Trust the tomato

Having a lot of free time means nothing if you don’t know how to effectively use it.
As mentioned recently, I managed to pound out the content for my first ebook in two weeks last summer simply by writing 1,000 words first thing each morning.

“Man, I can actually do this,” I thought. “Drive isn’t that hard to come by after all.”

But when it came time to edit those 15,000 words, I hit a wall. I simply could not convince myself to sit down and edit unless I was having an optimal day with nothing else going on, a clear mind, and feeling super motivated. The instances where all three of these applied were of course rare.

The leaves started to change color and fall, and soon it was the beginning of November and I still hadn’t made it through two rounds of edits. I was struggling- this project wasn’t supposed to be a long-term one.

When it came time to learn all about formatting text for an ebook and doing all of the coding and tweaking that comes along with it, I would have been sunk if I didn’t come up with a better way to manage my time.

I remembered reading a long time ago on Lifehacker about something called the Pomodoro Technique. I must not have given it any merit, because I didn’t remember anything about it other than the raving reviews.

Pomodoro is Italian for tomato, and what that has to do with productivity I am uncertain(and it’s much more amusing to me if I don’t know).

The concept is disgustingly simple:

Figure out what manageable tasks you want to attack that day. Then, be it on your kitchen timer, an app on your iPhone (which I use), or the ‘official’ Pomodoro tomato timer, set a clock to 25 minutes. Then go.

When time runs out, relax. Mark an ‘X’ on a piece of paper and take a five minute break. Tidy up your desk, socialize, browse blogs, go to the bathroom, refill your cup of coffee. When that time then reaches zero, work another 25-minute session.

Once you have four X’s- pomodoros- complete, take a 20-minute break.

That’s it.

25 minutes is such a bite-sized chunk of time, you don’t even feel the temptation to hit up your usual time wasters, as if your sub-conscious is saying “psh, I can stay focused for 25 minutes, check this shit out.” Challenge accepted, if you will.

You will also frequently find yourself in a state of complete ‘flow’. Countless times I have glanced at my timer to see that I only have 7 minutes left, and the waning time makes the fire under me burn even hotter: “I can easily get this section done before my next break.”

Currently I only do four pomodoros each day, which comes to just under two hours of work. This sounds like nothing, but the fact that it is intensely focused and goal-driven work makes all the difference. Once I start working in an office again I will be eager to apply the strategy and see what kind of productivity god it will make me in an 8-hour work day.

It also makes the time fly by. I’ve used it for everything from housework to reading to apartment hunting online. It’s amazing what giving ourselves a tangible goal and a time restraint will do to our behavior.

I had experimented with lots of different productivity methods in the past, everything from The Now Habit, to Wunderlist, to devoting an entire day every week to complete every single item on my to-do list. As things usually turn out, the simplest solution ended up being the most effective.

What daily tasks do you have that could benefit from some tomato time?
(this post was written in under two pomodoros)

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