Sometimes (okay, often) I have trouble focusing on the task at hand. Pretty much up until this point in my life, I’ve been able to get by more or less successfully without keeping my nose to the grindstone when it comes to all things scholastic. Sure, I’ve worked hard, but I’ve also often paid for my lack of self-discipline with lost sleep and the occasional disappointing grade. To use a friend’s appellation, I’ve been an “overachieving slacker” at least since puberty.
Here’s the thing: when you get to the dissertation stage of a Ph.D., and are (at least in my case) conducting research, writing, applying for major grants, and teaching, that sh*t just doesn’t cut it anymore. Last semester, I noticed that one of the other fellows at the Center for the Humanities at Temple was using the Pomodoro Technique, and since she has the much-coveted (and now unfortunately defunct–damned budget cuts!) Teaching Fellowship, she must be doing something right. The method is simple: you alternate work and break periods of 25 and 5 minutes each. After four 25-minute work periods (or “tomatoes”), you take a longer break. The program, which means “tomato” in Italian, takes its name from the shape of the timer that creator Francesco Cirillo sells to devotees, but you don’t really need any special equipment to do Pomodoro. You can use an ordinary kitchen timer, the website mytomatoes offers an online timer, and a number of smartphone and tablet apps keep track of your tomatoes for you. One feature that I like about mytomatoes is that the site keeps track of your tasks, so you can see how you spend your time. Lately, though, I’ve been using an iPhone app, Pomodoro Pro, almost exclusively. I like the pleasing design of the user interface, and that I don’t need to be online (or even at a computer) to use the program. It’s also nice that you can pause in the middle of a tomato to go to the bathroom or take a phone call, whereas with mytomatoes you have to “squash” the tomato.
Not only does the Pomodoro Technique keep me on task when I’m writing, it’s great for working in the archives. I have the horrible habit of keeping my e-mail and Facebook tabs open while I’m doing research, which certainly invites distraction. Now when I go to an archive, I do research for 25 minutes, take a five minute break to check e-mail and whatever, and then go back to doing research. It feels like I’ve earned each of my breaks, and I’m not constantly interrupted by gchat conversations or the “(1)” demanding that I attend to the comment thread for a friend’s Facebook status.
So if you have trouble staying on top of things, give Pomodoro a shot, and let me know in the comments how it works out!