The goal of the Pomodoro Timer Technique is to increase productivity by dividing time into easily manageable portions, with short and long breaks interspersed between working periods. This technique can be used with any timer system, either low tech like a kitchen (tomato or egg) timer, or high-tech such as the Focus Keeper app by Limespresso.
The Pomodoro Technique supports planning, organization and extra structure for engaging in on-task behaviour as well as mitigating frustration-load for both home (activities of daily living) and academic activities, and is a suitable approach for persons with challenges with executive functioning, low frustration tolerance or those requiring additional structural supports for transitions between activities, including but not limited to persons with ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, language impairments, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder, and/or acquired or congenital cognitive disability.
Features and Flexibility
Focus Keeper features default timer settings of 25 minutes work — 5 minutes break, repeat for 4 cycles, then 25 minute long break. During the work periods, the screen is red with a rotating graphic countdown timer as well as the numerals counting down. Once the work cycle is finished, a timer “ding” sounds and the app switches to a break timer with the same visual. During the break periods, the screen is blue, and the background sound is, by default, a wall clock ticking sound. The long break incorporates a default soundtrack of “cafe noise” — coffee shop chatter. The visuals are large and clean, easy to read and the countdown timer is in numeric form, not in traditional clock form. The audio cues are helpful during periods of intense focus or for students who have challenges interpreting number values related to clocks and timers. Blocks of time are recorded and charted to track one’s progress through the day. All options for customization are accessed through the menu — tapping on the clock icon in the top left corner of the screen allows access to record charts and customization options.
The app can be customized to change the length of work and break periods, and how many repeated cycles before a long break. A person can also set a daily goal of how many “Focus” units. This supports students in learning to use the technique by starting with shorter periods of work time before a break, then gradually lengthening the work time and decreasing the break periods to reach an appropriate balance of time based on the individual’s needs and growth. It also is helpful for students and persons who work at home or are focusing on in-home activities, in order to structure larger amounts of constructive, or productive, time.
The ticking clock sound and alarm sounds can be muted and have separate volume controls in addition to the main volume control for the device. There are additional sound options for the alarm, as well as for the ticking sound – instead of a clock, “rain,” “rain light,” or a beach soundtrack can be used. A student could plug in headphones to use it in a situation where the extra sounds from the app are helpful as audio cues but may be distracting for other students. There is also a setting for vibration on silent mode, which is helpful for students with hearing impairment or those who do not benefit from the additional sound cues. If multi-tasking on the device, the app can be minimized but the sounds remain. The badge icon for the app displays whole minutes left in the current session.
The work period (Focus), short break, and long break screen colours can be changed through the options menu and a sliding graphic display of colour pixels. These options are helpful to mitigate sensory distractions or sensory challenges.
Use and Review
I found this app to be easy to use, simple in design, and easy to customize as an adult; a young student may benefit from assistance from an adult in customizing the settings. I have used Focus Keeper in multiple ways at home: writing long essays by breaking down the writing sessions into manageable “bursts” with built-in breaks, organizing my house cleaning time — with great success. The first time I tried the app, I was distracted by the sound effects, but once I started hyper focusing on a task, I found the auditory cues very helpful to know when to take a break and when to get back to work, without having to constantly reference the clock visual. My son finds the sounds too distracting but responds very well to the colour cues and the countdown visual and we have found much success in visual timer approaches incorporating breaks and transitions at home and at school.
In a classroom setting, I would use this for an individual student in the same fashion: to provide additional support for increasing on-task behaviour by breaking down longer activities or periods of time into manageable times as per the student’s needs. One example of this would be in a writer’s workshop setting in a later elementary school grade; if students were given 45 minutes to finish their outline and write two paragraphs, the timer could be set for three cycles of twelve minutes with 3 minute breaks in between. Another reason this timer system is helpful is for busy brains — it sets a focussed time goal for one task at a time — helpful for students who may get overwhelmed and distracted by a large amount of tasks to complete! For a whole class with many students with exceptionalities, this may be a helpful way for the teacher to support the structure of the class by providing multi-sensory cues to all the students for both activities and transition times (clean up, changing to a different area of the class). I have also found benefit in structuring small group music clinics in this way: short work period bursts followed by a short break – it is helpful for processing and practicing large amounts of new information by providing breaks interspersed within the teaching time (often 1-2 hours).
Focus Keeper by Limespresso is available through the Apple App Store for iPad, iPhone or iPod for $2.79, making it an inexpensive assistive technology for students who already own and use a portable Apple device. There is a free version with limited customization but a fully functional timer to trial before purchasing. There are many other apps available for the Pomodoro technique as well, in addition to the low-tech solution of using a kitchen/egg timer, a tomato or egg kitchen timer, or any program or device, including a watch, stove, microwave or phone timer — even the snooze timer on a clock radio! — which allows to set a customized period of time with an alert setting for the end of the time period.
Goldrich, C. (2013). PTS Coaching: The pomodoro technique. Retrieved from: http://www.ptscoaching.com/articles/the-pomodoro-technique/
Nowell, D. D. (2013). Manage procrastination with the pomodoro technique. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/intrinsic-motivation-and-magical-unicorns/201307/manage-procrastination-the-pomodoro-technique
Special-Ism. (2015). Visual timers can boost productivity and self-esteem. Retrieved from: http://special-ism.com/making-time-an-ally-visual-timers/
The Pomodoro Technique. (n.d.). Get started – The Pomodoro Technique. Retrieved from: http://pomodorotechnique.com/get-started/