on Tomato Time

It may be a stretch to write about productivity on a Friday (the Friday before Christmas holiday, at that) but I’m going to give it a try anyway.

If you’re a human who must use a computer for any more than a few hours a day to do your job, chances are you probably struggle somewhat with staying on task. It is in the internet’s DNA to make jumping from one thing to another really easy. The purpose of hypertext (you know, that http thing in a web address) is to transfer you from one text to another… and do it at hyperspeed!

I’ve lost a lot of productivity when I encounter a frustrating problem, and instead of forging through decide to take an internet ‘break’ which stretches into hours. It’s difficult to keep a disciplined work routine when you’re face to face with a ‘distraction machine’ all day.

For the last several weeks, however, I’ve been using a method that’s something like the dragon slayer of wasted time – the Pomodoro Technique.

Named after a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato (pomodoro) the technique was invented by some guy in some place some time ago. That’s not important. What’s important is the method: work a solid 25 minutes, with no interruptions or distractions. At the 25th minute, a bell chimes, and you take a five minute break. Get up, stretch, pour coffee, whatever. Then another 25 minutes. Repeat the cycle, and after completing four cycles (or ‘pomos’) extend the break to 15 or 25 minutes.

Work 25, Rest 5, Work 25, Rest 5, Work 25, Rest 5, Work 25, Rest 15.

There’s some psychology or other sciencey stuff that explains why this works so well. I think you can read all about that in the ‘founders’ original paper on the technique, available here. There are also functions to improve the cycles, like planning out tasks before beginning a ‘pomo,’ estimating how many ‘pomos’ a task might take, and ‘dropping’ any pomo which is interrupted beyond repair.

I wish I could remember where I first heard about this technique so I could give credit to whoever has bumped up my output over the last several weeks. As I’ve faced deadlines for end-of-semester projects in graduate school, been tasked with a new project at work, and continued trying to read & write in my own time, using the pomo method has been invaluable.

Aside from keeping me disciplined about getting shit done, the pomo technique has also made clear to me that the 8 hour workday is a myth. For anyone working in an office, actually getting 8 hours of solid work done is difficult and unlikely. The most pomos I’ve been able to complete in a single day is 16 – almost equal to about 8 hours of work – but it took me from 9:30 in the morning to 11:15 at night to do it.

There are a variety of apps for smartphones, desktop & the web that make following the process a breeze. Most will display a countdown on your display, at the end of which a small bell chimes, reminding you to take your break. I recommend the ‘Pomotodo‘ app, which also lets you write a short statement about what was accomplished with each ‘pomo’ and displays nice charts and graphs to help you visualize your work.

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 7.23.31 AM

I gave myself approximately one pomo to write and publish this blog post – and knowing that I have only a limited amount of time to accomplish it is making me work a little bit harder and a little bit faster. Hopefully I’ll be finished on time, and get to have a 5 minute coffee when I’m done!

One comment

  1. I set mine to do thirty minutes then 15 minutes in between, mainly as my desk is upstairs so once I finish if I want a coffee or a snack I have to go downstairs which means of course my two dogs assume they are going to get to go run up an down the garden for 5 minutes so I can guarantee it takes at least ten mins before I get to get a drink or anything else lol but seriously I do find it useful especially when I am editing which I find much more effective done in short bursts

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