Loving the Pomodoro

On the search for better use of my time

For anyone who knows Italian, I am not talking about loving tomatoes (pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato). I do not love tomatoes. The opposite in fact. I think tomatoes are a slimy, foul-tasting cosmic error. They are like a collection of pepper seeds trapped in snot balled up inside rotten animal intestines.

And we are supposed to accept the tomato as a member of the fruit family? What kind of nonsense is the science of plant biology trying to foist on us there? Fruit is God's dessert, nature's vehicle for the the delivery of sugar, healthy food that gives the most pleasure. Does any of that describe a tomato?

A tomato needs to be transformed into something else to be palatable. And transformed in such a way as to hide its true nature. Think ketchup. Salsa. Pizza Sauce.

No, the pomodoro I have fallen in love with is definitely not the (air quotes) fruit (end air quotes), it is the pomodoro method of time management and work focus.

If you already know and use it, then there is no need to read this post. Really, just click off and go do something else. If you don't know it (or need a reminder of how frickin' awesome it is), stick around. It's about to get organized up in here.

You don't cook eggs using this timer

In Italy, a cooking timer (commonly called an egg time in England and the U.S.) is shaped like a tomato. The pomodoro timer has, usually and by tradition, a twenty-five minute maximum countdown.

As a writer, I struggle often with momentum and focus. I work on a project for a while then it bogs down or I get distracted. I also travel for work and can occasionally be sidelined by the demands of my two main sources of income when they overwhelm my days.

I am most productive when I work at least a little every day on my current writing project and lose momentum quickly when I miss even one or two days in a row. Breaking writing momentum strains my spirit and my belief in my place in the world as a writer. Picking the work back up takes days, even weeks sometimes.

Back to the pomodoro method. How do you work? Marathon work sessions? Are you a multitasker? A procrastinator? Marathon sessions lead to fatigue after even just two or three hours for most people. Multi-tasking might as well be called multi-failing because divided focus leads to no progress on more than front at the same time.

Italian efficiency expert Francesco Cirillo studied people's ability to create productive work and concluded that on average, we work best in short, focused bursts of attention on one thing at a time. We also benefit from breaks. And are capable of repeating that cycle for long work periods.

Getting your tomato on

The pomodoro method takes his lessons about focus and work/output and turns them into a simple systems. Which is this:

Start a timer for 25 minutes. Work on one focused thing (or type of thing) without stopping until the timer expires. No distractions. No responding to phone notifications. No breaks. Just 25 minutes of one-hundred-percent focus on one thing. Then take a five-minute break. Then repeat.

It's like magic for focus and getting shit done. When I use the pomodoro method, even if I can only go two or three deep in one day due to time constraints, I always make significant, measurable progress on whatever I chose to work on.

I use the pomodoro method when I work on my fiction. For first-draft writing, editing, typing in edits, proof-reading, story creation, etc. It works well for me. In 25 minutes, I can write 700 words or so. When I'm working on a new draft, my goal is to get three or four pomodoros in a day. That's usually around 2,000 words. Which makes writing a full-length first-draft novel an eight or ten week project tops. On the weekends, I can do as many as 8 and really not miss much of the day (that's only four hours of focused work).

Throwing tomatoes at things other than writing

I've even adopted the pomodoro method into my day job(s). When I have a pile of tasks or a particular goal for work, I just schedule in a block of time and use pomodoro's to focus my energy. It is an amazing system for regulating focus and helps me come out of the low-momentum periods that disrupt my writing ambitions.

I encourage you to learn about the pomodoro method. Try it yourself. Adapt the time periods to works for you. And share your thoughts. And if you use some other method for getting your work done when there isn't the luxury of unlimited work time, tell me about your system instead.

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