Why Tomatoes Are Awesome

Nope, this isn’t going to be a smug post on nutrition. These tomatoes I’m going to talk about aren’t for eating but for kicking my ass to be more productive. I’m talking about the Pomodoro Technique of course.

When I saw it for the first time, (because someone sneered about it on Twitter) my reaction was mere amusement. The core of the technique is as following:

One Pomodoro is a working phase of 25 minutes. Take a break of 5 minutes after each Pomodoro. Take a longer break (~ 20 minutes) every four Pomodoros.

That went against everything I knew about focus and productivity. Why should I break my holy flow after 25 minutes? That’s so ineffective! I dismissed it as FUD and moved on with my plain GTD.

But some time later it started to itch. Especially when I caught myself checking Twitter or my bank balance all around instead of doing something boring I was supposed to do. Usually this checking came with the fear I might miss something as I didn’t know, when I’ll have my next break.

What if I actually knew, when my next break will come? Wouldn’t it relax me and help me to focus on the one thing I’m doing?

I tried it out once. Just the 255 rhythm, without the planning and tracking that belongs to the technique too. And it turned out to work just the way I hoped: Every time I got that “check XY” itch, I simply told myself: “I’ll do it in my break.” and focused on my current task again. The breaks are never farther than 25 minutes, everybody can wait that long! And if not, there’s the great Strict Pomodoro extension for Chrome, that does both measure your pomodoros as well as blocks all the pages you don’t want to visit while in your working phase.

I was hooked and wanted to know more. So I got the book Pomodoro Technique Illustrated to learn the basics and (mostly psychological) backgrounds. The book offers great insights and is written in a amusing, motivating way so I adopted the full technique and am squashing Pomodoros since then.

The most important benefits I’ve encountered are:

It works perfectly with GTD. I don’t have to abandon my old system. GTD is strategy, Pomodoro is tactics.

Best procrastination anti-measure I’ve ever encountered. It’s not about willpower, it’s about helping you. You don’t tell yourself “you mustn’t!”, that’s not sustainable. You say: “soon!”.

A nice side-effect of the breaks is also that you’re regularly forced to step back and look at the big picture to make sure, you’re moving in the right direction.

My work days have a granularity now. It’s easier to do different things in one day. For example I have 1-2 fixed Pomodoros for reading technical books. It can also be used to balance two projects you work on. Or to force yourself to do mundane tasks.

You’re not busy, you’re productive. Every Pomodoro you do, is a step in the right direction. You plan in advance what you want to do. If you make it through the Pomodoro, you feel good about yourself knowing you achieved something.

There’s much more like planning and handling external interruptions to the technique but the core is the thing the fascinates me most. It makes me work effortlessly concentrated for hours without burning out and without fighting myself.

So if you have trouble to focus and work consistently, it might be your magic pill too.