Despite its increasing popularity, Pomodoro Technique has its critics as well. I took a tour on the Internet to sample criticism and address the most common ones to my best understanding of the technique. A quick study of these critics reveals some typical misconceptions.
1- “It is not perfect for everybody”
Yes, it is not. First of all, if your task requires interactions with others, sticking to your Pomodoro becomes so much harder. The technique is definitely better suited for tasks that can be performed in isolation. If your tasks require heavy collaboration, (unless your co-workers agree to follow a Pomodoro schedule), the chances are you won’t be able to apply it.
2- “It is hard to manage interruptions”: Jan Tomka provides a few good examples to this problem in his blog post: “Applying the Inform, Negotiate and Reschedule procedure is just another part of the technique which hardly ever works for me. There is no way I can ask my boss not to interrupt me while I’m working on something. There is no way I can ignore random people entering the office asking for directions to the eye clinic (which is just around the corner). Or when a colleague asks about where that good sushi place was I went the other day, I can’t ask her to come back in 20 minutes. Not only it would be rude, but by that time her lunch break would be over.”
True. Though, you can always inform your co-workers and boss that you need a couple of uninterrupted hours to get something done and if required, you can always chose to remove yourself physically from the environment. And again, Pomodoro Technique only works when you can successfully apply it and only you can judge if your environment would allow you to do so. If you believe that you will be interrupted a million times and that there is no way to stop that from happening, just don’t try to use the technique in that place at that point in time.
3- “Do we need a special technique to stay focused?” Mario Fusco makes the following bold statement in his widely quoted criticism of Pomodoro: “I honestly don’t need a pomodoro to keep myself focused for just 25 minutes. And if somebody can stay focused for no more than 25 minutes I am afraid that he should really rethink the way he works.”
I respectfully disagree. I’ve been evangelizing Pomodoro Technique for several years now and the most frequent feedback I get from new users is that staying focused on something for 25 minutes is a major challenge. These people are from all walks of life and are accomplished professionals so I trust their ability to get and stay focused. So to answer the broader question of whether we need Pomodoro or any other technique to improve our focus, I would say ‘yes, a majority of us need it’
4- “Pomodoros are an all or nothing affair” Colin Miller explains this perceived limitation: “Either you work for 25 minutes straight to mark your X or you don’t complete a pomodoro. Since marking that X is the measurable sign of progress, you start to shy away from engaging in an activity if it won’t result in an X… (For example), meetings get in the way of pomodoros. Say I have a meeting set for 4:30pm. It is currently 4:10pm, meaning I only have 20 minutes between now and the meeting. If I start a pomodoro, I won’t be able to finish it because I only have 20 minutes. Managers will come by your desk and poke you to go to the meeting at the exact time the meeting is supposed to start, so I can’t just show up 5 minutes late. In these instances I tend to not start a pomodoro because I won’t have enough time to complete it anyway.’
Colin Miller’s criticism based on his interpretation of the technique is absolutely right. However, the technique is not as rigid: (1) 25 minutes is not carved in stone. If you have 20 minutes only, feel free to run a 20 minute session, (2) The purpose of Pomodoro Technique is not to organize all of your waking hours into 25 minute sessions. Do your sessions only when you can and when your task demands it. This is a technique to help you get organized around your tasks and stay focused. It should not rule your day.
5- “Breaks can be a problem for people who likes to work in a ‘flow'”
This is another common and legitimate criticism of the technique. The purpose of the break is to refresh mind and enhance the ability to refocus with a high level of intensity. There is no doubt that if you love what you are doing and/or are reasonable challenged in performing the task, you will be able to stay focused more than 25 minutes. The question is how intense is your focus and how productive you are? Just because you are consumed by that task does not necessarily mean you are productive. Keep that in mind and if you truly feel that you are producing, ignore the break, stop your timer and continue working.
6- “25 minutes is too rigid”: Arialdo Martini, in his rambling criticism of Pomodoro Technique brings this issue up.
He is right – 25 minutes sounds random and is too rigid. The simple solution to this problem is that you should feel free to set your Pomodoro for, say, 30 or 45 minutes instead. There is nothing inherent to the technique that should stop you from doing that.
Most criticism about Pomodoro Technique seems to revolve around 2 misconceptions:
1- Universal applicability: Pomodoro Technique is not meant to be a “one size fits all” solution. If your work/study environment and your tasks don’t lend themselves to Pomodoro, then don’t use this technique.
2- Rigidity: You don’t have to organize your entire day around 25 minute Pomodoro sessions and 5 minute breaks. These are some guidelines to help you make the most out of your working/studying time by improving your focus. If a 30-minute Pomodoro suits your work habits better, use 30 minute Pomodoros instead. You don’t want to be “compliant” to a fault.
The bottomline is Pomodoro Technique is more flexible and less universally applicable than its critics misinterpret it to be. If you accept the fact that you cannot manage all your time and tasks with Pomodoro and you can (and probably should) adopt it to your tasks and work habits, you will gain maximum advantage of the technique.