Time Management with a Tomato
Time management is an all important and essential skill for all professionals in the business arena today. In this post, I’m going to define a process of splitting up the 24 hours of a day into smaller more manageable moments of time. If you are wondering what a tomato has to do with this, let me dis-pell the mystery. It’s called the Pomodoro Technique.
In this post, I will provide an overview of this technique of time management. The Pomodoro Technique was founded by Francesco Cirillo, a business consultant, while in university struggling to juggle his studies. Cirillo developed the technique in 1992 and named it after his tomato-shaped timer. “Pomodoro” is the Italian word for “tomato”. QED or Quad Errad Demonstratum i.e. hence proved.
The basic concept entails setting a timer for a specific period of time. Until that timer goes off, focus on one task only, without any interrupting distractions (natural disasters and acts of God not withstanding). When the timer goes off, take a break for a short interval. Time management using this simple technique improves productivity in the following ways:
- Focus: Singular focus on just one task minus distractions ensures a better result than trying to do several tasks at once. The advantage of multi-tasking is best left to multi-processor machines. Frivolous activities are often dismissed by the steady ticking of the clock. The timer can also keep motivation levels up when boring and mundane tasks are underway.
- Rest: Periodic breaks keeps the mind relaxed and refreshed. Common sight of our times is a professional nailed to his desk in a bid to grapple an impossible deadline to the ground. However once forced to take frequent breaks regardless of the deadline, the mind relaxes and this is a state proven to produce better results. The short break also provides a respite to the body allowing for a healthy stretch routine to revive cramped muscles. This in turn keeps creativity & productivity flowing.
The basic unit of work in the Pomodoro Technique can be split in five simple steps:
- Choose a task to be accomplished.
- Set the Pomodoro to 25 minutes (the Pomodoro is the timer).
- Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper.
- Take a short break (5 minutes is OK).
- Every 4 Pomodoros, take a longer break.
A timer: You can use either a real timer or a software timer. Set it to 25 minutes. A sheet of paper: Blank paper, lined paper or any paper will do! A pencil - An eraser helps!
One pomodoro equals 25 minutes of singularly focused, uninterrupted work on a single task. The basic premise or principle of the Pomodoro Technique is that each pomodoro cannot be broken down further. Therefore one cannot work for half a pomodoro or even 10 minutes and then continue later. There’s no such thing as a part of a pomodoro. It’s all or nothing. If for any reason something comes up and you are forced to abandon the task, then you cancel that pomodoro and start over.
Every pomodoro is followed by a five-minute break. While the length of the break is subject to extension in cases of exhaustion or fatigue, the break shouldn’t be too long, since one tends to lose the flow of work. Appropriately the rest period after completing four pomodoros is 15 minutes long.
The Infernal Demons of Interruption
The Pomodoro Technique showcases specific ways to handle interruptions, by distinguishing internal from external interruptions.
- Internal interruptions are labelled as those that arise from one’s own thoughts, such as suddenly remembering that you ought to be driving down for that new movie that just released or stock up on your groceries. For this type of interruption, the Pomodoro technique suggests writing the thought down in the form of a task or new Pomodoro. Add it to the list of to-do’s and include a deadline for it. Most importantly return back to the task at hand and finish the pomodoro. Thus allowing one to be interrupted for only a few seconds and not losing the pomodoro.
- External interruptions are traditionally email and telephone. However for something more urgent like the doorbell or filial duties the Pomodoro Technique recommends the Inform, Negotiate and Call Strategy. See how this strategy works in the case of the wife entering your office while you are on a task.
- Inform: “Sorry, but I’m in the middle of something and can’t be interrupted.” (To diffuse the tension, Cirillo suggests saying, “I’m in the middle of a pomodoro.” I wonder if Cirillo has ever been married?)
- Negotiate: “Can we talk in 15 minutes?” (Or however long you have left on your pomodoro.)
- Call: Approach your spouse and talk, as promised, after 15 minutes. If necessary, you add the task of calling the person in your to-do list.
Where can I get this Tomato?
The Pomodoro Technique also involves recording your tasks and pomodoros, estimating the effort needed for activities, allocating your available pomodoros, and more. You can implement only the parts that matter to your situation or requirement and still benefit from this technique.
If you want to learn more, you can download the Pomodoro Technique – book (FREE) and the Pomodoro Desktop (a desktop application for the Mac OSX.)