How a Tomato Changed My Life

For months, I had struggled with getting stuff done. I tried task lists, different systems for organizing my inbox, playing soothing music while I worked, and reading various books on productivity.

But the to-do list kept getting bigger and my desire to complete anything on the list kept getting smaller.

Then I discovered a little productivity tool that changed my life. It’s a little timer in the shape of a tomato.

I originally heard about working with the tomato timer by reading a post on the awesome travel blog Married with Luggage, written by Betsy and Warren Talbot. The post is called On Kitchen Timers, Writing, and Discipline. In her post, Betsy talks about how she started using a simple productivity solution called the Pomodoro Technique, and how this simple idea was helping her stay focused on her writing.

After doing a little reading on what this Pomodoro business was all about, I was curious to try it. Here are the basics:

1. Get yourself a kitchen timer. The man who originally coined the term “Pomodoro Technique” used a cool timer shaped like a tomato (thus the name – “Pomodoro” is the Italian word for tomato.) You can use any ordinary kitchen timer.

2. Pick one task on your to-do list. Best items to pick are the ones you’ve been putting off for a while.

3. Set the timer for 25 minutes.

4. Work on the task – and ONLY that task – until the timer goes off. If the phone rings, ignore it. If your cell phone dings with a new text message, don’t deviate from your work. Work until the timer goes off, no exceptions.

5. When the timer dings, take a short break (about 5 minutes) to do something else. Dance around the room, grab a drink, read a quick article.

6. After you complete four Pomodoros, take a longer break.

That’s it! The Pomodoro technique is a no-excuses way to plow through your to-do list and get a ton of work done. There’s something freeing about knowing that you only need to focus on the task at hand for 25 minutes. We can do anything for 25 minutes, right?

I’ve used this technique for:

  • Household chores
  • Writing blog posts
  • Processing my inbox
  • Internet research
  • Limiting (and maximizing) my social media time
  • Paying bills
  • Brainstorming of all kinds (guest blog post ideas, new products, presentations)

Apparently there’s a lot more to the technique if you really want to dive into it further. You can check out the Pomodoro technique website for more information. If you’d like to buy an adorable timer shaped like a tomato, you can get one from Amazon.

If you’re having trouble getting things done, and find yourself distracted by all the bells, whistles, ringing and alerts of our technological world, try a little tomato timer. It might just change your life.

Update: Don’t forget to check out the description of Betsy and Warren’s upcoming book, Dream.Save.Do! And thanks to Betsy for giving us a link to a cool online Pomodoro timer (see her comment below for link!)

This post is part of the October Word Carnival on productivity. Check it out for more great advice on being productive!

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Comments

  1. Beth, this is working out so well for me – I have finished my first book (coming out next month) as well as a ton of the promo activity related to it by using Pomodoro. As you know, it is VERY easy to get distracted when you’re working on social media and promo – I mean, you’re on the internet, after all! – and this has really helped me focus.

    One thing your readers might like also is the online Pomodoro timer that I discovered – perfect for someone who doesn’t want to buy another thing or who travels light like we do. And it’s free! The site is http://timer.onlineclock.net/timers/25minutes/

    Here’s to focus and productivity (with plenty of time left over for fun!)

    • Thanks so much, Betsy – the online timer is something I can really use, too, for when I’m in coffee shops and it’s not appropriate to have a big red timer dinging really loudly every 26 minutes! :)

      And thanks to you and Warren for providing my regular dose of inspiration – I love reading your blog and hearing about what you’re up to. Can’t wait to read the book. :)

      cheers,
      Beth

  2. This is a great system! Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed or blah about my task list, I use a very similar system. It’s amazing how much I accomplish! I never thought of using a cute tomato timer, though. That would make it more fun. 😉

    • I completely agree, Michelle! There’s something whimsical and awesome about a red tomato timer! I smile every time I set it! :)

  3. I’ve heard of this before but never put it into action…maybe because it required a To Do list first (?). Whatever the reason, I’m resolved. Things have gotten totally out of hand, and I really DO need to take this bull by the horns and wrestle it to the ground. Will be trying out the handy online version first…now if someone would just invent a timer that also automatically turned OFF my access to social media sites and email at the same time (I can’t be trusted to do it myself).

    • Your comment made me laugh, Tea! I know a few things that could help. There are two tools that will help you manage your access to social media sites: Leech Block (http://www.proginosko.com/leechblock.html) lets you actually block yourself from certain sites (Twitter, anyone?) and RescueTime (https://www.rescuetime.com/) will give you horrifyingly accurate reports on how your spend your computer time. I’m scared to use the second one, because I’m afraid of seeing a report that says I spend 20+ hours a day on Facebook. The other helpful thing I can recommend is business coach/wizard Jolene McKenna (http://jolenemckenna.com) who helped me FINALLY get control of my inbox and my to-do lists. She’s wonderful. Good luck!

  4. There is pomodoro technique timer with RPG GAME called Pomodorium 😀

  5. Hi Beth. It is really good to know you from Problogger guest post. Your explanation about Pomodoro technique is awesome.

    Until now I’m using one of the Pomodoro apps call Focus Booster. It really helps on getting me focus to make things done. It’s automatically set 25 minutes to do the task, and 5 minutes break. However, we can setup the timer according to our comforts.

    Hope it helps. Thank you once again. :)

  6. Dude, I LOVE Pomodoro. It’s built on an old productivity technique called “chunking.” (Chunking your schedule in smaller time increments, grouping like tasks together.) Pomodoro is fabulous for those complex projects like writing ebooks, cranking out a week’s worth of posts, etc.

  7. Beth, what a great explanation of the Pomodoro technique. Like Tea, I struggle to avoid checking email and social media when I’m supposed to be doing other stuff – this is a great way to make a change.

  8. Hi Beth – While using a timer all the time would drive me simply insane, I find this is great for household tasks I really hate. You can do anything for 25 minutes, and that is how I get it done.

  9. Awesome! i’m gonna try it. i use an online timer to track my billable time already, so i think switching to one that dings after 25 min would be extra cool.

  10. I like the fact that you gave one idea and elaborated on it. This one is a goodie. I’m going to try it and use my new iPhone as my timer. (if I can find a new, fun use for the iPhone I’m in.) Great post.

  11. I’m withTea on this one. Love the idea but have to say that I didn’t think I had ADD until I got Tweetdeck. :) Time to turn that off and focus on the Pomodoro technique. Thanks Beth!

  12. Hi Beth, what a great tip. Chunking it – great term, Annie. Love the tomato and the pomodorium idea. Aren’t you constantly spell bound by how clever simple ideas are. You obviously use it to great effect judging by how much is on your site. Glad to have been introduced to you courtesy of Tea and the Word Carnival. Now I need to go away and work out just what percentage of time 25 minutes is of 60% of my day. Sigh. Numbers was never a strong point!

  13. I LOVE Pomodoro. It keeps me on track when I have things to get done, and it keeps my breaks short enough that I don’t get distracted cycling down hundreds of blog posts per hour.

    25 minutes usually ends up being too short for me, so I have it at 30 and take 10 minute breaks, and after two, I take an hour. I fit more of them in per day, but it also takes a pretty heavy toll on my ability to do short-run tasks.

    Great post Beth!

  14. Wow! What a fun and effective way to get those avoided chores done. I am going to try this for house cleaning, like vacuuming and de-cluttering toys on the floor.

  15. If you are worried about noise when you are in public places use a vibrating watch. I often work out of a writer’s loft. Though I could use an online timer and have my headphones plugged in, I prefer to use my G-shock vibrating watch. It helps keep me on track and I’ve been more productive than ever.

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