All You Need Is A Tomato To Solve Your Problems

The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.  ~Agatha Christie 

   TIME   William Shatner says space is the final frontier, but for me it is time. It is the frontier where most of my daily battles are played out against the enemy known as Sir Procrastination. The very mention of his name runs shivers up and down my spine. He is an insidious enemy, threatening to suck endless hours away from my grasp.

“Damn you, Sir Procrastination!”

Time is fleeting, at best. More often than not, we consider it an enemy that must be harnessed, conquered or made to bend to our will. Sadly, none of these things will happen. We can’t change the nature of time and Sir Procrastination will always be there lurking in the shadows, but what we can do is learn how to manage ourselves. In the face of the speeding time bullet, we can employ a simple method discovered by a university student in Italy. No kidding!

Let me introduce you to The Pomodoro.

If you do much cooking or travelling, then you know that the word Pomodoro means tomato in Italian. The creator, Francesco Cirillo, was a student at a university in Italy. He finished his first round of exams and took a good look at how he studied and organized himself. He was not happy with his discovery. Could he study, really study for a full 10 minutes? No distractions of any kind? He used the closest thing he had on hand to time himself- a tomato shaped kitchen timer. (Ahhh. The Pomodoro!) Unfortunately, he failed miserably.

With practice he trained himself until he could handle those 10 minutes and more. To make time an ally instead of the enemy takes practice. Francesco perfected his technique until we now have The Pomodoro Method used worldwide. The application to serious writers is wonderful!

He wanted to keep the process simple and not require any extra time dealing with a complex procedure or technology. (Thank you, Mr Cirillo!) For a period of 25 minutes, you are to work without distractions and then you take a 5 minute break. Congratulations! You’ve just completed one Pomodoro. You repeat this for four times and then you earn yourself a half hour break. This is the basic building block of this method. Sounds simple, right?

I tried it out today while I was writing and it is anything but simple. I finally read the accompanying free book that takes a more in depth look of the process. (When in doubt, read the directions!!)

There are forces of evil at work making your ripe, firm Pomodoro into greasy spaghetti sauce. These forces are called internal and external distractions. Internal distractions are the most difficult to overcome because we make them up as we go along. For instance, we start our timer and then BAM! We need to stand up, go to the bathroom, call a dear friend, or mend the back fence. For me, I needed to immediately research what it felt like to be on a boat near an island that experienced an earthquake… kidding. I re-started my Pomodoro three times before I made it through the whole 25 minutes. It did get easier and I did get more productive.

The other force of evil is the external distraction devil. The telephone is my number one offender. I get into a scene, the words start to flow and invariably the phone rings. Poof. There went Pomodoro number four. My phone also dings when I receive tweets or texts or voice mails. There went trials five, six and seven. Sigh. Finally, I went outside with no phone of any kind and twenty five minutes flew by and I had words written all across my screen!

Francesco Cirillo has developed a method I think all writers should try. It takes practice and an understanding of all the things waiting to de-rail you. He outlines his method in a free booklet offered on his web site, along with worksheets and guides. My goal tomorrow is to write Chapter Eight and critique my friend’s pages as well. I will do all the preliminary steps and discipline myself against those evils coming at me. Wish me luck…..

What do you think about his method? Do you do something different? Share some of your techniques for staying focused and productive.

21 Responses to All You Need Is A Tomato To Solve Your Problems

  1. jbrayweber says:

    Great post, Stacey!

    It certainly takes discipline. Lately, my mind has been all over the place and I have not been able to focus, REALLY focus on just writing. And I’m not procrastinating either, much. (Damn you research!) I’ve got a free moments when the baby is napping and it’s a mad race to get caught up on everything else. Sure, it’s writer related, but not writing.

    *sigh* The luxury of time, so fleeting. Won’t you stay for awhile, my sweet? LOL


  2. I KNOW the feeling!! I’ve battled “no writing” days for quite awhile and am just now getting back into the swing of things. The creative muse creeped in a few weeks ago and I want to keep her going in the right direction. Try this method, I guarantee nap time will be more productive!!


  3. Kristen says:

    Why is the fist waving guy not naked? Oh, yeah. It’s Thursday… HEHEHE. I’m going to try it today. Thanks Stacey!


  4. I’ve never actually tried to time myself. I’ve been happy to get a certain amount of words done by the end of the day, but if I tried a little bit of self-discipline, I may be able to accomplish that much easier.
    For me, now that the kids are back at school, it isn’t the outside conflicts that interrupt my work, it’s the mind wandering. I’m writing one story while another keeps whispering in my ear.
    I’ll try the “tomato” technique and if it doesn’t work, I’ll either throw it at whoever or whatever bugs me and get rid of them, OR find a real one in the fridge and have a yummy salad!
    Great post! 😉


    • Tomato timer or a salad, you can’t go wrong! I have always done the same thing, Robin. I set a word goal and that’s what I always shot for when I was trying to be “serious”. It was a spotty record at best. I’ve tried the tomato for 2 days now and I seem to be far more productive.


  5. jeff7salter says:

    I shy away from ‘methods’ of anything. Not sure why. But, yeah, I lose a LOT of time. Some is ‘productive’ loss — like the networking on blogs and FB and email. Sure, it kills time and keeps me from ‘writing’ (in the strict sense of my WIP), but i think it’s beneficial in the long run. Certainly hope so.
    But some is just killing time because I can’t get motivated to resume work on my WIP. Not always, but sometimes this is because I have less than one hour available to do whatever before I have to leave to go whereever. Now, do I drag out everything (mentally) and write like crazy for 50 mins. and then spend 10 mins. saving and backing up my files? Or do I just get on FB and piddle?
    You take a guess.
    Right. Piddle.


    • I find I always shied away from a method because I knew it would hold me accountable! It was a definitive way to see how much or little I was actually accomplishing. Perhaps Sir Jeff, that might be why you shy as well??? I don’t think there is one method to end all methods. William is right when he says what works for one won’t work for another.The real focus for this post was for you to find some way to keep yourself headed in the right direction without too many side tracks down the yellow brick road.


  6. William says:

    The only thing that works for me, I mean really works for me, is B-I-C: Butt In Chair. If I force myself to sit at the desk long enough, something will eventually happen. It might be Utter Crap (but, as we’ve said, Crap Can Be Fixed), but words will eventually come out.

    It’s all very subjective and personal; what works for you may work for someone else… or it may not. The key is finding what works for you, and running with it!

    Only Stacey could write about time-management and do it in Italian…:)


    • Butt In Chair….hmmmmmm sounds familiar. You are absolutely dead on when you say this. No program on Earth will ever work if you can’t complete this first step.
      I’m really good at getting Butt In Chair, it’s just the rest of the story, I fail miserably at.



  7. Ruth Kenjura says:

    I just need help to turn off the distractions in my mind. Unfortunately the voices just keep yelling at me. I tell them to talk one at a time- but do they listen. No. As for the excerpt from Agatha Christie- some of my best ideas come when I am unable to do anything about them- like driving(ever try to keep both hands on the wheel and turn on a recorder?), in the shower ( no waterproof paper), or at work ( difficult to stop talking to a patient because you need to make a note), however, when I am with a group of writers- I end up making lots of notes or writing scenes when I am supposed to be listening to the speaker. But I will give this new method a try- it couldn’t hurt and it most likley will help if only for a day.


    • Oh Ruth, you must stop talking to all those folks in your head! My Mom always said that fish and visitors have one thing in common- They both stink after three days!!!! Get them gone!
      I challenge you to try this method or another one of your liking for 1 week. Report back here at Muse Tracks and let your friends know how it went. There! I threw down the challenge…..


  8. Loretta says:

    One tomato, two tomato, three tomato…I’m now on FOUR. I’m determined to make four the magic number today. (I know, three times is supposed to do the trick, but as best I can figure out, I’m a slow starter:)
    I got a lot out of this, Stacey. It made me re-think how I approach a writing day. I’ve found in the rest of my life, eating the elephant one bite at a time works best, so why hadn’t I thought of applying it with my writing? (Validates slow starter doesn’t it?:)
    I think it’s because I feel I must accomplish “X” amount to live up to my expectations. I’m going to give this a whirl. I think it’s more “me” than anything else I’ve come across:)
    Thanks for sharing!


    • It took and is taking me several Pomodoros to get the hang of this. Even though I’m slowly learning the drill, there is one thing it showed me in glaring precision…..I WASTE SO MUCH TIME!!!!!
      The elephant was stomping my butt.


  9. Great post, Stacey! Worth a try for sure. Now all I have to do is find me one of those cute tomato timers. 🙂 Wonder how much time I can waste doing that! LOL


  10. Great post! I struggle with this, too!

    Over at Boxing the Octopus, I blogged the other day about a little Mac program called Self Control (there’s a PC version mentioned, too) that let’s me block my e-mail and self-selected distractions (Facebook, Amazon, etc.) for a set period of time. What I need to start doing is switching off my phone’s ringer during those blocks, too, but the program’s been very helpful for me!


  11. I’m going to have to check in with Self Control….goodness knows I can’t find any on me!! Thanks for stopping in, Colleen.


  12. Robin Yaklin says:

    The only way I stay focused is discipline and some soft music


  13. Have been using technique for last few days with great success. Not unlike #wordmongering on Twitter. Key for me is to have an idea of where I am going in next scene. Use Hero’s Journey note cards for that. Have had my most productive days in recent history. Great for those who also work a day job. Don’t need a tomato. Droid has timer app.


  14. I am so glad that you’ve found this helpful! Keep those productive days coming! You might not need a tomato, but it’s fun to say.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: