Tomato, Tomahto: Do You Even Pomodoro?

Nov 9, 2023

Given that I basically wrote my latest book in Pomodoros (25-minute blocks with strategic breaks in between), I cannot believe I haven’t written about it over here at Togetherness Central.

First off, a quick primer from the folks over at Wikipedia: “The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. It uses a kitchen timer to break work into intervals, typically 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. Each interval is known as a pomodoro, from the Italian word for tomato, after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer Cirillo used as a university student.”

While some of us do have the cognitive stamina to jump into long, deep work blocks, our unique environments – especially schools and non-profits – often do not support what our friend Cal Newport calls Deep Work. I mean, the very idea of a teacher’s prep period or a manager’s chunk of time between meetings basically is the antithesis of a long Deep Work session. So a tomato can save the day because almost all of us can find a 25-minute chunk or two – especially with pre-planning – and make progress on our most important work.

Part of the genius of the Pomodoro method is that the 25-minute timeframe can fit more easily into our schedules, AND it’s a reasonable amount of time for a focused attention burst. Then, the quick break in between (maybe 5-10 minutes) refreshes us for the next Pomodoro.

So, how do I personally use the Pomodoro method?

  • Plan my Pomodoros in advance. I plan and set up my 25-min blocks the day BEFORE. If it is a day of a lot of tomatoes (aka book-writing day), I give myself a longer break after every four work chunks. When writing my most recent book, I would try to make the longer break a fun thing like a walk, or an Instagram break, or a special beverage. And, because I need “start-up time” for harder, deeper work, the first Pomodoro is typically used just to wiggle myself into the time.
  • Match my energy to my Pomodoro task. If it is a more meeting- or teaching-heavy day (these are what my workdays are often filled with), then I commit to at least 2 Pomodoros to still make progress on projects amidst what I have scheduled for the day. For example, this blog post was written during a morning Pomodoro. I try to pay attention to my energy levels when assigning tasks to myself. I have a Life Admin Pomodoro for later this evening when I’m going to fly through a lot of personal tasks!
  • Use technology to set me up for success. I use the Forest app (so cute for little trees planted in the forest!) to make sure I don’t touch my phone during this time. There are tons of other Pomodoro apps, or you can just go into Airplane Mode on your phone and set your timer for 25 min.

How about you? What is your approach to getting and staying focused?

PS Editor’s note: As it turns out, this blog was also EDITED during a Pomodoro! A few of us on The Together Team have a practice of scheduling co-working sessions with one another. We schedule a 1.5-2 hour block and spend the time on Zoom, mostly with cameras and microphones off. After each 25-minute work block, we come off mute and check in about what we have finished in the previous block and what we will work on in the next chunk of time. It’s a great way to add some accountability to the mix, and works wonders for focus and productivity!