How can an Italian Tomato Make you More Productive?

By: Polly Britton
Project Engineer, Project Design

23rd May 2019

4 minute read

Home » Insights » How can an Italian Tomato Make you More Productive?

Where does the time go?

The line between “working” and “not working” is hard to define for many people with a typical office job. You could be sitting at your desk, with a document open on your screen that you’re supposed to be reading, but you’re not. Maybe you’re sipping on a hot beverage and thinking about something else, or you’re replying to a text that just arrived on your phone. Maybe up to 15 minutes slip by without you reading any of it and you didn’t even notice, but in those 15 minutes, you could have read the whole thing if you’d focussed on it. How many hours a week do you spend in this twilight zone, not being productive, but not relaxing either? It might be impossible to know.

Self-restraint takes a conscious effort

Being distracted by something isn’t a decision; it’s your mind’s default reaction to that thing. Retaining your focus is a decision, but it takes will-power to enforce. Psychological studies have suggested that the capacity for self-restraint works like a muscle; it gets tired as you use it over the course of a day. It doesn’t just apply to focus; you use the same discipline muscle whenever you resist bad impulses like eating unhealthily, skipping your work-out, or losing patience with a family member. That means if you have to constantly exercise self-restraint during your workday, you’re more likely to give in to bad impulses when you come home in the evening. It’s a recipe for poor life satisfaction, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Work when you’re working; Relax when you’re relaxing

Being productive during the day doesn’t have to be such a drain on your mental energy. Just like when exercising a muscle, you can find some relief by taking breaks, as long as the break fully rests that muscle. During my school and university years, I found revising for exams to be extremely stressful, not because of the time spent revising, but because the hours of procrastination I inflicted on myself. Procrastination requires a lot of the strain of working but with no productivity. When you know there is work you should be doing you can’t relax, and it’s exhausting. A truly restful state only comes when you give yourself permission to completely stop working.

Pomodoro

“Pomodoro” is the Italian word for tomato but it’s also the name for a time management technique I heard about recently that fits perfectly with what I already knew about self-restraint and procrastination. The idea is ridiculously simple: you work consistently for 25 minutes, then break for 5 and repeat. While you’re working you don’t look at your phone or get up to make coffee, you just focus on working. Most emails, texts, and calls can wait 25 minutes. Crucially, when you take a 5-minute break, you’ve earned it! You can do whatever you want: have a snack, take a little walk, or check the social media of choice. Don’t even think about your work. The harder you rest, the easier it will be to focus after your break.

The name “Pomodoro” comes from a kind of kitchen timer that’s shaped a bit like a tomato (the kind you twist to set the duration and it ticks its way back down to 0.) I don’t recommend using a real kitchen timer if you share your workspace with other people since they might be bothered by the soft ticking sound punctuated by sudden ringing. If you set the 25-minute timer on your phone instead, keeping the timer app active on your screen will remind you not to look at your phone while the timer is going.

Be more productive and better rested

Maybe your own time-management techniques and self-restraint are working well for you already. Some people just have a naturally high capacity for self-restraint, which is very useful. If that’s not you, maybe you could try Pomodoro and see how it feels. If 25 minutes is too long for you to focus, you can always bring it down to 20 or 15, then try to gradually increase it. The most import thing is that you pick a time and stick to it for that session at least. If you get interrupted someone else, you can end the session prematurely and start a new session later, or you could just say to them “Excuse me, but I’m in the middle of my Pomodoro” and direct them to this blog.

Where does the time go?

The line between “working” and “not working” is hard to define for many people with a typical office job. You could be sitting at your desk, with a document open on your screen that you’re supposed to be reading, but you’re not. Maybe you’re sipping on a hot beverage and thinking about something else, or you’re replying to a text that just arrived on your phone. Maybe up to 15 minutes slip by without you reading any of it and you didn’t even notice, but in those 15 minutes, you could have read the whole thing if you’d focussed on it. How many hours a week do you spend in this twilight zone, not being productive, but not relaxing either? It might be impossible to know.

Self-restraint takes a conscious effort

Being distracted by something isn’t a decision; it’s your mind’s default reaction to that thing. Retaining your focus is a decision, but it takes will-power to enforce. Psychological studies have suggested that the capacity for self-restraint works like a muscle; it gets tired as you use it over the course of a day. It doesn’t just apply to focus; you use the same discipline muscle whenever you resist bad impulses like eating unhealthily, skipping your work-out, or losing patience with a family member. That means if you have to constantly exercise self-restraint during your workday, you’re more likely to give in to bad impulses when you come home in the evening. It’s a recipe for poor life satisfaction, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Work when you’re working; Relax when you’re relaxing

Being productive during the day doesn’t have to be such a drain on your mental energy. Just like when exercising a muscle, you can find some relief by taking breaks, as long as the break fully rests that muscle. During my school and university years, I found revising for exams to be extremely stressful, not because of the time spent revising, but because the hours of procrastination I inflicted on myself. Procrastination requires a lot of the strain of working but with no productivity. When you know there is work you should be doing you can’t relax, and it’s exhausting. A truly restful state only comes when you give yourself permission to completely stop working.

Pomodoro

“Pomodoro” is the Italian word for tomato but it’s also the name for a time management technique I heard about recently that fits perfectly with what I already knew about self-restraint and procrastination. The idea is ridiculously simple: you work consistently for 25 minutes, then break for 5 and repeat. While you’re working you don’t look at your phone or get up to make coffee, you just focus on working. Most emails, texts, and calls can wait 25 minutes. Crucially, when you take a 5-minute break, you’ve earned it! You can do whatever you want: have a snack, take a little walk, or check the social media of choice. Don’t even think about your work. The harder you rest, the easier it will be to focus after your break.

The name “Pomodoro” comes from a kind of kitchen timer that’s shaped a bit like a tomato (the kind you twist to set the duration and it ticks its way back down to 0.) I don’t recommend using a real kitchen timer if you share your workspace with other people since they might be bothered by the soft ticking sound punctuated by sudden ringing. If you set the 25-minute timer on your phone instead, keeping the timer app active on your screen will remind you not to look at your phone while the timer is going.

Be more productive and better rested

Maybe your own time-management techniques and self-restraint are working well for you already. Some people just have a naturally high capacity for self-restraint, which is very useful. If that’s not you, maybe you could try Pomodoro and see how it feels. If 25 minutes is too long for you to focus, you can always bring it down to 20 or 15, then try to gradually increase it. The most import thing is that you pick a time and stick to it for that session at least. If you get interrupted someone else, you can end the session prematurely and start a new session later, or you could just say to them “Excuse me, but I’m in the middle of my Pomodoro” and direct them to this blog.

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