My fascination with time management and motivational techniques began when I became an OU student, trying to fit my studies around two jobs and two small children. I’m still juggling two (different) jobs, one of which is freelance writing, and two children (though they’ve grown considerably – honestly, juggling them now kills my arms). So anything that claims to help me make good use of my time grabs my interest. Like, for instance, a tomato.
Don’t panic. I’m not about to send you to the fridge for a tomato, so you can commune with it on some deep inner level to fathom how it uses time and energy. I’m really not that Zen.
This particular tomato is a mechanical kitchen timer shaped like a tomato, which forms the basis of a time management system called the Pomodoro Technique.
Sowing the Seeds of Success
The Pomodoro Technique was created by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. Concerned about his inability to ignore distractions and focus on his university studies for more than a few minutes, he began using a kitchen timer shaped like a pomodoro (Italian for tomato, in case you’re wondering) to set periods of time when he would do nothing but study, ignoring all interruptions until the timer went off. By 1992, he’d defined his Pomodoro Technique, a ‘revolutionary time management system’ which is ‘deceptively simple to learn and life-changing to use’ (or so the website claims).
Using the Pomodoro Technique
At basic level, all you need is a timer – and no, it doesn’t have to be shaped like a tomato; you can use anything that measures time and alerts you once that time has elapsed, although it may be best to avoid using your dangerously-distracting phone or computer for this if you don’t it for your work.
Set your timer for 25 minutes and commit to doing nothing but work for those 25 minutes. After all, how hard can it be to focus for just 25 minutes? Put the answer-phone on and if you think of something urgent, scribble it on a piece of paper to deal with later and put it out of your head; focus only on the task!
When the timer goes off, give yourself a short break. DON’T take more than 5 minutes, but DO take a break. Avoid flitting on to social media – just check potentially urgent emails if you must, and if you’ve been sitting at a computer, try to move around to keep your heart and joints healthy.
Repeat this 25/5 pattern until you’ve completed four 25 minute sessions. Then allow yourself a longer break of 15-30 minutes to recharge and have a cuppa, giving your brain time to assimilate what you’ve been doing before you start all over again.
Does It Really Work? Surely There’s More to It?
Yes, there’s more to it – but I’m going to give the technique and the tools a fair trial, and then report back. However, other freelancers have found it helpful. Writer and artist David Baillie says he switches to ‘pomodoros’ “at the end of a long writing day when my mind tends to drift,” and finds it “really useful.” Berin Kinsman, an author and game designer who’s written about his own trial of the Pomodoro Technique, says: “What’s worked for me is the concept of shunting distractions to that 5 minute break. Phone buzzed with an incoming message? Wait for the break. Thought of something I need to look up? Need more coffee? Wait for the break… 25 minutes isn’t that long to have to wait for anything.”
Berin’s right; 25 minutes really isn’t that long. Plus the Pomodoro website claims it allows writers to draft a book in three weeks (although perhaps that only applies if you’re full-time?), and I’ve been meaning to write this book about a bespectacled boy who’s sent to a school for wizards… so watch this space.
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