The Power of the Tomato

1 Dec

There is a well-established method for time management which I have found very helpful. The Pomodoro tomato shaped manual timer has been lauded for years as a way to get things done more effectively. The basic idea is to use the timer to work on a task for an uninterrupted twenty five minutes, followed by a five minute break. After the fourth twenty five minute cycle, take a fifteen minute break rather than a five minute break. I have tried this at various times through the years and it is very effective for me. I am starting back on it and am already seeing the benefits.

The Keys to Getting the Most Out of the Pomodoro Method . . . 

  1. You must prepare for the day by listing the tasks you need to do for that day. It is a good practice to do this the night before but I usually end up doing it at the end of the work day for two or three days at a time.
  2. You must push through the tasks on your list, even if you don’t want to do them. One of the great benefits of the Pomodoro method is that an unpleasant task is given a time limit. Often you can get a lot more done on an unpleasant task than you thought when you actually give yourself to doing it.
  3. You must be willing to leave things undone. If you are working at home and you can’t get all of the laundry folded in 25 minutes, you need to leave it when the timer goes off. Come back to it at a later time.
  4. You must be totally focused during the 25 minutes. Don’t answer texts, don’t look at emails or browse the web, don’t answer the phone unless it is unavoidable. If you do have an interruption, pause the timer and get in your 25 minutes as soon as you can get back to work.
  5. You must take your breaks. It is not lazy to take a five minute break every 25 minutes, it is healthy. If you have a desk job, it is very important for your health to get up and walk around every once in a while. The fifteen minute break is likewise very helpful for re-focusing and renewing your energy.

Warnings About the Pomodoro Method . . . 

  1. Not all your tasks will work with this method. For example, in my work as a pastor, I can’t say during a hospital visit, “Sorry, I have to go, my Pomodoro timer just went off.” There are times in all our lives when we will have to give ourselves to a task for more than 25 minutes at a time. That is ok. This is just a method, not a law. There will always be many exceptions. Just let that go and use the timer as you are able. I believe you will be amazed at your productivity.
  2. You should avoid doing work-like tasks during your breaks. If you work at a computer all day it is not much of a break to use your down time to read blog articles or play solitaire on the computer. Go outside and look at the clouds for five minutes. Call a friend during your fifteen minutes. Do something different than you are doing at work. If you are at home all day with young children on the other hand, the blog article or computer time might be a true break for you.
  3. I like to avoid working on the same task for more than two blocks in a row. There will be times when this is a necessity (a looming deadline for example) but most of the time you will find taking a break from a project for a block or two before coming back to it will usually bring a freshness and focus to your thinking.
  4. If you use this method, you will not finish some projects in one sitting. You must settle in your heart that it will be ok to leave some things undone. If you can’t stand the thought of leaving some unfolded clothes out on the counter, this method is probably not for you.
  5. The final warning is the most important: efficiency isn’t everything. Of course we all want to do a good job with what we are called to do in life. We all want to avoid putting off unpleasant tasks. We all want to be good stewards of the time we have been given. But micromanaging every minute of your day like this is not healthy. This method is primarily for work hours, though it can be used effectively for other things as well. The danger is in trying to be so effective that you miss some important things like people and experiences and opportunities to serve. There is a particular kind of controlling personality for whom the Pomodoro method can become a means to selfishness, as your schedule becomes more important than other people and their needs. There are other perfectionistic personalities which may be discouraged when all doesn’t go according to plan. Perspective is critical. Most of us need to get seven or so hours of sleep every night. Each of us would also benefit by just doing a little bit of nothing every day. We are so connected, so consumed by information, that we need at times to just be still. Every day, take some time  to sit on your front porch with nothing in your hands but a cup of coffee. Pray in a quiet room. Take a walk in the park, watching the birds. Sit with a child on your lap. There are times for conversation, family movie nights, dates with your spouse, day trips, service opportunities, there are just all sorts of things we really should do to be healthy and strong which have nothing to do with getting things done. The world is not going to end if you don’t get everything done on your list. Your regrets in life will most likely be related to failures to love rather than failures of accomplishment. So if this method sounds like something you want to try, go for it. But don’t forget this last warning.

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