Throw a tomato at your tasks

Throw a tomato at your tasks

picture of a tomato shaped timer

Staying on task:

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on

Full disclosure I have not always been good at focusing on one task at a time, especially when I need to be focused on writing. Perhaps you can relate to your writing and productivity workflow?  I would easily justify so many other tasks and activities—other than getting my writing done—my house is always the cleanest when I am working on a writing project. Catching up on a Netflix show marathon or scrolling the oh so important posts on social media. I seem to have an irrational task dread or ‘pain’ that will rise up and be a rabbit trail I would choose instead, and that would keep me from focusing. I know I am not alone in this as productivity books, websites, and blogs. 

The never-ending search:

One of the activities I would do to avoid  ‘productivity pain’ is looking for the next great software or app to help me magically solve my productivity problems—I still have not found this magic pill. However, what I have discovered is no “one” productivity app works for everyone and in every situation. Nor will a productivity app DO the task for you. I know that last one may seem obvious but it needs to be said as there are countless posts on figuring out the best productivity workflow— which means people are looking. While digging around I stumbled upon a common ‘focusing technique’ that uses timed intervals of focus and rest, which has helped me move towards a more productive me. Because research shows that it is more effective to have a plan .  This includes taking the time to get things done, using a timer helps facilitate this. 

Let’s throw a tomato at it

picture of a tomato shaped timer
Picture of my tomato timer

Of course, when I think of throwing tomatoes, I am reminded of the days of theatre past and the rotten food that was thrown at performers , and the infamous La Tomatina festival in Spain . While sometimes my task list makes me feel the same as many of those disgruntled performers.  For this time management technique, they call it the Pomodoro Technique–the tomato technique named after the shape of the kitchen timer used by the originator of the term Francesco Cirillo. The post by Asian Efficiency “The Ultimate Guide to The Pomodoro Technique goes into more detail about the process and the apps they and you can see more of the history of the idea at Wikipedia and at Francesco Cirillo’s Website.  A Google search will take you to other places to explain what it is too. Many people of different productivity styles swear by it. Here it is in a nutshell.

Pomodoro Technique:

Pomodoro is “Tomato” in Italian, and the creator of the technique used their timer that was shaped like a tomato when they developed this. Yes, there are many apps and services you can use for it, but you only need a simple timer—kitchen, phone, watch, etc. The main idea is to set the timer for short bursts (15 to 25 mins) of productivity focus with timed scheduled breaks. After four of these take a longer break.  A cycle may look like this

  • Work for 25 minutes take a break for 5
  • Work for 25 minutes take a break for 5
  • Work for 25 minutes take a break for 5
  • Work for 25 minutes take a break for 5
  • Take a 20-minute break (15 to 20 minutes)
  • Do it again

It is a simple concept so it will work with many styles of task management like David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) etc.

Small chunks many words:

Who knew that your family’s kitchen timer would be useful later in life? Using this kind of system has helped me crank out writing—and by extension other tasks—more than I have been able to in the past. I used to allow unimportant activities to get in the way. Since I know I can stop when the timer is up, I allow myself to get engrossed with the task at hand and focus on something for 20 to 25 minutes at a time. Focused time can be scheduled in my day so I am not burdened with the anticipation; I “I should work on my writing,” and wind up waiting to do it (avoiding the ‘pain’), and ultimately NOT doing it until the last minute. After a few minutes, the ‘pain’ of focusing disappears and I can focus. I can get a few cycles in a day now.

I don’t always do a full four cycles each day with repeats, but I do allow myself to do a few of the 20 or 30-minute cycles per day to get going with a workflow-and I find I have been getting MORE words on the paper than when I try to cram all the writing in a day or wait until the last minute. It is amazing how much writing can get done—or work in general— in one or two short focused stints! My goal was to create a habit of writing, and it is finally happening.

Apps to help with the Pomodoro Technique:

I use a Mac and iOS environment. I have heard of some other apps for Windows, but I do not use the environment enough to test any of these. Also, there are other great apps out there that I have not tried but others report good results, the important thing is to try to use few and keep what works best for you.

  • For tasks.
    • Use a version of the Bullet Journal technique for offline thinking
      • It is important to unplug and sometimes turning off the devices–and notifications– to focus. 
    • Things 3 or  electronic task minder
      • I like the UI (“user interface”: i.e. how easy it is to navigate and use) of Things and how simple it is to get your tasks and manipulate them. I could learn how to use it rather quickly. My “To Do” list was generated quickly, and I could get back to working on my tasks.
      • One thing that helped me was that when a task was scheduled for a day and I could not get to it, it automatically keeps the task in the Today view.
    • App called Sorted³ – This app was recommended on Sho Omi’s channel recently in a video titled My Morning Routine to Maximise Productivity 
  • For  the Pomodoro timer I have used the following two apps:
    • Be Focused Pro:
      • I used this app because it had excellent iCloud sync. Is also part of the Setapp system so if you subscribe to that service, it will be ready for you. This is my “go-to” timer for my tasks.
    • Vitamin-R 3:
      • I recently started using this app. It has a heftier price tag than Be Focused Pro, but it has a flexibility and some more features that helped me step up my game. It integrates with “Things” you just drag your task from Things to VR3 and then start the timer. I use this when I want a more accurate log of my productivity for the week.
    • An actual physical kitchen timer (The tomato pictured above):
      • I have one that is tomato-shaped, but any will do. Just set the timer and get to work on whatever it is you need to do.

How about you? Do you use a variation of the Pomodoro Technique? Let me know on Twitter @ReidMcLain

Barr, S. (2019, August 28). La Tomatina: What is the tomato-throwing festival in Spain, and how did it begin?
Masicampo, E. J., & Baumeister, R. F. (2011). Consider it done! Plan making can eliminate the cognitive effects of unfulfilled goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(4), 667–683.
Novak, S. (2010, November 30). Why do people throw tomatoes? HowStuffWorks.
Pham, T. (2018, March 6). The Ultimate Guide to The Pomodoro Technique. Asian Efficiency.
Shu, O. (2020, June 29). My Morning Routine to Maximise Productivity.

*** Updated on 20 July 2020 added some references and new apps. 

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