As we continue to talk about “productivity”, here is a simple but powerful technique that is used around the world. In fact, you may have already used it and didn’t even know it because versions of it are called by different names. The Tomato Technique isn’t really one of them but hey, it got your attention!
Let’s look at the original version of this powerful technique—The Pomodoro Technique®. Pomodoro is an Italian word that when translated into English means “tomato.” This technique is a time management technique developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. It uses a timer to break down work into intervals. Typically, these intervals are 25 minutes each and are followed by a short break. These intervals are called Pomodoros.
Basically, as the story goes, Cirillo was looking for a way to get more things accomplished during his hectic student days. He decided to time himself and the only timer he had was a tomato shaped kitchen timer, thus the name Pomodoro (tomato).
The technique is very simple and has six underlying steps.
- Decide on the task to be done.
- Set the Pomodoro timer (traditionally to 25 minutes).
- Work on the task.
- End work when the time rings and put a check mark on a piece of paper.
- If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3-5 minutes), then go to step two.
- After four Pomodoros, take a longer break (15-30) minutes), reset your check mark count to zero, then go to step one again.
Let’s Look Closer at the Pomodoro Technique
You work on a task(s) for 25 minutes and stop when the timer rings. You put a check mark on a piece of paper and take a three to five-minute break. You then go back to step two and work for 25 minutes, put the check mark on a piece of paper and take a three to five-minute break. You want to do this four times.
This is visually tracked with the check marks you put on the paper every 25 minutes. When you have four check marks on the paper, you have completed four Pomodoro’s and take a longer 15 to 30-minute break. Get up, walk around. This clears your mind and gets you ready for the next four Pomodoros.
That’s the entire strategy. It keeps you from getting bogged down, tired and inefficient in your thinking and work. BUT…here is something very important…the key to success is that you actually have a timer of some sort. It doesn’t need to be a tomato shaped timer. You can go to Google and type in “Pomodoro timer” and you’ll find a bunch of them. You can even download Pomodoro Timer Apps to your computer or phone. To be honest, the built in timer on your phone will work just fine.
Don’t get to hung up on the 25-minute sessions, use whatever works best for you. The strength of the technique is that you focus for a period of time and then take a break to refresh your body and mind.
If you want to get really serious about it you can go to Francesco Cirillo’s website and find more tools and information at FrancescoCirillo.com
Here’s an important point. Don’t jump out of bed, set your timer and immediately start working in the morning. It’s best to ease into the workday. When I wake up, I come to my office and breeze through my emails to see what my competitors are offering, I delete the junk. I then go to two or three news sites to see what the latest news is. Then I log in and check my Google, Facebook, etc. stats. There is typically nothing I need to do here unless an ad isn’t pulling and needs to be stopped. All this takes 10 to 15 minutes.
Then I check out my sales to see how much money I made overnight. There’s really nothing I can do here but it just gives a good start to my day knowing I made money while I slept.
After that I’m ready to start my workday. I pretty much know what I need to start on because I laid it out the night before, but I still go over it. Sometimes I need to make an adjustment from what I planned on doing. I may or may not use the Pomodoro Technique. I have my own deadlines in my head and usually don’t need it. So, while it’s a very good method, I very rarely use a timer because I am disciplined enough to keep working all day.
But, when I’m drop dead serious about getting something done, I use the Pomodoro Technique. If I really need to focus on something like programming where I need to lock myself down and complete it, I also use this technique. I set the timer for 25 minutes, then take a break, then back to work for another 25 minutes, etc.
There is one thing about the Pomodoro Technique that I need to learn to do and that’s to take breaks. If you follow the method properly, you will take breaks. I have trouble with this, but I need to get up, stretch, walk around etc. and give my mind a small vacation. This make me more creative and enables me to focus. By following this technique properly, you are forced to walk away from what you are doing. I mean literally walk away and exercise, go outside and get a breath of fresh air, read something totally unrelated, go to the bathroom, clean up your desk etc.
It doesn’t matter what you do on the break, as long as it’s totally unrelated to the work you were doing. So, basically, you work two hours with short five minute breaks every 25 minutes and then you take a 30 minute break. Try it, you’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish using this simple technique.
It’s very important that you don’t sit all day. You need to get up and move around. I was watching television a while back and saw a sign on a commercial that said, “Sitting is the new cancer.” Sitting all day can kill you. Your body needs to get up and move around.
When I was younger, I was very active but once I started working via the Internet, I spent most of my day sitting. I started sitting much more than the average person does. This was bad for my mental and physical health. That’s why I started working out and doing Taekwondo.
When you sit all day, your muscles tend to shorten. Your hip flexors become really tight and your hips become out of alignment and pulls the hip down in front. This impacts the way you move, the way you walk, the way you feel. And these are only the surface issues created by too much sitting. Studies indicate that there are many more serious issues created by too much sitting.
I’ve been working on trying to become more active during the day and working out at the gym for over four years, and I still haven’t overcome all the issues created by mainly sitting for the past 20+ years.
Doing this will not only help your health but it will greatly enhance your ability to focus. My point is that taking the scheduled breaks is VERY important.
John D. Rockefeller said the key to his success was his ability to focus on one single subject for five straight minutes.
Right now, you may be thinking, “focus for five minutes—I can do that”. But, can you really do it consistently? I highly doubt it. What happens is that when you start thinking about one subject your brain naturally travels to a second subject, then a third, etc. I’ve tried this and I can’t do it, it’s not as easy as it seems. I tried hard, and I find I need to keep bringing myself back to the subject I want to concentrate on.
With the 25-minute blocks you may drift from time to time, but you are “in the zone” and keep coming back to the topic at hand. But you need to get rid of your phone for that period of time, shut down Instant Messaging, turn off alarms. In other words, you need to remove all distractions.
I only use this method when I really need to laser focus. The technique is meant to be used all day long but, I have to be honest, I have never used it all day long. When I use it, I do so for two to four hours maximum in order to meet a deadline.
While I can see the benefit of doing this every day, all day long, I can’t do it. I’d burn myself out. If you can do it, more power to you. I guarantee you will get a lot accomplished. I feel the value in this method is when you are under a deadline and need to get something out by a certain time.
There are various methods for getting things done but the first and most important thing you need to do is decide what needs to be done. Prioritize it by level of importance or chronological order. Decide what needs to be done, when it needs to be done and who is going to do it. Then makes sure everyone (including yourself ) starts doing it!
I’m not a big planner. I think that’s where a lot of people run into a problem. Don’t get me wrong, I think planning is important. I think you should do a certain degree of planning…then you need to stop planning and start taking action. To many people suffer from “paralysis by analysis”. They study, they research, they plan but never get started!
I can tell you all the details about starting a business, building a business, advertising a business and all those great things. But the one thing I can’t tell you or give you is experience. I can tell you about my experience. But unless you actually live through an actual experience, you don’t necessarily know it. For example, I could tell you how to water ski, but you aren’t going to know how to water-ski until you actually do it.
There is a difference in the actual application. It’s like Book Smart vs. Street Smart. Book Smart is great in theory. But the reality is when it comes to the street, when you actually bring everything down and start applying it, there’s a difference…it’s that real world experience that makes it different.
Don’t get me wrong. You need to plan, but not for hours, not for days…just five or ten minutes worth of planning then start doing it.
One of the most common mistakes I see made, even by the “planners” is in their list of the tasks that need to be accomplished.
Let’s say I want to build a website. The task has been identified— build a website. So, write down the things that need to be accomplished to make that happen…
- Decide on a domain name
- Register the domain name
- Get hosting
- Get website software
- Install the software
The list would go on, but for the sake of brevity and the length of this article, let’s stop here. When people make a list, they don’t list everything that needs to be accomplished.
Here’s a more exhaustive version of that same list:
- Decide on a domain name
- Register the domain name
- GoDaddy – .com $9 (as an example)
- Also get .net and .org (as an example)
- Get hosting
- Point domain name to hosting account by changing the dns
- Get website software
- WordPress .org (as an example)
- Or use Fantastico/Softaculous (as an example)
- Install the software
- Use cPanel and Fantastico (as an example)
- Get a theme
What I’m pointing out is that every piece has to be noted. It has to be written down in sequential steps. List the major steps with the minor steps listed as subcategories under them. Most people get the major steps, but the minor steps are often missed.
For example, most people will get the domain name and hosting but will forget to point the DNS to the hosting account. If that minor step is missed, they will not be able to bring up their website. I’ve missed this step in the past, but when it’s on the list it won’t get missed.
It doesn’t take complicated software for this. You can use a Word or Notepad document. If you want software for this you can use “Todoist, which I have talked about in a previous article at length (https://todoist.com/). Or, something else I talked about in an article this year, you can do as I do and use 3×5 note cards.
Here’s something else to think about when you are making your list…what if you don’t know how to do one of the tasks on the list? You could make a sub-note that says, “How do I do this?” Or maybe “Google how to do this.” Or, you could say, “Hire someone for this step (or sub-step).” You could even be more precise and say, “find someone on Fiverr.” Or, if you know someone already you could write something like, “hire Betty for this.”
So, this detailed list should contain all the steps you know to take, and it should also list the steps you need to research before they can be accomplished.
Whenever I’m not working on a project, I’m increasing my “specialized knowledge” by researching things that I would like to know how to do. That way I don’t have so many, “how do I do this” sub-notes on my list.
One of my favorite places for this research is YouTube. If I want to find something about a camera or lighting I not only look at videos where they show you how to do it, I also look at videos where someone is doing what I want to do. I see how they do it and then determine if it would work for me.
I use YouTube daily for anything and everything that you could possibly imagine. I recently used it to look for a camera lens. I typed in, “18 millimeter to 55 millimeter camera lens. I want to see people who have used this lens. I wanted to know what kind of results they had with it. I wanted to find a video that shows me the approximate distance to make my video look right because I really don’t know anything about lenses so I was trying to figure out if this is a lens I would want. I’ll look to see what people are looking at and see if it will work for me.
I shoot a lot of video, and I’m always looking for lighting that gives the effect I want. I’ll search on videos similar to the ones I want to do. I’ll search specifically for videos by geeks who talk about lighting in videos. They’ll take me through the pros and cons of different lights and the color and glow of each one. I can do very fast and thorough research here.
Many people use YouTube for entertainment, but I use it to take advantage of other people’s knowledge and experience. By increasing your specialized knowledge, you shorten your project time. You make your time more productive—you rule out the things that are not possible so you can work on the things that are possible.
You can find specialized knowledge on the internet. For example, I research anything that I feel can make my life faster easier, quicker and more efficient. A lot of that type of software is a bunch of bull, but some of it could work. So, I’m going to do a little bit of research on it and figure out if it’s for me or not.
You only need to acquire any kind of specialized knowledge once and then you have it in your possession. So, the time I spend acquiring this knowledge is well spent. That one bit of knowledge that I gained from spending an extra five to ten minutes researching is knowledge that I never have to spend time on again. That’s a fair use of my time.
In this article, I started with the Pomodoro Technique, which is a very key piece to the puzzle, but along with that Pomodoro Technique is management of your time.
In order to get the most value for your time, you have to narrow down the task and define exactly, step-by-step what needs to be done. Break it down into micro pieces in order to create a checklist to make sure that you covered every single element that is required.
You also need to increase your specialized knowledge, to make your life easier, by utilizing the research tools that are available to you.
In order to do this, you need to “follow the rabbit”. What I mean by that is many times one video will lead to something else, which will lead to something else etc. You follow the rabbit as long as it’s consistent with what you are looking for. I’ll follow the rabbit until it doesn’t interest me anymore.
If you are interested in more information on the Pomodoro Technique and live examples of how I use YouTube to enhance my specialized knowledge just log into your Marketing University members area and search on “Productivity Secrets” and watch session seven.