Pomodoro One, 9am
Break One, 9.25am
Pomodoro Two, 9.30am
The fundamentals of the Pomodoro Technique of Time Management® are easy to grasp – especially once you’ve had your morning coffee. Steady your watch: one Pomodoro equals 25 minutes. The idea is, you work on any given task for 25 minutes; then you have a five minute break in which you can do whatever you want; then you start a new Pomodoro. After four Pomodoros (or Pomodori if we’re being grammatically correct), you may grant yourself a longer break of up to 20 minutes. Then you begin the cycle again.
I write this on my second Pomodoro of the morning, having spent the first one reading testimonies from creative/entrepreneur types about how the technique revolutionised their working day and indeed their entire existence. “It’s not an exaggeration to say that, by changing my relationship with and appreciation of time, the technique has brought me to some profound existential questions about whether I’m wasting my life — my fragile, fleeting life — on activities I neither care about nor enjoy,” wrote one adherent in the New York Times.
It is an Italian concept, in the same time-conquering tradition as espressos and futurist sculpture, invented by a Roman business school student named Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. Cirillo now does a roaring trade in courses books and tomato-shaped timers. Why tomatoes? Well, he named the technique after a little cooking timer that he used to measure his 25 minutes. Presumably, if he had a timer in the shape of an egg we would now be talking about the Uovo Technique – or maybe not, because that’s not as catchy. But it doesn’t really matter what shaped-timepiece you use. A watch is excellent. Mine informs me that only 47 seconds remain of this Pomodoro, and so it is time to down tools… now.
Break Two, 9.55am
Pomodoro Three, 10am
If you are anything like me, you might spend your working day in front of a computer with a phone on one side, a little jobs list on the other, and a miniature monkey jumping around in your brain.
You begin by scanning your jobs list for an easy win. Write webinar… practise webinar… check Zoom connection… aha! Buy vacuum cleaner. Maybe you even get so far as ordering a vacuum cleaner online. Then you look up a half-remembered thing that someone tweeted about vacuum cleaners the other day; and you become distracted by some unrelated Twitter outrage; so you check Instagram for a little respite; and you realise it’s your friend’s birthday; so you go to Whatsapp the friend; but an annoying work email comes through; and then there is an earthquake in your kitchen; and it’s the worst possible timing as you are literally due to give your webinar in literally three minutes! And you go to vacuum up the debris but the vacuum cleaner hasn’t arrived yet as you should have accomplished that task yesterday.
We’ve all been there. “I have wasted time and now doth time waste me,” said Shakespeare’s Richard II.
Break Three, 10.25am
Pomodoro Four, 10.30am
Even if you have taken some sensible digital-era precautions – disabling notifications; removing social media apps from your phone; putting your phone on silent – it’s still easy to spend a whole day “working” but without actually working. The core Pomodoro idea is to turn time from “predator” into “ally”, to fortify yourself against all the apps and devices that are trained upon your fragile attention span.
But one thing you soon notice about the Pomodoro Technique is that as hard as it is to immerse yourself in a task, it’s actually harder to step away. Typically, you hit “flow” at the 24-minute mark and the timer goes off and you must stop.
True Pomodorians are strict about adhering to the timer. If you find yourself drifting towards the refrigerator around the six-minute mark, mi dispiace bella, you have to start again. However, you are not allowed to extend a Pomodoro either. You have to stick to those breaks. Here lies tyranny. Here too lies salvation. There is always a five-minute break around the corner.
As for the 20-minute break that I will have earned in *checks watch* twenty-seven seconds, it suddenly seems like a small lake of freedom. And there goes the bell.
Long break, 10.55am
***SWIM IN A LAKE OF FREEDOM***
Pomodoro Five, 11.15am
And I’m back again. What did I do in my twenty minute break? I put away some washing. I finally ordered that friend’s birthday present, only three days too late. I sent two emails I had been putting off. I read some headlines. And then my watch beeped and I returned to my document, refreshed, and made a few light revisions on what I had done. Reviewing and recapping are an important part of Pomodoro Life.
I then looked up “Pomodoro” on Twitter: “The Pomodoro technique is actually pretty ******* lit, managed to get on a mini spree today wiv it!” writes one productive webizen. “What song should I sing next, during my Pomodoro break?” enquires another. Which gives me an idea.
Break five, 11.40am
Pomodoro Six, 11:45am
After a few cycles I find something interesting happens. You…. Hang on: there goes the door.
Break six, 11.48am
***GREET POSTMAN; OPEN PARCEL***
Pomodoro seven, 11.53am
See what happened there? I was interrupted from my rigid Pomodoro routine by the outside world. This is going to happen sometimes. You’re supposed to adapt and move on. Some Pomodoros are going to be ruined. Some will be the Pomodoro-equivalent of those cold supermarket tomatoes that don’t taste of anything. But some will be like those delicious, succulent, sweet Italian tomatoes, maybe sprinkled with a little salt and olive oil…?
Break seven, 12.18pm
***MAKES TOMATO SANDWICH***
« This is going to happen sometimes. You’re supposed to adapt and move on. »Richard Godwin Writer
Pomodoro eight, 12.23pm
Where was I? Oh yes. After a few cycles, something interesting happens.
The major tasks of the day start to seem more manageable. “Hmm,” I think. “I bet I can accomplish this in three more Pomodoros?” You should begin to get a feel for how many Pomdoros any task ought to take and shape your day accordingly.
And the five-minute breaks? You can actually do quite a lot in five minutes. In her book, The Five-Minute Garden, Laetitia Maklouf maintains that all you need to do if you want a nice garden is spend five minutes on it each day. Suddenly that seems achievable. You can set your chronograph for a whippet-fast workout; marinade a chicken; read six pages of a novel; hang out the washing; dream of a world ruled by tomato time; giant TAG Heuer timers on every street corner…
Break eight, 12.28pm
Pomodoro Nine, 12.33PM
Where was I again?
[Ed’s Note: Back to work, Richard! There are at least another 12 Pomodoros left in the day.]
Richard Godwin Writer