This little Italian tomato has been popping up in my tweet-stream, blog comments, blog posts I read, and other places around the Internet. It looks like a really cool technique. (There is a video on that site that explains the basics.) Lots of people are using it and getting good results.
So why do I not recommend it?
One size does not fit all
As soon as I hear “set a kitchen timer to 25 minutes”, I know it’s not something I can recommend. I’m not a rules gal. 25 minutes is just not going to be the optimum time for every individual.
Not to mention the resistance you might have to the whole idea of using a timer.
Principles over rules
I agree with some basic principles:
- it is hard to sustain concentration for long periods of time
- taking breaks can make you more productive
- scheduling time for your tasks can be helpful
- developing a better sense of how long certain tasks take can be helpful
However, how these principles are best put into practice for you can be tricky.
You need to build the confidence to adapt your techniques to new situations.
What happens if you don’t have 30 minutes? Is every 15-minute block of time now thrown out as useless?
What if you find stopping after 25 minutes disrupts your flow? What if you don’t have any trouble concentrating for 90 minutes at a time? Should you force yourself to divide your 90 minutes into three 25 minute blocks?
What do you do if you get in flow with your writing? If you develop that hyper-focus that enables you to tune out everything around you and be remarkably productive? Should you avoid that state even when it doesn’t have negative repercussions for your other work?
If it works, do it
If you have a technique that works, tomato based or not, keep using it. Don’t waste any time contemplating whether there is an even better technique out there.
If you are dissatisfied with your work habits, then time spent figuring out what works and what doesn’t is time well spent. (Check the list in this post to determine if your practice works.)
Know that there isn’t one right way. That different people work differently.
Start by observing your current practice
Identify the parts that do work. Because there are parts that work. You get stuff done. Acknowledge that.
Identify the specific things that you would like to be different.
Experiment, keeping the main principles of the scientific method in mind as you do:
- Don’t change too many variables at once.
- Observe what happens when you change something.
- Give things time to adapt.
Recognize that what works for other people might not work for you. And that what works for you today may not work for you when you are pre-menstrual and the kids are off school for a snow day.
If you are a member of the Academic Writing Studio, Establishing a Writing Practice (MP3 + PDF) will guide you through the process of evaluating your own practice and choosing an experiment.
There is nothing wrong with you
This is the most important point: the fact that you can’t concentrate for 90 minutes (or all day or 25 minutes or whatever) is not something you have to fix.
You need to figure out how you work best and then do what you can to ensure that you are working in your optimum conditions.
This post was edited April 18, 2016.