Manage Your Time with a Tomato

tomatoRecently, a client approached me expressing her need to manage her time more effectively. She felt overwhelmed with all of he projects she was juggling at work, and as a result, felt that she wasn’t doing any one of them as well as she could. I could certainly relate–there have been many times in my career when I have felt swamped, juggling so many projects I was unsure where–or even how–to start.

In my research for this client, I found the most intriguing time management tool…a tomato. I’m not sure whether you have ever heard of–or used–the Pomodoro Technique™ Exit Disclaimer, but its properties are quite simple and can be applied anytime, anywhere.

According to the Pomodoro Technique™ Exit Disclaimer website, “Creator Francesco Cirillo was a university student in Rome struggling to stay on task. He decided to challenge his powers of concentration using what he had at hand – a kitchen timer in the shape of a tomato. That was the first Pomodoro. (Tomato in Italian). Bright red, iconic, and charmingly low-tech, it’s the perfect invitation for getting things done.”

I found I agreed with the technique up to this point…I DO think bright red kitchen timers in the shape of a tomato are cute. I read on…

Essentially, the technique involves writing a to-do list early in the day, setting your timer (kitchen, electronic, web-based, or otherwise) for 25 minutes, and focusing on only one task from your list during that time. When the timer goes off, you have completed one “pomodoro.” You put a check mark next to that task on your list, indicating the completion of one pomodoro, and take a 5-minute break. After that, you set your timer once again and go for another 25 minutes, again focusing on one task alone, though it may or may not be the same task you worked on previously. After completing 4 “pomodoros” in a row, you take a longer break, from 15-30 minutes.

Bah, I thought. I was skeptical of the claims made on the Pomodoro website:

  • “Enhance focus and concentration by cutting down on interruptions!”
  • “Boost motivation and keep it constant!”
  • “Refine the estimation process, both in qualitative and quantitative terms!”
  • “Improve your work or study process!”

This technique seemed so simple, and its claims so lofty, I had to try it out for myself.

As much as I would love to have a pomodoro of my very own, I currently do not, so I opted for a simple online clock Exit Disclaimer. Per the instructions on the PT website, I listed all of the projects I was then involved with on the “Activity Inventory Sheet,” and from those chose 4 tasks to list on my “To-Do Today” sheet. (I used Excel to track my projects and pomodoros, though the site does sell such sheets of paper.) I set my timer for 25 minutes and went to work. When the timer went off, I stood up, grabbed a drink of water, reset the timer, and went back to work for another 25 minutes.

By the end of the day, I felt a great sense of accomplishment, having completed many pomodoros–and many goals for that day. And lo and behold, my concentration did improve! I regularly struggle with internal interruptions (“What’s for dinner?” “What do we need at the grocery?” “What time is Charles’s gymnastics class?” etc.), but found the length of one pomodoro (25 minutes) so short, I was able to fend off these interruptions. Conversely, the amount of time spent on one pomodoro (25 minutes) was in fact long enough to focus intently and not lose concentration on the task at hand. Further, knowing how many pomodoros a particular task actually took to complete was valuable information I used throughout the day and into the next. Amazing!  All from one little tomato.

Mr. Cirillo, the Pomodoro Technique’s creator, has been kind enough to share his time management strategy in a free, online workbook Exit Disclaimer. So check it out if you’d like to test this time management tool out for yourself–just be sure not to use too many pomodoros to do it.

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