Pomodoros and Living Room Stopwatches

Time Management

There is no doubt in my mind that any endeavour can only benefit from good time management, including the writing of fiction. Given the strange personal schedules and habits of so many of the really great artists, this may seem something of a stretch.

Charlie Parker

A case in point is the great jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, who would play under the influence of any available substance, sleep for days, eat excessively, and live with a degree of personal stress that must have been enormous. Nevertheless, his output was astonishing and his place in jazz history towering. Parker would not easily qualify as someone interested in time management and yet he was highly effective to this end.

A Trip to the Library

So it was with a healthy dose of scepticism that I found myself inexorably drawn to the organizational and time management section of my local library. It was enormously tempting to think seriously about how I might manage to get more ‘bang for my buck’, increasing quantity and maybe even quality in an equivalent time period. That need to really make every hour, minute, and second count seems to become all the more urgent as I approach 40 years of age.

Enter the Humble Tomato

I quickly discovered a book called Pomodoro Technique Illustrated (Amazon Link), written by Staffan Nöteberg. I will summarize the concepts put forward in a way that simplifies a complex topic (not beyond usefulness though, I hope): work on a task for 25 minutes using a countdown clock, then take 5 minutes off in a genuine fashion (i.e., no email or web browsing) before any further work; furthermore, a longer break than 30 minutes must be taken after several of these 25 minute on /5 minute off periods. (See Pomodoro Wikipedia entry here.)

Egg Timers? Kind of…

Each 25/5-minute period is termed a pomodoro (Italian for tomato), as a result of the fact that the system’s inventor chose a tomato-shaped timer from his kitchen the first time he considered this novel time management tool.

3…2…1…Go!

Never one to do things by halves, I purchased a stopwatch designed for gyms. Dwarfing my living room, and thus deemed an eyesore by many of my friends and family, I have developed a quiet affection for this reminder of Pink Floyd’s great track ‘Time’, which, ticking away constantly, reminds me that I should suck the marrow out of every last moment as it may be my last. I duly set it to a 25 minute on, 5 minute off countdown schedule and set to work on my first task.

Not Perfect, but—

My experience of pomodoro technique for creating new, creative content is that it didn’t quite work for me. I found that the ‘flow’ state, so often talked about by experts as central to efforts to obtain good results in any field, didn’t take hold, because I constantly felt that I was going to run out of time at any moment.

A Different Kind of Usefulness

In contrast, for performing emails, web research, on-going maintenance of websites, etc., it is perfect. It really kicks things off and I now find myself working very hard to get things done in the 25 minute time frame available.

A Clock Must Justify Its Presence

My plan, having purchased my giant clock, is to try and use the stopwatch function, rather than the countdown option. Maybe I will find that logging how long I spend on tasks based on my own engagement on a particular day will garner interesting results for a separate analysis. Look out for further instalments in the pomodoro saga.

Be well