My Series of Unfortunate Events:

Me before discovering the pomodoro technique.

Cartoon drawn by Linda Causey.

I’ve always struggled with procrastination. In high school when a teacher assigned an essay, I often put the assignment off until the last possible moment. This led to frantic writing sessions several days or even the night before the paper was due. I usually ended up turning in my first draft of the paper, rather than having time to rewrite and refine.

Despite my procrastination, I maintained high grades. In retrospect, I believe this was unfortunate because I eventually got into the habit of procrastinating and bragging about it: “Yeah, I got an A on this paper. Guess when I wrote it? Two hours before it was due.”

By the time I reached college, my procrastination backfired.

Although the ability to write quickly and under pressure is an excellent skill to hone, you must also practice writing several days or weeks before an assignment is due. Editing. Rewriting. Rereading. Checking for typos. If you don’t, one day you’ll wake up and realize you can only work under pressure. And that’s one of the worst feelings in the world.

My procrastination eventually became a habit I couldn’t free myself from. When I tried to sit down at my computer and start typing up an outline or working on my thesis statement days before the essay’s due date, I could not write. The writer’s block was insurmountable. I was distracted by Facebook or YouTube or Wikipedia. I’d stare at the blank page of my Word document and feel like I needed to split open my head in order to let the words tumble out.

FoxTrot has not discovered pomodoro yet.

Soon I could only start writing when the deadline was hours away. I found myself staying up all night and into the wee hours of the morning in order to finish an essay.

Even if my teacher gave me an A on the paper, I felt guilty. I knew it wasn’t my best work. I knew that frantic writing was not good for my health or for my brain. After a sleepless night spent writing, I had little energy to sit through classroom lectures, though I forced myself as I battled to keep my tired eyes open and pay attention. Little by little my grades started to suffer, and I was physically exhausted.

But this story has a happy ending.

I discovered something that changed my life.

A tomato.

Yes, you read that correctly.

pomodoro timer

The Pomodoro Technique:

In the late 1980s, Francesco Cirillo was in his second year of college and struggling to find a way to improve his study habits. Tests and assignment deadlines filled him with dread and anxiety. Constantly distracted during his study time, he needed to find someway or something to help him focus and supercharge his productivity.

Cirillo discovered a 25-minute kitchen timer in the shape of a tomato, and the pomodoro technique was born. Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato. Really, it has nothing to do with the actual technique; it just sounds cool.

Here’s how it works:

1. Decide on a task to be completed.

2. Set the timer to 25 minutes.

3. Work on the task until the timer rings (record the ‘pomodoro’ with an x on a piece of paper).

4. Take a short break (3-5 minutes).

5. Every four “pomodori” take a longer break (15–30 minutes) until the task is completed.

Here’s why it works:

The ticking sound of the pomodoro timer helps you stay focused and accountable. You can only record an “x” if you worked diligently for the entire 25-minutes (that means no checking Facebook or email or getting a snack or texting). 25 minutes is the perfect amount of time to spend working on a task. It’s neither too short nor too long. Then you get a break to check your Facebook or email or get a snack or text. Those breaks allow your brain to recharge.

And, hey, you can still brag about it! “Yeah, I got an A on this paper. Guess how many pomodori it took?” Seriously, though, my best papers are written when I take the longest amount of time working on them, but the pomodoro helps me use that time wisely. With the pomodoro there is no such thing as wasted time.

How to get started:

I know I’ve spent this whole post talking about how to use the pomodoro technique for meeting essay deadlines, but the truth is that the pomodoro technique can be used for any task: practicing an instrument, working on a group project, cleaning your room, etc.

Really, this technique is for anyone who wants to supercharge their productivity and see real-time results.

Also, you don’t need one of those cool little tomato timers. I use this fabulous free application called focus booster that runs right in my internet browser: http://www.focusboosterapp.com/.

(Alternatively, you have the option of downloading the focus booster application onto your computer).

If you want to learn more about the pomodoro technique, check out http://www.pomodorotechnique.com/. They have many resources to help you work better and faster with the pomodoro technique, like specially designed to-do sheets: http://www.pomodorotechnique.com/goodies/

If you’re still in high school, don’t make the mistake I made. Your time is invaluable. Use it wisely.

Since using the pomodoro technique, I have watched my written output increase tremendously. I enjoy writing now (I had started to dread it while in college).

It took me two “pomodori” to write this post. If you use the pomodoro technique, let me know in the comments section what it has helped you to create today.

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