Pomodoro Timer: Using Tomatoes to Focus

I’m going to put it in writing now — when I die, I would like the earth near wherever I rest to be emblazoned for all eternity with the words, “Here lies Sean. Boy, did he love spaghetti.”

What can I say? I’m a fan of a delicious plate of pasta. Just a few nights ago I had a heap of perfectly al dente spaghetti, some Newman’s Own garlic infused sauce, and a bunch of Gardein “meatballs.”

I may have had too much, but it sure was a tasty mistake.

Ask anyone who truly knows a thing or two about what it takes to make a memorable pasta meal and they’ll tell you that it comes down to the sweetly acidic tomato sauce you slather over your noodles.

Sure, the noodles are nice, but its the sauce that delights your taste buds. The star of the show is clear.

(Meatball lovers, I know. I get it. “Pasta and sauce is just a delivery method for what really matters — the meatballs.” Look, I mentioned above that my pasta plate was topped with vegan meatballs. I’m sorry to say you’re not going to win me over on this one 😎)

A perfect batch of San Marzano tomato sauce with fresh, chopped basil, some minced garlic, and a perfect amount of salt and pepper is the making of a meal so legendary you’ll sneer at anything else. Nothing comes close.

I’ll admit, though, that I’m not the biggest fan of plain tomatoes. My girlfriend loves having them any chance she can get, but to me, tomatoes don’t really shine until they’ve become something else.

Something more.

Ketchup? Yum. Tomato soup? So comforting. Tomato sauce? Give me all you got.

This might be considered heresy in some circles and I’m okay with that. Some people think that mustard is gross. I don’t understand the people who feel that way, but everyone’s entitled to their own opinion.

What is the Pomodoro Technique?

Tomatoes may be the glue that brings everything together in certain dishes, but there’s another use for tomatoes outside of pasta. Since the late ’80s, they’ve been used to represent a method of single-minded focus and productivity.

The Pomodoro Technique is a method of breaking work down into strict time intervals. It was developed by productivity expert Francesco Cirillo when he was a university student as a way to get more work done faster.

His website tagline currently declares “Work Smarter, Not Harder.” It’s an idea that’s informed most of his life and has been the defining sentiment that’s helped many people around the world transform the way they manage their work.

I believe most of us approach our work each day as a singular mammoth task we need to attack from all sides until it’s finally, somehow, nothing more than a smoking heap of accomplished work. Only then can we look at it in the rear view mirror of our day as we head home, exhausted from the exertion.

Does the work get done? Sure. I think. I mean, most of it does anyway. If there’s still a bunch to do, well, that’s what tomorrows are for, right?

That sounds like a stressful way to do things. If you take a serious look at your workday, I think you may agree. Why spend every day feeling like you’re climbing a mountain when you can finish your day feeling like you’ve taken a brisk walk around the neighborhood?

How to use the Pomodoro Technique

Here’s where the tomatoes come in.

The Pomodoro Technique is an effective way to rid yourself of some of the daily stress you feel. Instead of running headlong into your daunting workload, the technique suggests breaking your tasks down into individual chunks you can work on for set intervals.

25 minute intervals, that is. As an added bit of cuteness, most apps, Cirillo’s website, and heck, even the name itself uses a tomato as its “mascot.”

In essence, you pick a single task, only one at a time, to work on for 25 minutes at a time. At the end of those 25 minutes, take a 5 minute break from working. After those 5 minutes are up it’s back to working on that task.

You’ve just earned a tomato. Score!

Once you repeat that routine three additional times, take a longer break. This time it’s 15 minutes.

Let’s break it down in list form:

  1. Choose your task.

If you finish the task you’ve chosen, then give yourself a pat on the back and move on to your next to-do item.

For some extra fun, see how many tomatoes you can accumulate in a day. In a typical 9–5 workday, you may be able to gather up to 20 tomatoes.

If you get less, then don’t worry about it; you still earned some. If you got more, then look at you go! Either way, self-competition is a great motivator.

How the Pomodoro Technique can help you

The aim of the Pomodoro Technique is to encourage great focus on a single task. You’re not going to earn any tomatoes by responding to an email while on a call with the t.v. on in the background.

In fact, that’s so much stuff happening at the same time you might as well give yourself minus tomatoes for trying to work like that.

Despite what you’ve always heard, we humans are not capable of real multitasking. We may think we can tackle everything at once because we’re awesome human beings.

I wouldn’t blame you for thinking, “Maybe you can’t multitask, Sean, but I kick butt. I should have a graduate degree in multitasking.”

I’m sorry to say that’s not the case. What most of us think of as “multitasking” is just our capable brain’s ability to switch back and forth between tasks at a rapid pace. The catch here is that your brain has to reorient and familiarize itself again with the current task every time you switch back to it.

Our brains aren’t wired to actively do two or more things at once. The quality of everything done at the same time is going to suffer greatly because of the lack of focus. Your brain is going to spend more time and energy figuring out how to switch back and forth between tasks than if you just did one thing at a time.

In fact, the fatigue you might feel at the end of a workday is probably due to your brain’s inability to multitask.

If you only do one thing at a time, not only is the quality of your work going to increase, the mental energy you expend will decrease.

More awesome and less exhaustion? That’s a winning combo.

The Pomodoro Technique is a tried and true method of instilling good working habits and improving the quality of your work. These days it’s becoming an unspoken point of pride to spend ridiculous amounts of hours on the job, juggling more assignments than a person could ever hope to finish in a day.

That’s a really harmful way of working. It inspires unnecessary contention between yourself and others while grinding you down to the bone.

It can be challenging to not adhere to the norms of the present day workplace, but so is living an unpleasant life. Working with impressive focus on a single task at a time is a good way to take back the time you’ll lose while trying to multitask.

I want you to live a happy and healthy life. I believe the Pomodoro Technique is a great of doing just that.

Here are links to tools that’ll help get you started working with the Pomodoro Technique:

Pomodoro Technique Timer Project

Be Focused app

Forest app

Focus hard, cats.

Always chasing that cozy feeling of being snuggled under a heap of warm blankets in a cold room. Also trying to find cats to pet 😻

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store