Master the pomodoro technique.
Learn how microbreaks can boost your
stamina and focus
January 2023 | The Learning and Wellbeing Team

The Pomodoro technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo while he was a student struggling to stay focused in class. Class were a challenge and he was losing interest in his courses. One day, he decided to give himself a challenge. Try to study without interruption for 10 minutes. He set a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to keep track of time and, after 10 minutes, took a short break.  With practice and repetition, his ability to study improved. Eventually, 10 minutes of study turned into 25 minutes. Francesco Cirillo continued to use this technique with great success throughout his studies and during his work career. He later published a record-selling book documenting this strategy, which he called the Pomodoro technique, named after his tomato-shaped kitchen timer. Pomodoro is Italian for tomato.  

Research studies have demonstrated the importance and benefits of microbreaks for individuals of all ages, including children in elementary school, students in high school, university and college, as well as for employees throughout their work careers.  Studies have shown that microbreaks, such as Pomodoro breaks, will improve well-being and energy, as well as reduce procrastination and fatigue.1   Studies have shown that microbreaks can improve performance at both school and work but that increased performance may depend on the type of break taken (e.g., activity break, creative activity breaks) as well as the duration (e.g., longer breaks may be required at some point).2

How do micro-breaks work?

There are a number of elements that make microbreaks, such as the Pomorodo technique, effective in increasing your energy, well-being and productivity while reducing your procrastination and fatigue.

1. Microbreaks are restorative. Tasks that require sustained concentration and focus are tiring. Most people will experience a reduction in their ability to focus on a task in as little as 15 minutes, depending on the complexity, difficulty, repetitiveness or dullness of the task. Taking a break gives you an opportunity to restore your focus and ability to attend. For a really, really boring task, you may need to take frequent repetitive breaks.

2. Microbreaks will make you productive. Taking a number of brief breaks, in which you restore your focus and concentration, will allow you to be more productive by the end of the day than persisting at a task in which you become increasingly less productive.  Sticking at a boring, difficult task in which your focus wanes, and you get less and less done, or make more mistakes, is not productive.

3. Microbreaks can reduce your procrastination. If you know that you only have to work at something for 20 minutes before taking a break, you will be more likely to get started. After all, it is only 20 minutes. This will allow you to get started on difficult, boring tasks sooner and return to doing them sooner. Remember, it is a micro-break of just five minutes or so. By starting faster and returning to that task faster, you will get through your work quicker, leaving you more productive.

4. Microbreaks will keep you going. With a boost in energy and some more focus, a microbreak can help you push through and keep going with something that is boring or difficult.

5. Microbreaks can boost your feeling of accomplishment and well-being. When done correctly, micro-breaks can leave you feeling more accomplished and better about yourself. By reducing the amount of time doing something that is boring (i.e., by taking a micro-break before it gets too boring), you will spend less of your day being bored and unfocused. By completing four or five rounds of work, with microbreaks, of course, you will feel more accomplished and very often feel like you are ready to take on more.

Not sure how to get started?

Find a two-hour block of time in which you would like to try out the Pomodoro technique. Decide what you are going to work on in each block (e.g., read for 25 minutes; make flashcards for 25 minutes; start the research for a paper for 25 minutes; write the opening paragraph for 25 minutes).  Then decide what you will do for the 5-minute Pomodoro break (e.g., I will take a 5-minute walk). And finally, decide what you are going to do after the 2 hours (e.g., have lunch, go to the gym, go to class, take the bus home).

That’s it. Now give it a go. 

Key features of an effective microbreak:

There are several key features to keep in mind when implementing microbreaks. 

#1. Microbreaks are short.
Microbreaks are, by definition, short, usually lasting about 5 minutes. If your microbreak turns into a break lasting more than 30 minutes, you lose track of what you are doing, will be more likely to have started something else that will distract you, and you won’t get the productivity benefit from microbreaks. Microbreaks are designed to help keep you working on a task that is boring or difficult. That means take a (short) break and then get back to what you were doing.
#2. Do something active. 
If you have been sitting at a desk, working on a project, preparing for a test, or trying to solve practice problems, the most restorative microbreak will involve doing something active. That means get up, go for a fast vigorous walk, do five minutes of stretching. Sing, dance, juggle — anything that gives you a chance to refocus and recharge. It works best if it is vigorous. Not sure where to start> Start with a walk around your building, do five flights of stairs. Checking your phone for five minutes may be fun, but it is not going to be restorative.

#3. You do need a timer (of some kind).
Having a time is an important part of what makes a microbreak work. Setting a timer You do in fact need a timer, if what you are doing is boring or difficult. The timer will help you push through and get your work done.  This will help you in the short-term. With practice, you will also build your capacity to sit and work on something that is boring and difficult. Once working on something that is boring or difficult for 20 or 25 minutes becomes easy, you can increase it to 40 or 50 minutes.


1. How long should I work before taking a microbreak?
How long you can work before taking or needing a microbreak will depend on how boring or difficult the task is. In general, start by trying to work for 25 minutes. Take a five-minute break, and then do another 25 minutes.

2. Should I always stop after 25 minutes for a microbreak?
 No, not necessarily. Remember, the purpose of a microbreak is to re-energize you and restore your focus. Take a microbreak when you notice your focus and concentration are waning. Do something active for 5 minutes and then keep going. Depending on the task and your own personal stamina, you may be able to work for 50 minutes before taking a break. With practice, you may be able to grow your ability to stay focused for 25 minutes to 45-minutes or more. Keep in mind, whether you work for 25 minutes before taking a break or 45 minutes, if you get back to it right after a 5-minute break, you will remain productive.

3. How long should I be able to keep going with microbreaks?
Even with microbreaks, eventually, you will need a longer break, especially if the task is really demanding. Typically, people will need to take a longer break after 120 minutes (with as many as three 5-minute microbreaks).

4. I feel like I am overscheduling my day. Is this really necessary?

Whether or not frequently scheduling microbreaks is necessary is something that you will have to try out and determine. Taking breaks (at some point) is necessary. After a while, everyone’s attention starts to wane. After a while, everyone gets tired. If you keep at something that is repetitive and boring, you can burn out and even lose interest. How many breaks you need to optimize your productivity varies a lot from one person to the next. The goal is for each person to work out what the most effective number of microbreaks is.

5. Should I really avoid checking my phone and social media during my microbreak?

Yes, you should. At least at first. Checking your phone, browsing Instagram and talking to your friends are a great thinking to do, but none of these ever really last for just five minutes.  They can easily become a deep hole that you might not come back from for an hour or so. Save all of those great things for the end of your two-hour break.

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1Patricia Albulescu, Irina Macsinga, Andrei Rusu, Coralia Sulea, Alexandra Bodnaru, Bogdan Tudor Tulbure. ‘Give me a break!’ A systematic review and meta-analysis on the efficacy of micro-breaks for increasing well-being and performance. PLOS ONE, 2022; 17 (8):

2Lyubykh, Z., Gulseren, D., Premji, Z., Wingate, T. G., Deng, C., Bélanger, L. J., & Turner, N. (2022). Role of work breaks in well-being and performance: A systematic review and future research agenda. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 27(5), 470–487.

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