Saturday, March 31, 2012

Time Management and Tomatoes, Connected?

When we left off, I was just getting ready to tell you about my newly discovered time management system - the Pomodoro Technique (PT).  (Don't you like the way I worded that to make it sound like I was blogging just a few hours ago instead of ..... longer? "Am I getting good at excuse-making, or what?"...she asked rhetorically.)


As one of my astute commenters recognized (Hi, Laura!), a pomodoro is actually a type of tomato, which is an unlikely title for a time management system. Janet and Lea also get credit for already knowing about this system - but points will be taken away for not telling me about it. (So, they're actually running in the friend deficit. Although Lea has accumulated bonus friend-points for all those eggnog lattes over the holidays. And gee whiz guys, I'm just kidding! I would NEVER keep score in any of my valued friendships. At least not on paper.)

Did you notice how I went from time management to tomatoes to friendship to lattes? That's the reason I'm drawn to (and without a doubt need) the Pomodoro Technique. Unlike a few (gazillion) other time management approaches I've seen, this approach doesn't spend much time helping the user define his priorities - don't most of us know what we need to get done today?-  but rather instructs in how to work in focused, short time sprints. It's made for the organized, yet concentration-challenged. 

Francesco Cirillo defined the Pomodoro Technique in 1992 but he came up with the basic idea while he was in college frustrated over his low productivity and unstructured studying. Man, I have some kids who should be able to relate to Francesco's dilemma! His breakthrough came partly thanks to a red kitchen timer shaped like a pomodoro (the Italian word for tomato). He kept his goal realistic and at first attempted to study- really study- for 10 minutes. Time became his friend and his tutor - and the Pomodoro Technique was born, or should that be sprouted?

The book I'm reading, The Pomodoro Technique Illustrated, is written by a guy sharing his experience using the system vs. the guy who came up with the technique.  While the author does a great job explaining the theory and brain science behind why this works, most of the book is spent on how to practically implement the technique. Plus, there are pictures. And the book is short (lest we lose focus, right?) You can read a sample chapter here, and see a picture of the author holding a tomato.

 I got the book from inter-library loan, but I may buy it (and not just because I've extended my due date twice without finishing it.....and definitely not because it's due today and the library closes in 50 minutes.)

 Here's a few lines from the book that explain the simple system, "Decide on a few tasks you will do that day, set a timer for 25 minutes, and then start the first one. Instead of feeling anxiety about deadlines for this hour, this day, this week, or this month, you set the timer for 25 minutes and completely focus on the task at hand. When the timer rings at the end of the 25 minutes and you're still working, it does not mean that you have failed to finish. On the contrary. It is a round of applause for your completed timebox." 

I'm digging the idea of the applause. Hooray for me! I finished a pomodoro! But here's my struggle.  I have no problem making a decent to-do list. I've even gotten pretty good at remembering to look at it :) But I find I err in one of three ways. (1) I spend too much time on a project, to the neglect of some other stuff (aka children/husband). (2) I underestimate how much time I'll need and get frustrated, or (3) I don't even start an item on my list because I don't think I have the chunk of uninterrupted time I might need.

There is much more to the book than just telling the reader to work for 25 minutes without succumbing to an interruption. The author gives instruction on how to handle the inevitable interruptions (aka children/husband), and actually learn from them for the next time; how to figure out how many pomodoros (25 minute slots) are realistic for your specific lifestyle (he doesn't mention children or homeschooling but it's easily adaptable); and the reasons it is not good to work past the 25 minutes without taking a short break.

Part of the system is gaining an understanding of how many pomodoros (or is it pomodoroes or pomodori?) each activity might take. The premise is that if something on your list takes more than 25 minutes you should break it down into smaller increments in order to complete it effectively and realistically.  He had me at 'realistically'.

For example, when I finish this blog post (which has taken a bushel of pomodoro) I am going to plan my co-op lesson for Monday. I have it listed on my To Do Today sheet, but it will most likely take three 25-minute slots. If I follow the PT I will take a 5 minute break after each 25 minute slot. This sounds wimpy to me, but the truth is....if i don't plan those breaks I will most likely lose my focus anyway - and possibly more frequently than every 25 minutes.

As usual, I'm the last one to find out about anything cutting edge (see the post where I "discovered" the Getting Things Done time management plan....on it's 10 year anniversary....), so there are already pomodoro products being produced to go along with the system. You can get an adorable tomato timer here - but the reviews for it are horrible so I guess I'll have to go for a different vegetable/fruit. This lemon one is cute, but made by the same Chinese company that made the rotten tomato one (pun completely intended :)    Never, ever knew there were so many timer choices available! Maybe I should buy the Joie Piggy Wiggy version to tell me when to stop eating the Oreos.

I've practiced the PT several times during the last few weeks - and not done particularly well. I'm pretty sure it's because I have an ugly timer. There's a slim chance it's because I lack the self-discipline to stay on task. Which is why I need this book.  But I need to take it back now because it's due in 15 minutes.

Fortunately I know enough about the system to keep at it without the book. Next time I blog I hope to report on my overwhelming success - or tell you that my pomodoro is rotten. (I am on a roll today, folks :)

P.S. The Pomodoro Technique forms are online here - along with the original (free) book. I like The Pomodoro Technique Illustrated  better than the original book, because obviously there was a need to expound on the first one (and add cute pictures.) 

P.S.S. Even though I'm not trying (very hard) to have a popular blog, I'm also not trying (at all) to have an unpopular blog. So here's some token, success-producing pictures from my recent trip to see my amazingly adorable grandchildren.


ashli said...

Not good for passionate (read "obsessive") personalities like me. There is no way I could tear myself away from planning for American Heritage Girls or some such awesome thing as that! I go!, go!, go! & then promptly pass out. In fact I've been at it now all day & have discovered how to increase productivity by 300% in 2 simple steps that take less than 5 minutes & cost absolutely nothing! All you have to do is (THUD!) zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...

Cheaper by the Baker's Dozen said...

Ashli, dear - I know your kind. I am your kind! And it's part of what makes us so good at stuff. But I'm looking for a kinder, gentler way to continue into my golden years of productivity :)

Plus, this tried and true premise is that those breaks between American Heritage Girl pomodoros will energize you - not stall you. We'll see. I'm going to give it my best shot for the last few weeks of school. I have a long must-do list to try it out on :)

Laura said...

How fun to be mentioned in your blog! It seems to me the use of the timer is used by many time-management folks. I'm like Ashli in my ability to hyper-focus. However, if I'm not particularly interested in what I'm doing, I am easily distracted. That's when the timer helps.

jax said...

This makes more sense now that I see it written out (no offense to your spoken explanation...). Maybe I'll start trying this during the kids' naptimes. Of course, these days I mostly just sleep during their naptimes -- I wonder if my naps would be more productive if I woke up every 25 minutes and took a break? :)
(P.S. That picture of Sophia is hilarious.)

busymomof10 said...

Adorable pictures of your amazing grandchildren! (I know they are amazing because they have an amazing grandmother!) :)

I'm not sure about this "new" tomato approach to time management. I look forward to hearing if it really works for you! sort of reminds me of Fly Lady and her 15 minute system for getting things done. It all sounds good in writing, and with cute pictures, don't you think???

busymomof10 said...

I awarded you The Sunshine Award! Come check it out!