Measuring my life in tomatoes

"My tomato timer" by Flickr user Melly ♥ Kay

Let’s see if I can get this blog post done in the span of one tomato.

(It’ll make sense soon . . . stay with me on this one.)

Quick background: I’m part of a small cohort of people at Green College who pledged to keep track of their daily activities in order to answer a simple question: “Where does the time go?”

About 20 of us signed up — probably to boost our productivity — while other residents dismissed it as a masochistic little experiment.

We started last week . . . and by the end I had to admit to my brethren that I had epically failed. But it wasn’t because I wasn’t keeping track of my time. Actually, I failed because I’d kept a ridiculously detailed log, and it slowly degenerated into excuse-making on my own behalf. (I’ll be honest: it got weird.)

By the end, it was impossible to sort the minutiae into the standardized hour-long blocks, as the group had set out to do. So, on Sunday, I started using a different system.

A friend suggested I try the pomodoro technique (“pomodoro” is the Italian name for tomato), which I’m finding really effective for keeping track of work that is untainted by what the Green College experiment calls “low work.” (That is, pretending you’re working while checking Facebook or going down a YouTube wormhole.)

The Pomodoro technique was named after the inventor’s kitchen timer, which was in the shape of a tomato. The official website explains the time management strategy in five simple steps:

  1. Choose a task to be accomplished
  2. Set the Pomodoro (tomato timer) to 25 minutes
  3. Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings, then write down what you accomplished
  4. Take a short break (5 minutes is the standard)
  5. Every 4 Pomodoros take a longer break (30 minutes is the standard)

That’s it.

I know, it sounds so unimpressive that you may wonder why I’m bothering to blog about it. Here’s the thing: it works.

Example: I usually slack off something serious on Sundays…but I got addicted to collecting these tomatoes and ended up being reasonably productive (remember, I’m only counting periods of totally focused work):

sunday 19 Sep. 8 finished tomatoes

  • 23:06 – 23:31 Read class notes and 14 more pages of Schudson
  • 18:00 – 18:25 Read 20 more pages of Schudson
  • 17:12 – 17:37 Read 18 pages of Schudson
  • 16:13 – 16:44 Read 10 more pages of Dewey
  • 14:20 – 14:45 Read 12 pages of Dewey
  • 13:47 – 14:12 Watched Al Jazeera Listening Post on Wikileaks and took notes
  • 13:13 – 13:38 Finished the Quebec reading.
  • 12:39 – 13:04 Finished the multiculturalism reading.

This list made itself when I used this free online timer designed in Pomodoro style. (I should mention that you can pay for the official timer and booklet and what-not, but you can also find ways to be a broke student and still take advantage of this simple work rhythm.)

Apparently there’s also an app for this.

Obviously, people at the college were skeptical at first . . . but many have since come up to me and told me that there’s really something about 25 minutes that just, well, works.

Anyway, there’s no harm in getting a taste for it.  Personally, I’m kind of addicted to this friendly little vegetable, not to mention the joy of accomplishing something in under 30 minutes.

Speaking of which, I’ve finished this post AND my timer says…



9 thoughts on “Measuring my life in tomatoes

  1. Hey Fab! I just wanted to point out that pomodoro is Italian simply for tomato, not the time in particular.

    Also, how long is the ‘longer’ break? I read one place say an hour, and if you did that, your break to work ratio would be 3:4! That’s only 4 hours of work in a 7 hour work day. Is it sad that I think I’ll try the pomodoro technique when I’m less busy?

    • The longer break is about half an hour, I’ve heard. But honestly, the basic formula is there so adapt it as you will!
      I guess I phrased the Pomodoro thing unclearly, so I’ll fix that up — Grazie!

    • The short answer is that a tomato is, scientifically speaking, the fruit of the tomato plant, but it’s used as a vegetable in cooking. The Oxford “World of Words” has a really good explanation here.

      Happy timing!

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  3. OH. MY. GOD.

    This post came into my life on a day I needed it most. So thank you for that.

    See, I’m the kind of person who takes on way too much.

    I decided to make freelancing at least two articles a month one of my new year’s resolutions this week. This month, I haven’t done any.

    And January ends tomorrow. So I’m working away on two pitches I had pitched earlier in the month when I was all gung ho after promising my editors they’d have them on Monday (i.e. tomorrow).

    And instead of writing, I’m just asking begging the Internet to distract me until the All Star Game starts in 30 minutes and that can distract me.

    Instead, I came across your post. I’m off to set my Pomodoro timer and get my second article done!

    Thanks Fab!

    • Here’s an overdue HOORAY SARAH! Love that you tweeted your appreciation for pomodoro almost one year later!
      That must mean it really really worked for you 🙂

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