Productive Pomodoros

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…Or, How I Learned to Stop Panicking and Love the Tomato

Have you ever lost an entire day of productivity to paralyzing anxiety? Has a looming deadline ever sent you into a tailspin of panic, spinning in circles and not getting a thing accomplished? Has your brain ever felt like a rubber ball that bounced off everything you tried to focus on?

It’s happened to me once or twice.

One of the most effective tools in my anti-panic arsenal is the Pomodoro Technique. More than just a kitchen timer, the Pomodoro Technique is, at its simplest, the technique of setting a timer for 25 minutes and focusing exclusively on a single task until the timer goes off.

The lovely Pomodoro Technique website has a Get Started section that explains the technique in detail. LifeHacker has featured it. Asian Efficiency has touted its benefits. I probably read about it half a dozen times before I finally started to use it, but after the very first pomodoro I was hooked.

I’m just happy I started to use it because it has been the single most effective tool against panic attacks and anxiety-induced paralysis at work. No matter how overwhelming the task, no matter what nadir of self-doubt I’ve sunk to, I can almost always muster the energy and confidence to spend 25 minutes on a task. And then another 25 minutes. I can’t count the number of times pomodoros have saved me from completely cramping up. It’s a miracle pill with no side effects.

I also suspect its benefits are bleeding into other areas of life: the habit of picking a task and focusing on it for a brief time is incredibly helpful across the board.

So, obviously, I’m enamored of the Pomodoro Technique. Here’s how I use it:

I installed a fantastic little app on my droid phone, Pomodroido. There are other apps for both iPhone and Droid, but this is the one I chose and I adore it. I love the idea of having an actual pomodoro timer, twisting the top every time I start a time block, but going digital has advantages:

  • Portability. I travel a lot; having a digital timer means one fewer item to pack.
  • Flexibility. You can easily extend or shorten the length of your pomodoros and of the breaks between them.
  • Melodiousness. I like the cheery tone my app uses to announce breaks. If the noise were strident I might subtly resist using it.
  • Gamification. This is least important for me personally, but should be mentioned. My app has levels, and the more pomodoros you complete, the higher your rank. Every ounce of positive reinforcement helps.
Here’s what I love about the Pomodoro Technique:
  • It’s charming. For me, charming is muy importante. I love saying, “I’m going to do a pomodoro now.” I love the little tomato icon in my droid’s status bar. I do pomoodoros just for the sake of doing pomodoros.
  • It greases the social machine. One of my challenges to creating focused blocks of time used to be interruptions from other people. Not only do pomodoros help me to resist interruption, they also make my periods of intense focus more palatable to other people. (I won’t mention Lil’s name here.) Now it’s easy to say, “I’m in the middle of a pomoodoro, I’ll ping you back when I’m on my break.” It’s especially helpful for smoothing interactions between people on maker time and people on manager time.
  • It keeps me healthy. Every half hour, I look away from my screen. Walk around. Get more water. Often I walk outside for a couple minutes. Or take care of filing. Or do a sun salutation.
  • It’s guilt-free. No elaborate psychology. No penalties if you get distracted. No reward/punishment dichotomy. It’s just there when you need it.

Happy pomodoro-ing!