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Fifteen Reasons Why Domineering Tomatoes Will Make You Less Effective

2011 August 19
tags: Effectiveness, Interruptions, Pomodoro Technique, Productivity, Time Management
by Andrew   

Who needs to get more done, in less time than ever before, typically with less resources?  Your friends?  Your peers?  You?  A great many of us find ourselves in this situation at one time or another, and a tyrannical little tomato isn’t going to help most of us out. But, I’ll tell you what will.

The Tomato’s Domain

What’s all this about a tomato?  And a domineering one at that?

Francesco Cirillo created The Pomodoro Technique ® in the 1980s. That’s right…over two decades ago. Nothing wrong with that. But, it was created to help people who can’t manage time commitments to “get the most out of time management.”  Today, bazillions of people use it to carve their day up into creativity-zapping, project-interrupting sequences of 25-minute spurts of “work.”  That may well work fine…and seems to…for people whose work consists of things that tolerate frequent interruptions at artificial intervals. My work, which is primarily knowledge work, doesn’t. And neither does that of most of my business and volunteer associates.

At the most basic, the technique consists of the following steps: 1) Select a task and write it down, 2) set a timer for 25 minutes (the technique’s adherents like to continue the tradition of using a timer shaped like a tomato (pomodoro in Italian), 3) work until the timer goes off, 4) put a tick mark on your paper, 5) take a very short break, and 6) take a longer break every few rings of the timer.  You can learn more about The Pomodoro Technique ® here.

The Challenges

That definitely isn’t going to work for me, most of the people I know, and if you’re reading this, very probably not you. Here’s why:

  1. You’re a thinking human.  No one I know – including me – wants to be held captive by a rigid ruleset governed by a ticking timer that interrupts you every 25 minutes with a DING!, forcing you to stop work for a quick break. Which you will have even if you don’t want one because the bell will distract you.
  2. You’re wired to enjoy accomplishment.  And most people don’t feel accomplished when forced to stop a task repeatedly. Accomplishment means achieving something or meeting a defined, meaningful goal. Artificial interruptions make it worse.
  3. You know what you need to do.  Odds are, you know how to do your job and how to do it well. So you know what you need to do.
  4. You know how long it will take.  Knowing what you need to do, you likely know very few things can be segregated into 25-minute bursts of activity and still accomplish them effectively…unless they don’t require concentration and coherent thought processes.
  5. Interruptions don’t promote effectiveness.  Certainly there are some tasks that can be separated into 25-minute slots, but the rest will suffer from your thoughts being interrupted.
  6. Others won’t Obey The Tomato.  Unless you work alone…completely alone…your 25-minute stretches are going to be interrupted by other people. Regularly. Every day. 
  7. Tomatoes don’t defeat procrastination.  If you’re prone to procrastination, the tomato isn’t going to help you. You’ll still put off starting things…or finishing them…or buying the to to timer. Fix the procrastination first. My friend Celes Chua at Personal Excellence has some great thoughts on fighting procrastination
  8. Five minute breaks suck.  Five minute breaks?  Really?!  What are you going to do with that?  Breathe a few minutes…go to the restroom…get more coffee so you have to go to the restroom later?  These things do not a break make. And they won’t refresh your mind in a series of 25-minute dashes of effort. 
  9. A real break every two hours doesn’t help much.  If you’re using a computer, you ought to rest your eyes for at least a couple minutes every half hour. If you’re writing on paper, you ought to do the same thing.  And you ought to get up and move around at least ten minutes an hour if you want to avoid a whole host of health problems. 
  10. Overbearing tomatoes provoke anxiety.  How are you supposed to concentrate on work with a ticking, tocking, tyrannical timer driving you toward marathon expenditures of energy so you can take a five minute break without feeling like a slacker?
  11. Breaking the rules is a fail.  Ignoring the timer…resetting it…putting it in a drawer…hitting it with a hole punch…these are all fails. And reflective of the fact that the tomato isn’t helping you. 
  12. Time doesn’t get managed.  Time doesn’t get managed by an unthinking timer. And an unthinking timer won’t help you figure out how to manage time. It might help you discover where you’re using time unwisely or ineffectively, but not without a lot of negative overhead. 
  13. All of that “dinging” will irritate your coworkers.  How would you like it if kitchen timers went off at the desks next to yours at unsynchronized intervals…or even at all? All day long…every day. 
  14. Frustration and anxiety reduce effectiveness.  And all of the foregoing challenges will definitely breed frustration and anxiety about meeting the baseless deadlines imposed by the tomato. 
  15. Ineffectiveness builds.  The more ineffective you are over time – or the more you feel ineffective even if you’re wrong – the greater your lack of effectiveness will become. 

Alternatives to Drill Sergeant Tomato

There are quite a few alternatives to the tyranny of the tomato, ranging from a disorganized throwing of energy and time at your tasks, to task-based calendaring, to GTD, to the somewhat scaled-down approach that I advocate for quickly getting a handle on what you need to do, organizing it, and accomplishing stuff. 

Regardless of the approach you take, and feel free to try several to find what works for you, the real aim should be a motivating approach to getting your work done, be it your regular job, volunteering, creative writing, or anything else. And it should serve you – and your needs – rather than demanding you adhere to rigid slices of time.

Take care, and enjoy life,


2 Responses Post a comment
  1. August 19, 2011

    Hi Andrew!

    I love this technique. And for people suffering major depression or other debilitating conditions I suggest 10 minutes just to do 1 task. The achievement is in accomplishing 10 minutes not the task. We are so brainwashed about tasks. Most people can do 10 minutes and typically 10 minutes is required to foster motivation to finish the job. So not only has a sick person done 10 minutes, they have finished the task which is a bonus. If they don't reach 10 minutes, they can still have the accomplishment of some minutes.

    Take care, Julie

    • Andrew permalink
      August 19, 2011

      Hi, Julie!

      Thank you for your comment, as always. I absolutely agree with you, too. I, in no way, intended disparagement of anyone needing work aids or motivation aids due to any type of debilitating condition. I often have daily migraines, and there are still things that must get done, so I can definitely see the value in using a time-based approach in some cases to define accomplishment by a window of effort.

      There are certainly times I need a timed reminder to stop doing something, too. For example, if I'm writing – code, fiction, or any of my other projects – I can easily spend longer than I want. So, the technique's tools hold value for me; but the technique itself doesn't adapt well to maximize my productivity.

      I recognize there are many people for whom it will hold great value because of the type of work they do, the need to define clear time boundaries for certain things, or the appeal of the structure. That's one of the reasons I included the link to their resources.

      Again, thank you for your contribution!

      Take care,


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