To pause a pomodoro or not to pause a pomodoro?

Energize Focus Timer for iPhone break mode

I’ve received some questions (and had interesting discussions!) regarding implementing pause feature in Energize Focus Timer (which is an app I made for Apple Devices that was inspired by the Pomodoro Technique by Francesco Cirillo).

It’s not just now — I’ve given some thought to the pause feature already, during the planning stage. I discarded the idea then, for various reasons: design and faithfulness to my inspiration, namely the Pomodoro Technique.

But after receiving some emails, I feel now is the time to either reassert my original viewpoint (and keep pause at bay — for whatever reasons I might present next) or change my mind completely, and implement the feature.

To help my in my searches, I turned to the original paper regarding the method as published some time ago by Francesco Cirillo.

Pauses and breaks in the Pomodoro Method

The Pomodoro Technique, to put it simply, gives no room for interruption of pomodoro sessions.

Well, that was quick.

Still, some insights and solutions to the problem we’re all encountering would be more than welcome. I think each one of us at some point wished they had the pause feature available at hand. So, why there’s no pause in the Pomodoro Technique?

Let’s read on. Cirillo mentions that:

If pomodoro is definitely interrupted by something on someone, that pomodoro should be considered void, as if it had never been set.

So, in other words, canonical Pomodoro sessions can’t be interrupted by any pauses besides planned breaks, and if they do, we do start our sessions over.

To put it simply: if there’s a distraction, your session is invalidated. That reasserts the quick solution to the pause problem: namely, no pause whatsoever.

But should we follow the method to the letter?

You probably noticed I’ve put the word canonical up there. That’s no coincidence. There are many, many variations sprouted from the technique — and as many people are there using stopwatches, timers, and apps to do their job, as many variations there are.

I don’t think any of us must adhere to the original (canonical) model of focus / break timer, as outlined in the Pomodoro Technique. But I think that we should at least give it some thought why Francesco Cirillo outlined the Pomodoro Technique the way he did.

So, why drop the pause altogether?

Eliminate distractions — not invite them

The goal of Pomodoro Technique, or (when it comes to apps) any focus timer you find on the App Store or Google Play Store is to reduce distractions and improve your focus.

That’s what almost every marketing material out there says. Say no to distractions, improve your focus, and so on and so forth.

After some thinking about the problem, I came to the conclusion that we might be addressing the wrong side of the issue. The elephant in the room in this case is that unplanned pause is a distraction itself. So, the logical thing would be, instead of accepting it as normal, to consider it to be a signal that something is wrong with our system. You know, the one that is meant to eliminate distractions and provide us a clean and efficient focus environment.

The phone call – an example

One example that’s often brought are incoming phone calls: you should be able to pause to take that call.

Or should you?

The original Pomodoro Technique — as far as I understand it — would have you do one of two things: either take that call and forfeit your focus session to start from scratch later on or ignore it alltogether.

But does this idealistic approach work in real life?

Pomodoro session should be atomic. It shouldn’t be divisible. There’s no such thing as half a pomodoro or a quarter of a pomodoro. That’s the way outlined in The Pomodoro Technique by Francesco Cirillo.

Pomodoro should be kept indivisible, sacred and protected at all costs. We get it.

But what to do when life gets in a way? (And, we all know, life will find a way to get in our way). Our phones might ring (or buzz). Suddenly, we might feel the urge to visit the restroom. We think like it’s a great idea to get a cup of coffee — or even we need that cup of coffee to function properly. We all get it.

I get it.

I mentioned two approaches to the phone problem: take the call and forfeit the session, or ignore the call.

The problem with the second approach is that by the time the phone rings, it might be too late already. You might be distracted, even subconsciously. What if it’s important? What if it’s from work? You know the drill. Don’t think about the white bear. As soon as the phone rings, your mind — which might already be desperate for some entertainment — might want to solve the mystery of a call unanswered.

So, what to do instead of hitting that pause button?

What to do when life gets in a way of pomodoro? First, the way I see it, if our system is to protect us from the outside world of sorts and to provide us shelter where we can be productive, we may see these interruptions as a message.

Our distraction net has been breached already.

Maybe we should check our systems. You know. There shouldn’t be any distractions, and yet there are.

Shorten your focus session

Maybe your focus session is too long after all. While original work documenting the Technique rarely has us do sessions that are longer than 45 minutes, citing 30 minutes as the sweet spot.

Yet, all over the net I’ve seen people whose sessions are measured in hours.

I worked with sessions that are longer than the recommendations: when I worked on Energize, I found that longer sessions work much better for coding, when you need to get your deep work done.

At the same time, if you constantly feel like you need to go get that coffee about 40 minutes into your focus sessions, that might be a pretty solid cue that your session might be too long.

Use your phone’s focus mode

iOS 15’s Focus Mode on iPhones and iPads might be very helpful in the matter of reducing external distractions while you focus on your work. What’s more, you can be flexible with the distractions you want to avoid: you keep out notifications from Twitter, Facebook, Reddit (whatever you say isn’t immediately important). At the same time, you allow phone calls to come through, especially important ones (yes, you can also be selective which contacts or group of contacts should be allowed to come through).

Because, remember, there are calls you should take the moment they arrive.

So, will Energize have a pause feature?

Writing that article made me rethink implementing a pause feature into Energize deeply. I was sitting on the fence on that one until now. But so far, I’m inclined to keep things simple, atomic, indivisible and — for the moment — my decision is that I won’t be adding a pause feature to Energize Focus Timer.

Not just for the sake of keeping things simple. I do believe, that having collided with the distraction wall and being unable to hit that pause is something that can bring positive changes to our focus workflow. It’s achieved by forcing us to rethink some ways we assert our distraction-free workspace.

I’m writing this with one disclaimer, though. Since — for some time now — I’m no longer the only user of Energize, I’m very open to discussion. And if there’d be more voices of request concerning the pause, I will be glad to reconsider the possibility of implementing pause again.

If you’d like to visit Energize App Store page you can do that here.

Just to let you know: this article nor Energize app are not affiliated with, associated with, or endorsed by the Pomodoro Technique® or Francesco Cirillo.