Tomatoes and time management?

by Oct 26, 2016

Time and task management have always been a bit if a weakness of mine, but I’ve coped previously because of the environments I’ve worked in.

A bit of history:

In my earliest work for a UK insurance claims department the work was just there and you did it: an endless pile of incoming claims to be resolved.

As a Loss Adjuster travelling across a territory to investigate and negotiate insurance claims, I had a personal assistant. In the days where they were often ‘just’ a secretary, I took mine out in every company for which I worked to show them the isolation of field work, the attitude of claimants, and generally gave them better training to empower them to make decisions based on experience. I gave them responsibility to decide what was important and make promises on my behalf, giving them permission to metaphorically sit on me until I had completed on “our” promises. Thus, my time and tasks were successfully managed. I could focus on the tasks.

As a teacher and teacher trainer/manager, full class schedules and limited availability of teachers for city-wide training times meant effective structures and constraints were already in place.

Now, as a freelancer with differing skills and looking for a new avenue to realise my potential, my thirst for reading and new information, coupled with the internet, is causing me problems. My close friends and colleagues have told me that talking to me is like a stream of consciousness with a wealth of knowledge and information, and ideas, but no focus. This is true, and my previous work history has had time and task management clearly defined and structured, but I never learned the self-discipline of time and task management. When faced with a host of tasks that need sorting into priority and time to do them, I find it difficult to organise.

I’m not the first with this dilemma, and certainly not the last, but it’s a little late in life to be learning these valuable skills!


To anyone familiar with the Pomodoro technique, you can probably stop reading now as it’s old news (maybe look up sitting kills!.) To anyone else: pomodoro is simply Italian for Tomato. A guy named Francesco Carillo was having a hard time managing all his tasks, and began using a tomato-shaped egg-timer the had in his kitchen to help him focus on a tasks.

From Wikipedia:

There are six steps in the technique:

  • Decide on the task to be done.
  • Set the pomodoro timer (traditionally to 25 minutes).
  • Work on the task until the timer rings. If a distraction pops into your head, write it down, but immediately get back on task.
  • After the timer rings, put a checkmark on a piece of paper.[7]
  • If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes), then go to step 1.

After four pomodoros, take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step 1.

There are various apps and utilities that emulate a timer. My browser has a plugin that I click and all social media and news websites are locked for 25 minutes. Apps and plugins can emulate a sense of time passing (ticking) and a bell to signify time-out, but some people prefer to have a physical timer as motivation.

This article is being written with the timer ticking away and social media – as I write the bell has sounded, so I will take a break….

….and now I’m back. It’s also important to get off your seat and walk around as there is evidence that sitting kills!

The upshot is that this simple technique works for me. I love to read and can waste far too much time after seeing a news article in fact-checking or research to get an overview, or just more information. Blocking social media and news sites has helped a great deal.

(I’ve also blocked my laptop and PC to my home theatre box, so I have to actually set aside time to sit and watch it on the TV, or the iPad attached to the gym area! This has increased my use of the elliptical stepper and treadmill!)

The critics of this technique appear to be incredulous that people need to have an external influence to focus. Good for them that they can do this themselves either naturally or by being taught at an early age. For the creative, ill-disciplined, or otherwise restless minds out there, however, this can be a godsend.

Now I can find time-management to manage my tasks, I need to work on finding a way to select tasks and prioritise that works for me!

I guess the next task most important task is to search for suitable reading material, and then read it!