tomato time

posted in: Blog | 8

I’ve been very well educated in time management, courtesy of assorted training courses provided by assorted employers. However, time management doesn’t seem to me to be an area where courses make a great deal of difference: I know all sorts of things about managing my time, but I still procrastinate, I’m still a perfectionist, I still leave a trail of paperwork chaos behind me and I still meet deadlines come what may. Usually, anyway. But I do use one time management gimmick, the pomodoro technique.

I don’t mean to be rude by calling it a gimmick, because I like the pomodoro technique. However, it is in essence the sort of trick you probably came up with yourself when you last had to revise for an exam or write a very long report: you promise yourself a biscuit or a cup of tea as long as you work uninterrupted for the next n minutes. And you make that promise to yourself again and again until the revision is done or you have eaten the whole packet of biscuits. The pomodoro technique is basically that principle developed a couple of stages further and with added wind-up plastic tomato timers. (Actually I do rather wish I had a wind-up plastic tomato timer, but there is a website you can use instead.) The rule is that you set your timer, work for 25 minutes, then — when the timer goes ‘ping’ — you take a 5 minute break.

It’s not the system for every occasion, but at the moment I am ploughing through a very dense piece of work for my PhD and the pomodoros are just what I need to get me through it. However, the reason why I mention them is because of the 5 minute breaks. A 5 minute break out of every half hour is brilliant. I have been using them to practise the new form we’re learning in my tai chi class: 5 mins is just enough to go over the latest section a few times and it is more purposeful than just “stretching my legs”. I also use them to empty the washing machine and hang up the laundry. And yes, to make cups of tea. And 5 minutes is also an excellent slice of time to spend with my notebook doing the exercises from Isabella’s Online Guild workshop, which I mentioned last month. When it seems that my creative life is being crowded out by all the other demands on my time, these 5 minute sessions help to keep me feeling more-or-less human.

However, if none of these options appeals, Polly has another suggestion for how you might spend a 5 minute break.

tomato time” was posted by Cally on 7 July 2011 at

Creative Commons License

8 Responses

  1. Meg in Nelson
    | Reply

    Good luck!

    • Cally
      | Reply

      Thanks for the tomato, Meg, I love it!

  2. Susan
    | Reply

    What I have held onto for many years has been “hyacinths for the soul”. I have no idea where I learned of the idea, but have been practicing it for many years whether coursework or house cleaning or lesson planning. My hyacinths tend to be a 15 minute break. It was only this last year when I was sharing the concept with a younger friend who was trying to get through a term at school shortly after her mother died, that I “googled” the term and found that it was a well-loved and well-lived poem that many people use to keep their lives/responsibilities from being overwhelming. I have to say though that I don’t need “hyacinths” when weaving–weaving and thinking about weaving is a hyacinth.

    If of thy Mortal Goods thou art bereft,
    And from thy slender store two loaves alone
    to thee are left,
    Sell one, and with the dole
    Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.
    Moslih Eddin Saadi

    Thanks for sharing about pomodoro.

    • Cally
      | Reply

      What very good advice. I remember reading an article about Poland under communism – I think it was about academics who were unable to get university jobs because of their politics – and a woman who said that they managed their money so that they ate frugally but could go to concerts: “We can live without meat but we cannot live without music.”

  3. Evelyn
    | Reply

    Polly’s technique looks to be about perfect!

  4. Dorothy Stewart
    | Reply

    Sounds as if you maybe pack more into the 5 minute break than you get done in the 25 minutes of work time !!!

  5. Alice in Richmond
    | Reply

    I am with Polly.

    Wow! I had no idea that someone actually made lots of money and fame from the idea that my mother had for getting my brother to do his homework in the 1960’s. We could have been rich I tell you!!

    • Cally
      | Reply

      I know what you mean! Though, to be fair, he gives away the technique for free, and presumably makes his money with workshops and the plastic tomato timers (which are surprisingly desirable…)

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