Try the Pomodoro Technique

For Time Efficiency

Photo by Michael Meyer on Flickr

I never felt I would be sharing a post on a time efficiency technique, because I don’t feel like time efficiency is my greatest strength. But because I’ve had some frustrations in meeting my goals and finding or managing my time to work on them, I looked into this technique recently and tried it.

“Pomodoro” is the Italian word for tomato. I have some funny associations with this word. When I was a teenager with a singing and drama group, our leader, an Italian-American, and another teen on the team had a running joke about “pomodoro.” They would say it very dramatically, with Italian inflection and hand gestures, and joked that if you said it just like that, others would be convinced you were saying something important in Italian.

Well, I’m not sure that’s true, but I remember those funny guys when I think about this technique, which is named for the tomato “pomodoro” kitchen timer. The idea is that you choose a task and then set aside 25 minutes for focused work on that task. You set the timer for 25 minutes.

When the time is up, you record your progress and then take a five minute break. After the break, if you still need to finish the task, you set the timer once again for 25 minutes and then another five minute break. A 25-minute work session plus a five minute break equals a pomodoro. After four pomodoros, you can take a longer, 15 minute break. Then, you start over again, perhaps choosing a new task. You can find an online pomodoro timer here.

I have recently used this technique for different computer work related jobs: writing emails, writing on one of my Creature Kingdom children’s stories, creating the slide visuals for a YouTube video and even for writing this blog post.

Lately, my break rewards have been watching YouTube videos for fun that are unrelated to my projects. I’m not sure I will always go with that reward. One article I read suggested doing something not involving a screen during your break times. I may sometimes decide to get up and move around for a bit. Some fitness YouTubers even create mini fitness routines for, say, the duration of a five minute song. I can see how something like that might be useful if you’re in a situation where you are working from home. (I understand you might not be able to get away with this in an office situation!) You can stretch out and avoid some of the tension that comes from working on a computer for long periods. I sometimes find that movement and music help inspire my creativity anyway, so if you are like me in that sense, this might actually help you to work better.

Here is a video from a fitness YouTuber I follow who has several of these “five minute sweat sessions.”

I have had a number of struggles with fitting in my creative projects. Lately, I’ve had to attend more to my aging parents and some of their physical and other needs. I also work in doggy care, and the demands of caring for dogs, particularly young and active ones, cause frequent disruptions. Thankfully, my parents are having some improvement in their health, and I am finding more blocks of time when I can create. When I do have this time, I don’t want to complicate things by sabotaging myself.

Photo by Jonas on Unsplash

Years ago, I read a book about Sweden and Swedish culture. The writer compared Swedish friendliness to a ketchup bottle, saying, “At first, nothing comes out, but once it starts coming, it’s hard to stop it.” (In spite of the quotation marks, this is not a quote verbatim. In fact, I have forgotten the book title and author, so I can’t give it a proper attribution.)

I’ve known some Swedish-Americans and have a bit of Swedish heritage myself. The saying seems to be true of people I know. I have since then often thought about that ketchup analogy but applied to a completely different subject — creative writing. Though it’s unintentional, it seems we are sticking with the tomato theme in this post.

Photo by Charisse Kenion on Unsplash

There are times when creative ideas are flowing fast in my creative writing, but if life causes me to neglect a project for a while, at first coming back to it, the ketchup bottle of creativity requires a little pounding. It’s also at these times when I might be tempted to procrastinate or do some Internet wandering that is not necessarily pertinent to the task at hand.

While writing, I do find it necessary to search the Internet for, perhaps, thesaurus use, visual inspiration for writing a scene or what I call “mini research.” For instance, I just recently named a minor character in my children’s story, a fox. Foxes are supposed to be clever, so I looked up “boys’ names that mean clever,” found a list on a baby name site and chose one … Redmond. Redmond is a good name for a fox, isn’t it? I only now see the similarity to Redd Foxx, the lead actor in “Sanford & Sons,” but I still think, Redmond it is.

I think the Pomodoro Technique helped me a good deal. I stayed off of email and Facebook during my focused blocks of work. I forced myself to concentrate on the matter at hand, and soon the ideas were flowing more easily. After each pomodoro, I recorded my progress in my tasks. With my writing tasks, I recorded a word count but also summed up any revisions and recorded any Internet searches.

With the timer going, I was also more motivated not to linger on Internet information that wasn’t pertinent. For instance, I looked up information relating to carnival rides for my Creature Kingdom story on Hyacinth Mouse. I didn’t remember what a tilt-a-whirl ride was like, but after looking into things, my imaginary ride became a hybrid of a tea cup ride and and a tilt-a-whirl ride. I didn’t need to watch an entire video of a tea cup ride, since that is already familiar, so I stopped it and didn’t linger on that information.

My own illustration of Hyacinth Mouse in her tea cup ride

This is very silly, but around midnight, after my first day trying this method, a song was in my head, “Pomodoro, pomodoro, pomodoro!” It wasn’t a “pomodoro” song. It was Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus” song from the 80s, but I had mentally replaced the repeated “Amadeus” with “pomodoro.” I wasn’t even particularly trying to be clever. My brain just made an instantaneous, almost subconscious association. The two words do have the same number of syllables and some similar sounds in similar places. Note to self: midnight brain might be creative? Maybe, a “pomodoro” song will come to your mind if you are feeling successful.

Seriously, I think the method has helped me to set aside some focused time and limit distractions. It is also easier to focus for a short period when you know you have a break coming up. I would recommend it for writers and students with studies as well as those doing other types of work on a computer.

Would you try this technique? Have you already tried something like this or some other time efficiency techniques? Let me know in the comments.