Ruled by a Tomato

Bleurgh. I’ve been a bit busy recently, doing the sort of concentrated heads-down at-a-computer type work that earns money but doesn’t really provide much in the way of blogging material unless you want to know just how stiff my neck and shoulders are (I even had to skip yoga last week). But as a result, I have been seriously using the Pomodoro Technique, as the best way of maintaining my concentration and basically getting the work done without endlessly frittering away my time on twitter. I’ve dabbled with it in the past and found it quite effective but not transformative but this time I actually went to the effort of downloading an app for my phone (there are tons of them) and doing it properly. As a result I’ve managed to do way more work than I’ve ever managed in the past, despite the fact that in essence as a technique it’s almost insultingly simple: you work for 25 minutes and then you take a short break, and then you start again. There’s something faintly ridiculous in the idea that I have to have my phone to tell me when to work and when to take a break, and yet at the same time there’s something very compelling about having a timer count down the seconds till you can take a break – and then imperiously ringing you back to work once your break is over.

And amazingly I’ve found that with the thing on I actually can resist the temptation of just quickly checking what that email is, because after all it’s only another 7 minutes and 38 seconds before I can legitimately read it and respond. Nor do I find that a quick glance at what’s going on in Twitter results in me looking up slightly dazed some time later and discovering I’ve spent the last 30 minutes looking at websites offering donkeys for sale (this really happened, although fortunately I don’t appear to have bought any donkeys). In fact, I’ve got better all round at concentrating on what I’m doing even when I don’t have the tomato ticking away in the background, although I can’t promise that substantial chunks of my time aren’t occasionally lost down internet rabbitholes. In fact the only unexpected side effect is that I’m drinking more coffee because the symbol it uses for a ‘break’ is a picture of a cup of coffee and so suggestible am I, I obediently put the kettle on…

I don’t know whether the whole Pomodoro thing is built on some actual brain science that shows that 25 minutes is the optimum time for concentrating on a task – or whether it’s just that I’ve subconsciously decided that having downloaded the thing I’m going to make it work for me. I suspect it’s a bit of both. We humans are really quite irrational creatures and apparently sometimes it makes sense to hand over some of your autonomy to a piece of software on a phone that’s pretending to be an Italian kitchen timer that’s pretending to be a tomato. At some point – probably when I need it most – my brain will rebel and I’ll stop paying attention to its commands and I’ll have to find some other technique which will work for a while in its stead. Until that day, I’ll just keep it ticking away…

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5 Responses to Ruled by a Tomato

  1. CJ says:

    Donkeys for sale. Interesting. I think I’ve been there too. I like the sound of the tomato technique. I hope you get through all of your work and are able to relax a bit more soon.

  2. disgruntled says:

    Yup – all done, now I’ve just got to do all the things I’ve neglected while I’ve been working

  3. Charles says:

    Many years ago when revising for finals I actually measured how much work I was doing in a day, excluding coffee, lunch, etc. I think in a 17 hour day my record was I think 5 and a half or 6 hours, and I was so tired the next day I had to cut back.

    The amount of time I could waste in 1981 with radio 1, food, rowing, essential walks to calm down etc was quite staggering. However it also gave me a lifelong suspicion of people who work very long hours, mostly it’s a sign of chronic inefficiency or they just like sitting at their desks. I have some sympathy for people who end up working for people like this, normally they have no grasp of time and sit on urgent tasks until just before you go home! It is kinder in the long term just to go home so that your boss learns to prioritise and manage their time.

    The tomato sounds useful I shall use my next extended internet break to research it thoroughly…

  4. WOL says:

    Jackie Morris has her chicken, you have your pomodoro. Such is life.

  5. disgruntled says:

    @Charles – you were doing well. I once kept track of how much time I spent working (doing *my* job, that is, rather than doing other people’s for them or sitting in meetings) and the most I managed was about 2 hours.
    @WOL – chicken?

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