Use Tomatoes to Finish Your Dissertation: The Pomodoro Technique

March 15, 2019

If you overheard our coaches talking to our clients, you might wonder why we keep mentioning the word tomatoes. Yes, tomatoes are a frequent part of our coaching vernacular. The term comes from Francesco Cirillo’s Pomodoro Technique, a deceptively simple, yet highly effective approach to improving focus and productivity. When Cirillo developed the technique, he called it “pomodoro,” which is Italian for tomato, because he named it after the tomato shaped timer he used to divide his time into twenty-five minute intervals. The basic idea is that we can accomplish so much more if we take off five minutes for every twenty five minutes we work, and that there is magic in the act of setting a timer.


If you’re interested in trying the pomodoro method, the most straightforward way to use it is to go to and register as a user. Once you do so, a button will appear on your computer screen that says “Start Tomato.”  Click that button and a timer will begin to count down from 25 minutes to zero when a buzzer will go off letting you know 25 minute is up. But before you click, it’s important to choose a task or an area of focus for yourself, such as reading an article, drafting a small section, or coding a segment of data. Prepare yourself to work on that task, click start tomato, and then for 25 minutes do your best to focus only on that task. We recommend closing your email browser and putting your phone on silent (and perhaps out of reach) so you are less distracted.

As you work through each 25-minute “tomato,” you may notice your attention wandering or the desire to stop working creep in. That is okay. That is normal. Remind yourself that you are just working for 25 minutes (a buzzer will go off when time is up so keep the sound on). Do your best to stay the course, no matter how much you may not want to continue. With practice, you will get better at working through internal and external interruptions. One of our clients told us she taught her family to “respect the tomato” by waiting to ask her questions until they heard the ending buzzer.

When the buzzer goes off, three zeros will appear on the screen, indicating that your “tomato” is complete. Click on the zeros and a box will appear where  you can log a description of the work you just completed. Hit enter and now you have logged a tomato. Every time you log into your account, you will see a history of all of the “tomatoes” you have completed. Some of our clients tell us that reviewing their past tomatoes of work can be motivating and encouraging. After you log your “tomato,” you will be automatically given a 5-minute break. During your 5-minute break, it is wise to take a deep breath, assess where you are at and identify what you will do in your next tomato. Another buzzer will go off when your break is over and it is time to focus again, click “start tomato” and get to work. There are options on the website to take a longer break if needed.

Each day you can determine how many tomatoes you plan to complete given what else is on your plate. If you work full time, maybe only 1-2 tomatoes is realistic during the week. Even if you are a full-time student with no work responsibilities, 8 tomatoes might be the most your brain can handle. Under intense deadlines, we see students complete as many as 16 to 20 in a day. For most of our clients depending on other work, family, and life responsibilities, they aim to complete between 2 and 10 a day. We encourage our clients to commit to doing at least one tomato a day, most days of the week. In fact, we tell our clients if you are going to procrastinate or avoid work, you can’t do that until you complete one tomato of work. If one tomato seems too big, then we encourage you to set a timer on your phone for 10-15 minutes and see if you can complete a “cherry tomato.”


Using the Pomodoro technique on a consistent basis can provide some meaningful benefits. To start, it can help you be much more productive and able to get meaningful work done in a given day. We observe that the consistent practice of working in 25 minute increments is a bit like going to the “dissertation gym,” helping our clients develop their “focus and concentration muscles.”  Consistent use of the Pomodoro technique can be a meaningful vehicle for cultivating greater self-awareness of what facilitates and what hinders your ability to be productive.

In our coaching practice, we also find that students who consistently use tomatoes learn to gage how long different kinds of dissertation tasks actually take. As a result, they become better able to make realistic and achievable work plans. When you can actually accomplish what you planned in a given day, you can build momentum and confidence in your ability to progress.

We hope you will give the Pomodoro Technique a try. Read and watch more about it here. Now, let’s get out there and crush some dissertation “tomatoes!”