By Darrell Hill
I’m no time management specialist. Until now, I’ve been even less of a time management practitioner. I’ve written about it. But as far as putting it into practice goes… not so much. Finding enough time and then managing the time I may find has always been a burden for me. As a freelance writer, keeping on task is critical to my business. But the run-of-the-mill time management methods always came across as complex and gimmicky. And then I found the simplest of them all. It didn’t even matter that it might also be the most gimmicky as well. The Pomodoro time management method, from my perspective, is the worst kept secret of the century (this one and the last). I don’t remember exactly how I stumbled across it, but I did. It was new to me. When I researched it, it began to look like maybe I was the last guy on Earth who didn’t know anything about this. For shame. I like being more on top of things than that.
Assuming most people already know about the technique, I’m not going to rehash the details here. Pomodoros, of course, is the Italian word for tomatoes. If you (like me before you) are just hearing about this method for the first time, click here for a brief primer. In short, a pomodoro is a 25-minute unit of time that one uses to concentrate on a project or task. While the clock is ticking, there is nothing else in your world but that which you choose to focus on. You put your phone on airplane mode and you ignore email and social media. Announce to anyone around that they are strictly forbidden to come through the door to your office for next 25 minutes. Put up a sign if you have to. Don’t worry. You’ll get a break at the end. Each morning, you plan your day. Each day you become more productive.
That’s what they sell with regards to time management, and, from my experience, that’s what you get. Yup. I’m a believer. I plan and measure my world in 25 minute segments throughout each day. I even have a Pomodoro time management app for the old Droid Maxx.
That’s good time management sauce!
Pretty gimmicky, this Pomodoro time management system… but in the three months of using it, my productivity and work life has gone places it’s never been before. Good places. Here’s how:
- Rhythm: Let’s look at the weirdest first. Let’s do that by using a musical analogy. If I can compare my workday to music, my day went from being a Sex Pistols rant to a smooth progressive jazz rift that would make any smoky blues club owner proud especially late at night when THAT special mood engulfs the room. (Oh yeah. Jazz lovers know what I’m talking about.) My day went from “Anarchy in the UK” to a Coltrane ballad. The typical day smoothed out. Each day the plan was clear and each part of plan flowed elegantly into another. Productive but mellow. Mellow but productive. I started meeting deadlines with a smile rather than a sneer. Those compact tomatoes broke the day down into little packets of manageability that removed much of the stress. Soon, days began to assume a seductive rhythm, and I couldn’t wait to get started on my pomodoros. (Is it getting hot in here or is it just me?)
- Saying no: Once you begin to use this technique, you begin to appreciate how many nefarious distractions interrupt any given day. They constantly try to pull your attention away from the tasks required for getting your work done. Demonic little distractions which are sneaky enough that you may not even notice them. With practice, I learned to commit vigorously to each and every individual pomodoro and banished the little time-sucking fiends. It’s only 25 minutes. What can’t wait until I’m finished? Very few things are urgent enough that they can’t be put on hold for less than a half an hour. Don’t even think about disturbing me during a pomodoro unless maybe my office chair is on fire underneath me. Nothing else is important enough to steal that time from me.
- Focus: So, the gift of focus suddenly arrived on my doorstep with this time management method. Today, after a little practice, I usually accomplish about 16 pomodoros in a workday. That only comes to 6.6 hours. That doesn’t sound like a lot. But that’s pure focus. I’m tempted to use a drug analogy but will avoid that lest anyone get a wrong idea about me. Let’s just say each 25 minutes is the highest grade concentration you’re going to get your hands on… anywhere. Trust me. My guess is I perform during my 6.6 pomodoro hours much more than I ever did struggling with 10 to 14 hour days. So what if 6.6 hours doesn’t sound like much? (With the breaks, it’s easily over 8 hours altogether.) But just look at all it does.
- Maintenance: I fold in some self-care pomodoros into my time management schedule every day. Maybe a little inspirational or instructional reading, a brief workout, a short hike with my dog, Max, and even some meditation. My theory is that I can produce a better product if I’m balanced and all my metaphorical cylinders remain unclogged. Back in the olden days, before pomodoros, I used to plan to take care myself somewhere in the middle of a long workday. But I never got around to it. Something else was always demanding my attention. I’ve written much about life/work balance. With the help of my pomodoros and the focus they require even on these “softer” activities, I can finally practice what I preach.
- A bonus gift: I wear a Nike Fuelband, a little device that measures daily movement. Being a freelance writer, I can easily plant my butt on a chair and not move it for several hours at a time. Prepomodoro, I would rarely meet my modest Fuelband movement goals. Now, with the technique’s frequent and “compulsory” breaks, I’m up on my feet wandering around my office or my house every 25 minutes like I’m on autopilot. Adopting the Pomodoro time management system, I have consistently met my Fuelband goals. More than that, I’ve significantly increased my daily target. Who knew these time management tomatoes would be as good for my health as the other kind?
Freelance writer or not – try a few pomodoros today. You might be surprised that this time management system works for you as well.