The Tomato Timer That Changed My Life

2 Feb

For the past two weeks I have been using the Pomodoro Technique to manage my freelance work schedule. So far, the system has kept me on track and happier!

Basically, the Pomodoro technique was born in Rome when a young man used his kitchen timer, shaped like a tomato, to do timed spurts of studying. The method has been refined since then, but involves 25 minute chunks of time called “Pomodoros.”

To use the method, you write down a list of daily tasks and work on a task for 25 minutes then take a timed 3-5 minute break. After completing one Pomodoro, you mark an “X” next to the task on the sheet.  Repeat this three more times, for four 25 minute Pomodoros and three 3-5 minute breaks. At the end of the fourth Pomodoro you are rewarded with a longer 15-30 minute break.

Throughout the day, move down the tasks on your list and keep the to-do items specific enough that they only take up a maximum of seven Pomodoros. There is also a weekly inventory list so that if you think of more tasks, or get future assignments you can write them down there. Each new workday, the first thing to do is transfer the tasks you want to tackle from the weekly inventory to the daily to-do list.

The best part of the Pomodoro technique is that the breaks are not optional. You have to work uninterrupted for 25 minutes, with no email checking, tea-making or answering unexpected calls. You also MUST take a break in between each Pomodoro and set. On the break, the technique encourages you to forget about what you were working on, walk around, go outside and generally think pleasant thoughts, like what you will do this weekend.

With these forced breaks I am no longer incapacitated by burning twitchy eyes from staring at the computer too long. I also have less “ants in my pants” when I sit back down and I am able to concentrate more clearly when the 25 minute timer is on.

If you visit the Pomodoro Technique’s website, there are free printable inventory and daily worksheets, a quick, cheat-sheet guide to the method and a longer free e-book explaining the technique in more detail. I also use a Pomodoro App for Mac which embeds the tomato timer in my desktop (one of the tenets of the technique is to always be able to see how much time is left). There are also Pomodoro timer apps for Windows like the Focus Booster.

At the end of a workday, I now have 12 or more little X’s on my worksheet showing that for 12 x 25 minutes, I was fully concentrating on work. Much better than sitting for 8 hours and doing 4 hours of work when you could be out exercising, or reading a book or doing something better with that time.

So give the Pomodoro Technique a try! It’s free, easy to get started with and really works.

4 Responses to “The Tomato Timer That Changed My Life”

  1. potomak November 28, 2012 at 6:30 am #

    Please try Tomatoes (http://tomato.es), it’s a web-based pomodoro timer and time tracker. It’s cross platform and it stores your pomodoros online to let you access them from anywhere.

  2. Christopher Porter February 3, 2011 at 6:59 pm #

    And then I saw I had skipped the last paragraph, talking about the desktop app! So…. the question remains, were you using the desktop app?

    • Britt February 3, 2011 at 8:45 pm #

      Yes I do use the desktop app. I had to start my 25 minutes over in order to talk to you, but it’s ok!

  3. Christopher Porter February 3, 2011 at 6:54 pm #

    I did not see the timer when I ran into you today? Must have found a laptop timer to do the same thing :)

    I think this is an interesting idea, that is appropriate for some types of work, to maximize the time you can focus on an activity, and reward yourself with small breaks.

    I think the concept of sticking to a task is extremely important in our information overload age, but where is the balance between immediate and important. When do you return phone calls? What about making time for running into people (like me).

    Good luck on your time management journey. It sounds like you are well on your way to developing personal time management strategies that work for you and your stage in life! Now if you could only solve my time management issues while you are at it.

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