hottomato2The Pomadoro Technique – Just a Rotten Tomato ?

by Charles Christian

Trying to keep a grip on the work/life balance has always been something I’ve been interested in, particularly as I home office so it is very easy to head up to the office just after breakfast – and still be stuck there in front of the computer 12 hours later (and in my case still in my dressing gown).

One approach that sounded appealing is the Pomadoro Technique, which takes its name from those red, tomato-shaped kitchen timers. In a nutshell (as with all techniques of this kind, you can buy lengthy books to explain what are essentially simple concepts) the Pomadoro Technique suggests you break your work down into short tasks – typically 25 minutes in length. Then you take a five minute break before starting another 25 minute section. Each 25 minute section is called a “pomadori” and when you have completed 4 of them, you take a longer break for, say, 15 to 30 minutes, before resuming the cycle.

It all makes sense and getting up from the desk to walk around is always good for your physical and psychological health, ditto the idea of a tea or coffee break after a couple of hours.

So how did it work out in practice for me? I first tried using a desktop application (at the time of writing there are no official Pomadoro apps available for smartphones or tablets although you can buy “unofficial” ones) unfortunately I already have so many notifications bouncing around my screen that I just ignored the notifications, so it was a pretty pointless exercise.

Next up I tried a real-life pomadoro kitchen timer. I just used a plain vanilla one I bought in a shop for a couple of pounds (you can also get them on Amazon). There is also an official Pomadoro timer that only counts up to 25 minutes and costs a fortune by comparison. (OK, just under 30 €uro and comes with a book.) In keeping with the culture of the legal market, I adopted 6 minute units and so made my pomadori run for 24 minutes followed by a 6 minute break.

Well at least that was the theory.

Unfortunately I found that although you might set yourself a 24 minute task, in real life stuff gets in the way: the phone rings or an urgent email arrives that you have to deal with, so that by the time your pomadori has elapsed, the job at hand is only half complete. So what do you do? Break off for 6 minutes before returning to it, which is obviously going to mess up your timing for your next planned pomadori task. Or keep on with the task until it is completed, while you are still in the zone, focused and concentrating on it?

To use a turn of phrase favoured by one City law firm IT director, I would venture to posit the latter is the logical option.

But there is more. I found the ticking of the Pomadoro intensely annoying – I like to work in a quiet office. And I found it was adding an unnecessary level of stress, with me looking at it out of the corner of my eye and thinking “**** I’ve only got 3 minutes left, I’m never going to finish the task within this pomadori timeframe.”

Then the timer ran its cycle and the bell rang. Time for a tea break? Actually no because the bell sounded exactly like our front doorbell, so when it rang, it set our dogs off barking. (We have a large pack of mutts, we need them out here in the wilds of Norfolk to keep away wandering hobbits.)

Unfortunately once our dogs start barking, they have no off-switch and left to their own devices will get so over-excited that they flood the kitchen with pee and poo. So, far from having a relaxing 6 minute break between pomadori, I found myself having to tend to the dogs.

Now I will admit that my working conditions are completely unlike the working conditions to found in most law offices but really… the timing of a pomadori is impractical in the modern world and the ticking is just bloody annoying.

Readers, I tried but I just couldn’t live with the Pomadoro Technique. Maybe you can but I can’t. so it’s back to erratic hours in the dressing gown for me.