The Best Pomodoro Timers of 2019

Understanding the Pomodoro technique for productivity

Tomato shaped timer with blurred papers in the background
Tomato timer. http://fthmb.tqn.com/LASn-2Q5QafmDjeDSLR-N4ZW4Gg=/about/pomodorotimer-58cc1f343df78c3c4f89f408.jpg

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 takes its name from a tomato-shaped timer that inventor Francesco Cirillo used to track his work when he was a college student. It aims to help you focus on tasks and conquer your to-do lists.

How to Use the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is simple: you take large tasks and projects and break them down into smaller tasks. You 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.

In general, a Pomodoro lasts 25 minutes, followed by a 5-minute break. After four Pomodoros, you get an extended break of 15-25 minutes. You can tweak the Pomodoro and break durations based on your workload and routine, though. 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.

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 entirely 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 out 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 project that you can tackle in short intervals
  • Anything 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
  • Anything that doesn't fit within the technique after several attempts

Take Out Your Notebook or Open a New Document

Notebook with coffee
Notebook with coffee.

What We Like

  • Completely free.

  • Can use any tools.

  • Very flexible.

What We Don't Like

  • Takes more time to manage.

  • Requires good organization.

  • Requires personal discipline.

The first step to implementing the Pomodoro Technique is planning. The tool you'll need is a notebook, spreadsheet, a Word or Google Doc, or your favorite note-taking app. Start by creating a to-do list and then allocate each task to a "Pomodoro."

  • Try to break down projects into digestible steps that you can complete 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 complete it within the 25 minutes, you can pick up where you left off when the next one begins.

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 prepare for the following day.

Desktop App: Pomodoro Tracker

What We Like

  • Has a web-based version.

  • Simple interface.

  • Easy to use.

What We Don't Like

  • Download for Mac only.

  • Slight learning curve.

The Pomodoro Tracker is a straightforward tool that includes a timer and a simple way to label and log each Pomodoro. You can set it to start a new Pomodoro after each break automatically 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. 

Desktop App: MarinaraTimer

What We Like

  • Web-based.

  • Three Pomodoro modes.

  • Custom Pomodoro and break durations.

What We Don't Like

  • No desktop app is available.

  • Takes time to adjust to the Pomodoro technique.

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 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.

iOS App: Focus Keeper: Work & Study Timer

Focus Keeper
Focus Keeper.

What We Like

  • Effectively teaches Pomodoro.

  • Easy to install and use.

  • Simple to customize the interface.

  • Logs historical usage.

What We Don't Like

  • Can't customize breaks.

  • Only available for iOS.

The aptly named Focus Keeper: Work & Study Timer ($1.99; Limepresso) has a timer that you can adjust with a swipe motion. Focus Keeper follows the Pomodoro Technique but replaces Pomodoros with Focus Sessions.

It has several custom options, including ten ticking sounds and 14 alarms. 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 doing. You'll have to use a different app or a notebook if you want to do so.

Android App: Clockwork Tomato

Clockwork Tomato
Clockwork Tomato.

What We Like

  • Free to download and use.

  • Easy to customize the interface.

  • Logs Pomodoro activity.

  • Integrates with Tasker.

What We Don't Like

  • Confusing preferences.

  • Easy to forget to end a session.

Despite being named similarly to A Clockwork Orange, Stanley Kubrick's dystopian 1971 film, Clockwork Tomato (free; phlam) 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. Be aware that the extended session won't end until you hit the "skip" button. 

Alternative Apps and Tools

hourglass
hourglass.

What We Like

  • Inexpensive solution.

  • Easy to implement.

What We Don't Like

  • No automation.

  • No logging.

You can also keep it simple and use a timer app, a kitchen timer, or an hourglass to track your Pomodoros. You'll miss out on the automation offered by the desktop and mobile apps, but you may not need that. Start 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.