Why you need your own pomodoro

pomodoro Red tomato - decorative timer for kitchen.

Word count: 520 words

Reading time: about 2 minutes

I’m a big believer in the magic of three. You know — the three little pigs, the three Musketeers, the three Stooges. There’s something ineffable but magical about a list of three. So, when I had three unrelated people forward me a Wall Street Journal article on the Pomodoro technique in less than a week, well, I took it as a sign. This was something I needed to investigate!

The Pomodoro technique is a time management system. Yes, I confess, I’m obsessed with time. I work hard. I have my own business. I’m a parent of triplet teenagers. Oh, and we’re rebuilding our house right now, so I’m busy. Really busy.

The Pomodoro technique, which was developed by an Italian, is based on using a kitchen timer. There are apparently timers shaped exactly like tomatoes although I’ve never seen one except in pictures. (Tomato is pomodoro in Italian.) Instead of simply working whenever you feel like it or when you can squeeze it in, you work in 25-minute bursts.

Set your timer for 25 minutes and then give the work your total concentration. Don’t answer the phone. Don’t check email. Don’t do anything except your work. As soon as the timer “dings,” take a regulated five minute break and then start on another Pomodoro.

I’ve long been a fan of using a kitchen timer to motivate myself but this technique, which is more carefully developed than any practice of mine, proved to offer more substantial results. I think it works for some of the same reasons that Dr. Wicked is so effective: it causes you to focus. It makes you put all of your attention on the task at hand.

Soon, there I was, striding off to a nearby shopping centre, determined get a new timer and feeling a bit like Sue Sylvester, that demented cheerleading coach from the TV show Glee. (Sue usually has a stopwatch in her hands.)

One of the things I like best about the Pomodoro technique is its focus on taking prescribed breaks. During my five-minute breathers I’ve taken to doing my back stretches (no way I’d do them every 25 minutes otherwise!) I’ve even persuaded a friend of mine to give it a try and she reports similar results.

Her timer is not a Pomodoro — it’s a little red hen. She initially complained about the ticking (I break the rules by using a digital timer) but now she likes it and describes it as a “comforting wall of sound.” She also appreciates the developer’s optimistic, open-minded approach. “The next Pomodoro will go better,” he likes to say in his book.

Oh, and did I mention his book is fr/ee? You can pay if you’d like a printed copy but if you’re prepared to print it off yourself or read it online you can do so without spending a nickel. Check it out on the Pomodoro website! The book is 45 pages and an easy read.

Or, if you’re really busy, read Staffan Noteberg’s blog first, to save time.

I suggest you scan his article in a break between your own Pomodoros!

Posted December 1st, 2009 in Power Writing

  • Donna

    I’ll try this technique. I went to the website and it appears that the digital version of the book is no longer free.

    • That’s too bad, but it’s definitely worth experimenting with the technique even if you can’t get the book. Also, Staffan Noteberg’s blog is an excellent source.

  • Arnold

    The Pomodoro #5 working in transition of the series starting with #1 purchased in Weisloch, Germany 25 years ago. The idea that Time-Is-A-Factor, giving that a go I found something missing..to What? To make a return on my Promodoro investments I created a partnering tool.
    I like 5×8 index cards. Foldable Tool,, plenty of temporary writing space for short term use and shredding.
    How to use the Tool
    1. Fold the card in half either vertically or in the horizontal depending on preferred view and hand writing comfort styles.
    2. Draw a straight line across the top.
    3. Over the line on the left of the fold write in BOLD CAPS
    THINK THIS
    4. On the right side of the fold write in BOLD CAPS
    DO THAT
    Use unedited thoughts to clarify To Do’s , tasks, anything that might lead down the emotional response road before you signed on to it.

  • Denise Vastola

    Hi, Daphne. I read your recording studio piece, which led me to your pomodoro piece, which led me to your dr. wicked piece, which I tested on their site and can’t figure out why anyone would purchase the product, because the test showed me nothing! Back to the recording studio piece, I loved your recommendations of breaking down the to do list into six categories. I typically write mine in linear fashion and then prioritize them numerically, so #1 may be at the bottom and #whatever at the top. Most days, however, nothing on the list has a check mark because of the UNEXPECTED urgent and important stuff that came up. Any suggestions for that?

    • Hi Denise: Re your “to do” list, just ensure you do your “most important (not urgent)” tasks first, ideally early in the morning before anything can hijack your day. It’s true that unexpected urgent/important stuff frequently takes control of most people’s days. I start work at 6 am so I can get in a few hours before my phone starts ringing.

      Re: Dr Wicked, the test won’t SHOW you anything. But if you stare off into space (without writing) the screen will redden and after about 10 seconds of inactivity a loud, ugly noise (car alarm/crying baby) will sound. I find it very effective.

  • Kristina Saar

    Hi Daphne, how do I get the Pomodoro Technique book for free? I checked out the links, and it looks like both are books/ebooks that you have to pay for. Thanks!

    • It looks as though this offer (made by the pomo developer) is now off the table. (I wrote the column in 2009!) I’ll go back into my website and update this later today. Meanwhile, I suggest you look at Staffan Noteberg’s blog.

      • Kristina Saar

        No worries, thanks!