time management issues? buy a tomato!

04/14/2010

by carolyn mathews

Well, here we are a few months into the New Year! To mark this annual start, many of us make resolutions to improve our time management. Armed with the belief that better time management will allow us to do more, we buy planners or resolve to organize our lives though smart technology and online schedulers. First, stop and consider, is it really necessary to get more done, or could we use the time we have more efficiently to complete what we set out to do?

Many time management systems, it seems, require you to invest a lot of upfront time to get organized. One example of this is a well-known system embraced by corporations and individuals alike. While this highly regarded system works for many of you, it does not work for everyone. As much as we love buying fresh inserts and perhaps even a new cover to celebrate the New Year, putting the required time into planning ahead and prioritizing feels like another item for our to-do list.

However, I came across a brief description of another system in a Barron’s article by Sue Shellenbarger.  Shellenbarger approached several executive coaches throughout the country to find out what system they recommend to their clients. One suggested system is called The Pomodoro Technique. That’s right; the tomato technique! In essence, you create a to-do list each day and then work on each item for 25-minute intervals (called Pomodoros,) with the use of a kitchen timer (in this case, in the likeness of a tomato). At the end of 25 minutes, you record that pomodoro with an X, and take a short break for 3 to 5 minutes. The time allotments assigned to pomodoros and the ensuing breaks are based on research regarding concentration levels and efficiency, according the technique’s creator, Francesco Cirillo.

Like Shellenbarger, I recently tried the system for a few days. Instead of a tomato timer, however, I used the timer on my smartphone. Also like Shellenbarger, I was surprised by the number of things that came to mind that were not relevant to the task at hand, and thus, how many times I wanted to get up from my work during a pomodoro to start another task. However, it is a rule that you must never break a pomodoro! Instead, by marking each one of these internal interruptions with an apostrophe, and returning to the task at hand, I was able to complete the pomodoro. I also became quite aware of my propensity to distract myself. However, once I settled down, I was also pleased to notice how efficiently I used my time, and how quickly 25 minutes passed.

Although the system is a bit more involved than described above, it requires less upfront time than other time management systems.  Isn’t this really the point of having a time management system – to use more of your time to do the things you need to do? The balance of energy use and refresh time work well, and are reinforced by the satisfaction of crossing to-do items off your list when completed! The system is designed for those who work solo, or in an office with others. It may help those who have trouble concentrating, feel anxious and burdened by too much to do, or procrastinate. It would be ideal for organizations planning strategy sessions or teams involved in project work. In all, the Pomodoro Technique è meglio!

To learn more, go to www.pomoderotechnique.com and download the free 45-page pdf book. On his website, Cirillo explains how to develop this technique, offers answers to FAQs, provides forms to track pomodoros, and even sells kitchen timers that look like tomatoes!

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