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The Pomodoro Technique – Tomatoes instead of time

Beat procrastination and improve your focus, one Pomodoro at a time.

So what’s a Pomodoro?

A Pomodoro is actually a tomato in Italian but it’s also the secret to effective time management! Who ever thought that thinking in tomatoes was better than thinking in time? Now it may sound silly to think about, but many people swear by the life-changing power of the Pomodoro technique.

This technique offers rest from mental fatigue and promotes concentration through alternating pomodoros (focused work sessions) with short breaks. You should try this technique if you:

  • Notice that you work past the point of productivity
  • See that even small distractions derail your whole work day
  • Find that you have a lot of open-ended work that takes up a lot of time (like Exam Preparation, Assignments or Research)
  • Are over-optimistic on what you can actually get done in a day (aren’t we all!)
  • Enjoy a good tomato

Now time (or tomatoes in this case) is your most valuable asset when it comes to working. Each day, of course, has 24 hours, but many people talk about how they wish there were many more hours in the day. Just because someone is busy, doesn’t mean they are being productive with their tomatoes. This technique will reveal something simple to help you make the most out of your day.

What’s the technique?

The technique works in 25 minute plus 5 minute intervals and all you need is a timer (also called a Pomodoro) for it to work. By setting these constraints, many people find it very freeing to know that they can focus on just one thing and then do something fun once the timer is over. People with ADD/ADHD find this technique very powerful. These are the steps for the technique:

  1. Pick your task
  2. Set a 25 minute timer
  3. Work on your task until the timer rings
  4. Take a five minute break
  5. Repeat
  6. Every 4th Pomodoro, take a prolonged break (15-20 minutes)

You may be thinking, ‘What am I going to do in a five minute break?’
Here are a few things to consider:

  • A power nap
  • Start a book
  • Exercise/Stretching
  • Play an instrument (if you have one!)
  • Grab a snack

Basically, anything that gets you away from your screens (yes, that includes your phone) and desk. Getting away from the area of ‘work’ can help you come back feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the next task.

All your tomatoes in one basket

The technique also includes three rules to make sure it works for you:

  1. Break down complex tasks. If a task requires more than four Pomodoros, it needs to be divided into smaller, bite-sized steps. Sticking to this rule will help ensure you make clear progress on your tasks.
  2. Small tasks go together. Any tasks that will take less than one Pomodoro should be combined with other simple tasks. For example, ‘Read over criteria or assignment brief,’ ‘Start writing Introduction for assignment,’ and ‘Read Pomodoro Blog Post’ could all go together in one session. They don’t necessarily have to be about the same topic but the nature of what you are doing can be the similarity, like reading and tasks based on your assignments.
  3. Once a Pomodoro is set, it’s set. The Pomodoro is an indivisible unit of time and cannot be broken, especially not to check incoming emails, team chats, or text messages. Any ideas, tasks, or requests that take away from your current session should be written down to go over later.

Where did it come from?

The Pomodoro technique was developed by a university student back in the 80s – this student was named Francesco Cirillo. Cirillo struggled just like many others with studying and completing assignments. This feeling can become overwhelming and with this realisation he decided to commit just ten minutes of time to focusing on study. Encouraged by the small challenge, he found a tomato shaped timer and so, the technique was born. Though Cirillo went on to write a 130-page book about this method,  its biggest strength is its simplicity.

Cirillo discovered that when you complete a small chunk of work, you build momentum so that you feel more productive. Which then in itself leads to getting more work done. Have you experienced this yourself? Where there is a task you have dreaded and procrastinated on for hours, maybe even weeks. One day you decide to start it anyway – even if it was only a few minutes. But before you knew it, you were done because it wasn’t so bad and you realise you should have just started it earlier.

With this in mind, the idea behind the technique is something called timeboxing. It’s a method that many people use to ensure that activities do not consume more time than they should. For example, someone may decide to check emails or their social media feeds. These activities do not have a clear ending point. You spend an hour or an entire day doing them without arriving to the finish line. Timeboxing puts helpful limits into place. The Pomodoro technique helps you to protect your focus for doing your most productive work.

Part of a Pomodoro complete?

After reading this post, have a look at the time and see how long it took for you to read it. Then think about what else you could fit into the remaining part that would add up to 25 minutes. Give it a try and maybe after a while you will start thinking in tomatoes instead of time.

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This blog is written by library staff at the University of Salford.
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