You Say Tomato, I Say Pomodoro

October 01 2020
tomato-shaped kitchen timer

Productivity can be an elusive thing. Especially if you are working from home, just about anything can serve as a distraction robbing you of precious time and putting a pin in your productivity. The laundry is calling your name. The dog is scratching at the door. A child asks for help with an assignment. The list of distractions is long, and time is short. It takes nerves of steel and laser focus to maintain control not only of your workday, but to actually get some work done.

There are lots of sneaky tips and ideas that you can incorporate into your day to help keep you on track. Checking email at certain intervals, delegating tasks, having an accountability partner, and prioritizing tasks are just a few examples. Since we are all given the same amount of time each day, namely 24 hours, it’s not a question of how much time is available to us. Rather, it’s how we choose to use that time. Enter the Pomodoro Technique.

One Tomato, Two Tomato, Three Tomato, Four

(Yes, I know the ditty is really about potatoes.) The basic idea behind the Pomodoro Technique is to devote your concentration on a task for a set amount of time, 25 minutes to be exact. Then, take a break for five minutes. The period of 25 minutes is considered a tomato. It is the heart of the method, putting yourself in the zone for one tomato at a time. Set a timer for 25 minutes. When the bell rings, take a break. It really is just that simple.

The Pomodoro Technique was created by Italian student Francesco Cirillo, who was having difficulty focusing on his studies and completing assignments. He committed himself to focusing for just 10 minutes (the original tomato). Rising to his own challenge, he set a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato, and the Pomodoro Technique was born.

When working through a project, you can set as many tomatoes as you think may be necessary. Once you have completed four pomodoros, you get rewarded with a longer, 15-30-minute break.

Work Smarter, One Tomato at a Time

The Pomodoro Technique has become a widely popular time management tool. The premise is uncomplicated and is probably what makes it so attractive. Alternating focused work sessions with built-in breaks promotes sustained concentration and wards off mental fatigue. Studies have shown that taking breaks does increase your ability to focus on the task or project at hand, which in turns increases productivity.

While Mr. Cirillo has written a book on the subject, there are a few key elements to keep in mind.

  1. As with any large-scale project, it is best to break it down into smaller chunks. This is especially helpful if your project will last longer than four tomatoes. Identify the tasks or steps to complete it so that you can see progress toward your goal.
  2. Group smaller, quicker tasks together and schedule as one tomato to fulfill the method.
  3. Commit to the full 25-minute session. This means no taking phone calls, no checking emails or allowing any distractions to enter the tomato zone. If something does come up, write it down as a reminder to address it later. In the event of an unavoidable disruption, take your break and start again. In case you finish your task before time is up, engage in overlearning or improving on an existing skill. Remember, the bell must ring!

A Simple Tool to Boost Productivity

The beauty of the Pomodoro Technique is surely in its simplicity. It allows you to devote yourself to a small, manageable measure of time. And it rewards you for doing so. It takes the overwhelm out a looming project, helps you see your progress and encourages you to continue. True, distractions, perhaps the self-inflicted variety, may be temptations. The Pomodoro Technique trains your brain to focus on just one task (or the fewer small tasks) and gives it the re-set it needs during the break.

This is a method that can turn a negative perception into a positive experience. A source of anxiety, i.e. the overwhelming project, becomes a clear measure of productivity. Cirillo calls this inverting time. With more practice, you can assess how much time, or pomodoros are needed to complete tasks. Perhaps you will even develop your own balance of work time/break time. It is a simple yet powerful tool to help plan your workday to create consistent work habits and improve productivity.

And it all begins with just one tomato.