Why I Have A Ticking Tomato On My Desk

05 May 2020

At the moment, I along with millions of others are struggling to find focus to work. Even assuming you don’t have additional distractions at home in the form of small people or bigger people, at times of stress, concentration is a challenge.

So I’d like to introduce you to the Pomodoro Technique.

Back in the early 90’s, Francesco Cirillo came up with a technique to help him focus on his university studies. It’s almost stupidly simple. 

All you do is take a timer (he had a tomato timer and he’s Italian, hence the Pomodoro name) but your phone is fine and set it for 25 minutes. 

Decide to work on a task for 25 minutes. Start your timer and crack on! No distractions, no interruptions, do not pass Go, do not collect £200. Head down, concentration for 25 minutes. 

When the buzzer goes take a 5 minute break; get up, make a tea, put a load of washing on or whatever you want (but ideally movement). Then when you’re ready, set your next 25 minutes. You either carry on where you left off or start a new task. 

It’s simple but it works.

It’s really hard to focus with all our various notifications pinging left right and centre. I have clients on all different mediums and can in a morning get pinged from email (8 different accounts at last count!), Slack, Teams, Google Chat, Skype message or a text or call. It’s enough to make your brain explode when you’re trying to concentrate. 25 minutes is an entirely reasonable time for people to not have access to you. 

Why use the Pomodoro technique?

Beat procrastination – we all put off the tricky work, the huge looming deadline. Mentally, knowing you only have to do 25 minutes is a great kick start.  If it’s a really challenging task (writing can be for me), set a timer for 10 minutes. At least you’ll be 10 minutes closer to the end than you were when you started. With writing, I make myself write. Even if it is utter gibberish, it’s easier to edit than to keep looking at a blank page.  

Focus – there’s whole books on deep working and how hard it’s become in these times of instant responses. Turning off distractions for a period of time allows you space to really think, problem solve or get creative.

Manage overwhelm – when your task list looks beyond achievable, sometimes just breaking it into chunks is really helpful. Look at the list, split it into sensible 25 minute chunks and then start. It’s really easy to be so busy worrying that you waste valuable “doing” time fretting. And once you start doing, not fretting then you’re already feeling more in control. 

Working through illness or difficult circumstances – I used this technique to keep working through a slipped disc. It wasn’t fun, but working in these sprints made it possible around an insane blend of drugs and an operation. It’s the same when life feels awful and you have personal challenges but still need to get stuff done. Work in small, focused chunks to make it more manageable. You might only manage 2 or 3 pomodoros in a day. That’s OK. It’s better to be focused for less time than sit at your desk for longer and feel bad for not being more productive. Do a couple of pomodoros then rest. 

Household chores – I hate cleaning. So I will set a timer and hurtle through as much as I can with a decent playlist going. It makes me work faster to try and fit more in!

I hope that this has shared my love of the ticking tomato with you! 

About The Author

Kathy Soulsby
Virtual Assistant
www.personallyvirtual.co.uk