I’m a sucker for three things: an accent, a gimmick and the lofty promise of life-changing results.
When I came across the trademarked and well-marketed Pomodoro Technique in a procrastination-fueled search to be more productive, I took one look at this accented, animated catchphrase of promises (that came with a tomato-shaped timer, hello) and was like, Yup. Doing this.
It’s so me that those might as well be my arms.
The basic gist is that you work for 25-minutes straight — timed — with zero interruptions. (If you have an “Oh nuts, I forgot X”-type thought, write it down.) At the end of your 25 minutes, you get a quick break to do something completely task-unrealted (hop on one foot or whatever), and then after five minutes, you go back to focusing on the next 25-minute block.
You repeat until you’ve completed a total of 4 “Pomodoros,” which means that in theory, you’ve completed 1.6 hours of work and a 20-minute break. This was appealing to me because I have never in my entire life completed 1.6 hours of work in under 5 hours, nor have I ever indulged in a 20-minute break.
My usual routine is something like:
Begin writing a story.
Stop when the first sentence doesn’t immediately pop into my head.
Answer a different email that seemed easier to deal with.
Get a snack. Get a tan. Get an idea!
Sit back down, write for five, take a break. Edit a contributor’s story. Make a note. Make some tea…
You get the idea. I am the human equivalent of that easily-distracted mouse, and when the world gives me a cookie, I’m reminded that I need some milk. I hate milk, so this system sucks, and it was making me stay at the office way later than I needed to.
I had to master this trick.
According to the video above, to become a Certified Pomodoro Master, you need to achieve the following 6 objectives:
1) Find out how much effort an activity requires by monitoring how many “pomodoros” you need in order to accomplish a specific task. “Tahsk,” per the accented narrator.
2) Learn to protect your pomodoro from internal and external interruptions.
3) Make accurate estimations of how many pomodoros you need for a certain activity.
4) Use your pomodoro time not just to work on your task, but spend a few minutes for recap and the last ones for review.
5) Set a timetable according to your to-dos, to your time, or even to the season. (I didn’t really get this part so I skipped it.)
6) Once you’ve completed these objectives, find your own personal objective such as being more efficient or improving the quality of your work. (Efficiency, please!)
Obviously the unspoken 7th objective is to buy the book, but like, let’s not get crazy, here.
To spare you the boring monotony that is my month of trial and error, know this: the hardest part about the Pomodoro method is actually doing it. I found it much easier to talk myself out of using the 25-minute-at-a-time technique. (Amelia, won’t that buzzing be distracting? What if you don’t have to pee at the 25-minute break-mark, so you do something else, and then 10 minutes in to your second Pomodoro, you realize you do have to pee? Then what?)
Then what, exactly. Then suddenly I’d be off task. I reverted back to my old habits enough times in January that I cancelled multiple fun-sounding evening plans and ran late to everything.
What I will say is that when followed, the Pomodoro method works. It is amazing what you can accomplish if you focus on one goal with zero distractions (phones away, tabs closed, emails shut) for 25-minutes. And it is amazing how refreshing a five minute break can be when you ACTUALLY take a break. Not an email break or an annoying pause, but five minutes to get some water, blow your nose, pull a hair from Leandra’s head and gather your thoughts.
The good news is that I am definitely getting better at it. In fact, this story was completed in a block of two Pomodoros, which included editing, a full body stretch and one mercifully easy opening sentence.
The Pomodoro Technique’s tagline is, “I love my time,” which is so cheesy that when I first heard it, my lactose intolerance acted up.
But when it worked and my ass was on time to dinner for once, I realized that the Italians have had it right all along: cheese + tomato sauce = excellent results.
Photographed by Krista Anna Lewis; creative direction by Emily Zirimis.