All You Need Is A Tomato To Solve Your Problems

September 8, 2011

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.