Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

The Mayday Project, Day 12 — The Pomodoro Technique

Law school is an interesting experience. For most of the classes, the students are graded based on one cumulative exam at the end of the semester. This inevitably means a lot of procrastination and last-minute studying (er, cramming) at the end of the semester. I would spend hours at a table or desk in the library pouring over outlines, cases, notes and primers trying to cram as much knowledge as I could in my head. I would only get up to use the restroom or get a Diet Mountain Dew (I can’t believe I ever drank that swill) and every 4, 5, 6 hours I might venture out of the library to get food.

During my first year of law school a counselor told me, “you know it’s ok to take breaks.” My world-view was shattered. I think I felt the Earth move. It’s ok to take breaks? What do you mean? Well, it’s ok to watch a movie, play a video game or go for a walk, just to clear your mind. I knew I could do these things but I didn’t know I was allowed to take breaks during studying. My whole studying experience changed. I would study for about 50 minutes and then take breaks, seek out someone to talk to, or just get up and movie. Breaking studying into blocks, taking breaks, and clearing my mind made studying actually more enjoyable and I was able to get more done in the long run. Plus, I didn’t feel guilty when I finished studying for 12 hours and decided to have some free time.

I wish I would have known about the Pomodoro Technique back then. Invented by Francesco Cirillo in the 80s, the technique is working for timed sprints with breaks in-between. The basic intervals are twenty-five minutes of work or studying, followed by a five minute break and after four “pomodoros” a longer (15–30 minute) break. A timer is essential for this task, as when the timer starts, you work for 25 minutes straight without stopping until the timer rings.

There are many ways that the technique can be used. Tracking the pomodoros in a day is useful for many people. Some only work on one particular task per pomodoro, and breaking up longer tasks into the number of pomodoros it will take to complete. For example, writing and article like this might take two pomodoros and I would keep setting the time until it’s done. This is helpful for tracking time and level of effort on tasks. Some users will also stop a pomodoro when they get a distraction (interruption, hitting up social media, phone call, etc.) and then restart the pomodoro when the distraction goes away. One could count or not count that pomodoro as complete. Tracking these distractions could help with planning and focus.

The popularity of this technique has given many different solutions for this technique. You could easily do this with a piece of paper and a kitchen timer. The timer on your smartphone is also convenient and easy to use. There are also a number of simple to complex apps that will track your pomodoros, record distractions, allow for the creation and completion of a task list, white noise, pretty colors and different alarm sounds. I like the app Flat Tomato and it’s pretty easy to use. I set up my iPad with Flat Tomato running next to my computer to keep me in check.

In case you’re curious, “pomodoro” is the italian word for tomato and the technique is named after a tomato-shaped kitchen timer. The literal translation of pomodoro is “apple of gold.”

The Mayday Project is a personal, total wellness plan. These essays will track my progress and development of the plan. Please follow for tips, ideas, inspiration and what not to do when you’re changing your life.

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