i like to think i’ve been productive since creating my own schedule. but i also have days where, although i accomplished my goals, i suspect i could do better. so i tried the Pomodoro Technique time-management strategy. and man, does it cut you down to size. your grandiose visions of personal productivity will…alter, to say the least.
here’s how it works:
- choose a task,
- make a pact with yourself to focus on only that objective for 25 minutes,
- set a timer,
- follow through
at the end you draw a checkmark on a piece of paper—a gratifying final flourish. since we should stand up every 20 minutes anyway, i recommend stretching at the end of each round. after four sessions, you’re rewarded with a longer, 20-30 minute break. full disclosure: i’m using the Technique to write about the Technique. it’s all very meta.
there are many reasons to resist. first, a language note. “pomodoro” is Italian for “tomato.” and since “pomodoro” is refers both to the timer and the timed sessions, it turns up everywhere on the site, making me hungry. still, i persevere.
another issue is pride:
- i know how long 25 minutes is.
- i don’t get distracted.
- i know exactly what i need to do.
- isn’t it more productive to start working instead of obsessing over how much time it takes?
sound familiar? i hear you. timing my work feels like prepping for the SATs again.
but i stick with it, although my Pomodoro setup is rudimentary. i won’t buy the official, tomato-shaped timer, because i’m a minimalist and, as i said, the imagery makes me salivate. i use the timer on my phone and set the alarm to “summit,” an uplifting jingle that's parts birds chirping and part the music played at hockey games.
the system debuted in the late 1980s, so shouldn’t i accept i’m late to the tomato party and quietly move on? no, because its secondary value is priceless.
with time, the Technique reveals your work habits and mindset. if you look closely, you’ll discover your overall relationship with your work, including the ways you resist it.
for example, i have a tendency to leap from idea to idea, effectively interrupting myself. in the middle of a round, i’ll hear my roommate in the kitchen and remember a question i need to ask him. i fight the urge to leap up and manage to continue working. i never thought i was so prone to distraction.
another issue is rebellion. years ago, as a babysitter, parents explained a discipline tactic—slowly counting to five—i should use to get their kids to start or stop activities. (internally i always wondered, doesn’t this teach that numbers are a threat? or to hate counting?)
regardless, when you start, the kid invariably waits a little, as though they’re wondering, is this real? are they going through with it? time really marches on? and seem to decide i’ve got this, caretaker. i’m definitely going to be in my pj’s by the time you get to five.
then they remember how labor-intensive it is to get changed when you’re two feet tall, and spring into action.
a similar short-lived revolution takes place with the Pomodoro Technique. at the outset you’re convinced you’re the boss of time limits everywhere. twenty-five minutes might as well be 25 hours. then you realize you need to move. i didn’t think this applied to me, either. i always thought i was dedicated to self-imposed deadlines.
don’t be surprised if you spend part of the session, especially the last in a set, messing around, thinking you don’t need each minute or that you have everything under control. i suspect a few minutes for goofing off and momentary cockiness are built into the system.
my first pomodoro round was dedicated to finishing a post. i knew i was close, but couldn’t wrap it up. it made me wonder if i avoid completing work. again, didn’t think it applied to me.
now i have something to investigate and more time to do so.
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