to limit the number of Pomodoros allotted to each task. Bundle tasks together than can be completed in less than 25 minutes.

The beauty of the Pomodoro Technique is that it's flexible: if you finish a task early, you can start tackling the next one within the same Pomodoro; if you don't finish it within the 25 minutes, you can pick up where you left off when the next one begins. The more you use the method, the better you'll be able to optimize your Pomodoros and plan for the next day. Constantly refine your methodology. To quote Pomodoro-Tracker.com, described below, "The next Pomodoro will go better." Your first Pomodoro of the day could be devoted to planning for the rest of the day or you could use your last Pomodoro to plan for the following day. Choose whichever works the best for you and change things up if you're not succeeding. Think of the Pomodoro Technique as a starting point, not as collection of hard-set rules.

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Desktop App: Pomodoro Tracker

The Pomodoro Tracker is a very simple tool that includes a timer and a simple way to label and log each Pomodoro. You can set it to automatically start a new Pomodoro after each break and to start a break after each Pomodoro. At the end of a Pomodoro or break, you can also opt to have an alarm sound or browser notifications. During each Pomodoro, you can add the sound of a ticking clock if that doesn't stress you out. If you create an account (through Google, Facebook, or GitHub), you can save your Pomodoro details and sound and notification settings. A Stats tab shows your activity over time including the average number of Pomodoros you complete each day and the time spent working. 

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Desktop App: Marinara Timer

The MarinaraTimer (see a theme here?) offers a Pomodoro timer, a custom timer, and a kitchen timer. The Pomodoro timer includes the standard 25-minute Pomodoro session and 5- and 15-minute breaks. If that doesn't work for you, the custom timer lets you set up your own time segments. You can give each one a name and a length down to the second. However, you can't create an account or save your Pomodoro or custom timer sessions. MarinaraTimer also doesn't offer activity reports.

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iOS App: Focus Keeper: Work & Study Timer

Focus Keeper
Focus Keeper.

The aptly named Focus Keeper: Work & Study Timer ($1.99; Limepresso) takes advantage of your iOS device's touchscreen with a timer that can be adjusted with a swipe motion. Focus Keeper follows the Pomodoro Technique but replaces Pomodoros with Focus Sessions. It has several custom options including 10 ticking sounds and 14 alarms, and you can set different sounds and volume levels for Focus Sessions, short breaks, and long breaks. Helpfully, notifications will still come through even if Focus Keeper is running in the background. The app includes 14-day and 30-day activity reports so you can track your productivity over time. You can also set a goal for the number of Focus Sessions you'd like to complete each day, which is very helpful. The only thing missing is the option to label your focus Sessions so you can track what you're working on, so you'll have to use a different app or a notebook if you want to do so.

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Android App: Clockwork Tomato

Clockwork Tomato
Clockwork Tomato.

Despite being named similarly to A Clockwork Orange, Stanley Kubrick's dystopian 1971 film, Clockwork Tomato (free; phlam) is a friendly app that does not include psychological torture. Like Focus Keeper, it offers many customizations including the clock face shape and color and alarms and ticking sounds. It adds an extra feature, called a "pre-end," which warns you that the session is nearing an end, which could be helpful if you're a clock watcher. Otherwise, you can mute this reminder. There's also an extended timer option that you can use to prolong a working session or break. The extended session won't end until you hit the "skip" button, though, so use this feature with care. 

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Alternative Apps and Tools

hourglass
hourglass.

You can also keep it simple and just use a timer app or a kitchen timer to track your Pomodoros. Use an hourglass if you're so inclined. You'll miss out on the automation offered by the specialized desktop and mobile apps, but you may not need that. Don't feel like you have to purchase or download anything special in order to succeed at the Pomodoro Technique. Start out simple and if you find yourself getting unfocused, look into using a more refined tool. As we've said, the Pomodoro Technique is highly customizable and it should fit into your work style. While technology can be a great help a lot of the time, it can also serve as a distraction or add unnecessary complication.