Thursday, August 25, 2011

Tomatoes and Time

Have you heard of the Pomodoro Technique for time management? Pomodoro is Italian for tomato. What do tomatoes and time have in common?

Nothing, really, except for the tomato shaped kitchen timer a young man had on his desk. As a student in Italy, he observed that his own study habits, and the study habits of those around him, were ineffective. He decided to challenge his abilities to concentrate and focus by using a simple, non-high-tech tool to get things done. His method is easy to learn, with supplies already at hand. Today, he teaches this technique world wide to individuals and groups, helping them to "eliminate the anxiety of time," and "enhance focus and concentration."

What is a Pomodoro?  Five basic steps:

  1. Choose a task to be accomplished
  2. Set the Pomodoro (timer) to 25 minutes
  3. Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper
  4. Take a short break (about 5 minutes)
  5. Every 4 Pomodoros, take a longer break
I don't have the nifty tomato timer, but obviously, any timer will work. The point is to focus on the task for 25 minutes.
                   "I'll run downstairs and get another cup of coffee."
                   "No, you will work until the timer goes off."
                   "Oh, I need to call [someone]."
                   "Jot down a note-to-self, get on with the 25 minute focus."
                   "I'll never get this finished."
                    "25 minutes. That's all. Keep working."

On the website, there are downloadable forms, ideas and techniques, and an e-book to read (all free). He has a method for becoming aware of your internal interruptions (like my cup of coffee) and a way to handle the external interruptions ("Mom, can you help me with this?"). By marking little boxes for each Pomodoro on your list, then checking them off as completed, the paper becomes a visual lesson in the accuracy of estimating how long a task will take, and a record of exactly how much time you have worked.
(image from Amazon)
This method works especially well for me when I am working to establish a new habit or with a tough task I am procrastinating. I can clearly see that [this] task took me three Pomodoros, when I only expected it to take one. Or, it alleviates the impact of an overwhelming job - just 25 minutes, just 25 minutes and focus for that long: not until the whole thing is done, just 25 minutes. The smaller time frame makes for a do-able session. Rather than the weight of organizing the whole kitchen, a bite sized piece is one or two cupboards, whatever will fit in 25 minutes. 

Next time you are facing a task you don't want to do (like that I-don't-even-know-what's-in-it cupboard), or have a new habit to start (like writing in a journal), set the Pomodoro for 25 minutes,
 and Get it Done.


  1. Thanks for the link to this method and the great explanation of it. I think I need to check this out. I am seriously befuddled in my moving preparations!

  2. That's the beauty of the 25 minutes. Packing, moving, sorting, organizing are all completely overwhelming. Set the timer, work for just a little while, then, take a break! It really does help.