I used to be a very poor time manager. Managing multiple tasks under pressure was a nightmare. I’d leap about so much from task to task I never seemed to get anything done properly. Then I discovered a secret weapon to deal with this ferocious enemy called time. This weapon is incredibly simple to implement, but produces really amazing results when it’s used consistently. It’s brilliance is it’s instant and ongoing effectiveness. Above all, I swear it makes self-discipline a piece of cake, and it’s free.
This weapon is called the POMODORO. The creators claim it eliminates the anxiety of time and, more importantly for me, enhances and focuses my concentration. By using the Pomodoro I am always able to create order out of any chaos. It’s a complete mystery to me how something so simple actually works every time. I find this mystery quite magical.
The Pomodoro Technique is a time-management method created by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980’s and will help you accomplish what you want to do by transforming time into a valuable ally. The Pomodoro Technique is named after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that was first used by Cirillo when he was a university student.
The Pomodoro is completely free, easy to use, and, most of all, it works! I have introduced it to students and writing friends who love it. Put simply, before you begin your task you set a timer for 25 minutes. During this period you focus only on that task. You don’t look at emails, go to the bathroom, or make a telephone call. You allow nothing to distract you. The timer on my mobile phone is switched on right now. If my husband comes into my office right this minute, I’ll say ‘Pomodoro’. He has learned that this means I won’t stop so he just slides away.
Because I believe that too much structure is an anathema to creativity, I implement the technique at its most basic level using these five basic steps:
1. Decide on the task to be done
2. Set the Pomodoro (timer) to 25 minutes
3. Work on the task until the timer rings
4. Take a short break (3-5 minutes)
5. Every four “Pomodoros” take a longer break (15–30 minutes)
If you run out of time you have to stop, even if you are in the middle of a sentence when the bell rings. There are so many times I have been really annoyed by this ‘interruption,’ but because I am now disciplined I really do stop instantly, then I can’t wait to get back and finish my sentence or task. So the 5-minute break actually creates a renewed impetus to get going again.
On the other hand if the task finishes before 25 minutes, you get the opportunity to go over what you have been doing instead of just getting up and walking away. The extra time can be used for polishing whether it’s editing or the furniture. This is also the time when really interesting ideas can pop up out of the blue.
I find the Pomodoro useful for the simple and onerous tasks, not just for writing. It’s amazing how quickly you can clean up the kitchen using this technique. This is such a great tool for time-management; I often plan a busy day by first assessing the number of Pomodoros each separate task will take, and then scheduling the tasks according to their priority. Because I work from home this is usually a mixture of writing as well as household chores. Generally I make sure I use the 4th Pomodoro to do a domestic task so I can give my head a break.
Another support tool you can use in tandem with the Pomodoro is an Internet blocker. I use a productivity application that shuts down your access to your email and locks you away for the Internet for selected periods of time up to eight hours. Freedom.
Every time I find myself falling back into my old chaotic methods I soon realise it’s because I have stopped using the Pomodoro. If you do decide to give this a go I’d really love to get your feedback.
Kurt Vonnegut once said, “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” Next time I’ll tell you about my own flying lessons.