I Let a Tomato Run My Life for a Week

When your workload seems like too much, why not try a crazy productivity hack?

JEFFREY WESTBROOK/STUDIO D

It's easy to leave the office at the end of the day only to question what you really got done—hence the gravitational pull of every motivational, self-help, and productivity-related technique on the market. But do these methods offer Marie Kondo-level satisfaction, or are they total shams? That's the question I aimed to answer when I started my one-week trial of the Pomodoro Technique.

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That's right. For one week, I let a tomato run my life.

Let me explain. The Pomodoro Technique was created in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo, an Italian software developer who found that using his tomato-shaped kitchen timer really helped his productivity (pomodoro means "tomato" in Italian). In a nutshell: You work without interruption for 25 minutes, take a five-minute breather, repeat that four times, then take a 15- to 30-minute break.

"You work without interruption for 25 minutes, take a five-minute breather, repeat that four times, then take a 15- to 30-minute break."

It's not surprising that many Silicon Valley engineers have embraced the Pomodoro Technique; their work culture is obsessed with efficiency. But at a fashion magazine, to-dos change quicker than runway models backstage.

In one week, I managed to get through only four full Pomodoros successfully (i.e., completely undisturbed)—and two of those happened at home. The Pomodoro Technique isn't meant for personal activities, yet I found it to be the perfect motivator for a 25-minute run and to finish hanging the shelves that had spent the past six months collecting dust in the corner of my living room. By the end of my experiment, I definitely saw the benefits. It broke my workload into smaller, more manageable tasks; I learned a whole lot about where my daily distractions were coming from; and I didn't burn out as quickly!

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Bottom line: That little tomato-shaped timer on my desk served as a subtle middle finger to unnecessary interruptions.

My Pomodoro Journal

Day 1: First Pomodoro, First Disruption

I start my first 25 minutes, and I get an "It's urgent!" call. I ignore the Pomodoro and revert to "I better deal with this now" mode—only to find out the urgent item is a meeting...happening next week. I reset my timer, even more determined to get through the next one.

Day 2: Get Meta

During my first Pomodoro of the day, I make a sign to let everyone know when I am in the middle of a Pomodoro—and cruise around the office to enlighten those who are regulars at my desk. By the end of the day, I still haven't successfully completed a full Pomodoro, but I do get much closer.

Day 3: Take It Offline

I ditch the office for a nearby café. I crank out several stories and get through two Pomodoros successfully before heading back to the office. Mission accomplished.

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Day 4: Bring It Home

The Pomodoro might be touch and go at the office, but I find two very helpful applications for it outside of work: exercise and home improvement.

Day 5: Speed Meeting

Each of my external appointments is scheduled with a strict 25- minute limit. Talk about productive: We skipped the small talk and got straight to business— and not one person gave me side-eye when the buzzer rang to end our meeting.

This article appears in the February issue of Marie Claire, on newsstands now.

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