For many productivity-obsessed people, the Pomodoro Technique is an essential way to maximise time spent working while taking healthy intermittent short breaks. At its most basic, you do one ‘pomodoro’: a 25-minute work period, and a 5-min break. Repeat this four times, then take an extended 25-min break..
All one needs to practise the Pomodoro Technique is a stopwatch or a timer. One could easily begin with your digital wristwatch, or any timer app on your phone, my favourite being the minimalist Ovo timer (Android).
Of course, there are a plethora of apps focused specifically on timing pomodoros. My search for the best pomodoro app began with looking for certain features:
0. A design that is easy on the eyes.
It goes without saying that I like my apps well-designed: clean and usually minimalist, following contemporary phone design paradigms. This ‘feature zero’ goes for any app I use. There are plenty of ugly Pomodoro apps that do skeuomorphism poorly or use designs dating back to Windows 98. The actual most important Pomodoro app-specific feature for me is:
1. Customisable durations for work and break periods.
Some people like myself decided to modify the duration of the work and break periods; I use a 35-min work period and a 10-minute break, and take a long break at lunch or when the work day ends.This meant that I wanted to look for pomodoro apps that allow me to change the timing.
The Play Store has plenty of pretty pomodoro apps that also let you customise the duration. My favourites are usually those with clean designs: Pomodoro Timer and ClearFocus: Productivity Timer. Some awesome pomodoro apps originally escaped my notice because they didn’t even have ‘pomodoro’ in their name, such as Productivity Challenge, which puts on a faux communist labour-driven gimmick for motivation.
Although it is true that work discipline comes from within, I liked to use apps that could actually restrict my slacking behaviour. This brought me to the next step of the search:
2. A Chrome extension that blocks websites on a blacklist during a work period and allows them during breaks.
I have used website blocking Chrome extensions such as StayFocusd for blocking my access to my websites of procrastination (honourable mention: Go F–king Work is good for those who like being strongly scolded into working harder). However, I wanted a website blocker that wasn’t as extreme as StayFocusd’s fixed daily time allotment for going to these time-wasting websites, but one that simply blocked those sites when I was working.
I found Strict Workflow (Chrome), which did just that, and also had customisable durations. I used it for a long time. However, the timer required the browser open, and whenever I shut Chrome off, the timer would pause. I wanted something to run in the background even when I wasn’t on Chrome.
3. Background app for desktop, notification when period ends.
It was hard finding a good and pretty one for Windows. However, I managed to find a really pretty one: Pomello (Windows/Mac/Linux), which integrates with Trello – so if you already use Trello’s kanban board system for your productivity purposes, Pomello is a good pomodoro app for you. The minimised view is minimal, clean, and pretty. It also snaps to the edge of your screen.
4. Syncing between browser extension and desktop app.
However, Pomello didn’t have an accompanying Chrome extension, while Strict Workflow didn’t have a desktop companion. So when on my pomodoros, I had to choose one or the other. I wanted something that worked simultaneously with both, i.e. combining features 2& 3 while still retaining 1. My search ended with PomoDoneApp (Mac/Windows/Linux/ Chrome), which has a Chrome extension that blocks websites when working, and a desktop app that minimises to the system tray as the number of minutes left in your period. The mini-window isn’t as pretty as Pomello’s and doesn’t snap to the edge, but it’s good enough. It also integrates with other to-do list apps such as Trello and Wunderlist. The sync can be a bit janky though; if I didn’t open Chrome before beginning my pomodoro, the extension often fails to realise that I already started one.
5. Free or one-time payment.
There’s another Pomodoro app called Pomotodo that has all of the features aforementioned in one package: customisable durations, apps on browser, desktop, and phone, cross-platform syncing, and looking even nicer than PomoDoneApp while doing it. Unfortunately, customisable durations is one of the features restricted to users with a Pro subscription of US$3.90/mo. If you’re willing to pay a monthly subscription for a Pomodoro app, go ahead, but it’s one subscription service I’m not ready to begin. I would prefer to make a one-time payment for a solid Pomodoro app, but I guess they need to finance servers to back up synced user data.
In the end, I settled with the free version of PomoDoneApp that lets me customise durations, but even PomoDoneApp uses subscriptions for revenue.
So there you have it. My journey to finding my favourite Pomodoro timer brought me to PomoDoneApp, but maybe you found one of the other apps I mentioned along the way fits your needs and requirements more closely to your preferences. What other Pomodoro app features do you wish you could have? Are there any other solid Pomodoro timer apps you use that I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments!