I am an obsessive multi-tasker. Some call me a master juggler. I can work on any given day on multiple projects and activities. I am not sure if it is because I love variety or because I am a masochist deep down. Or a control freak. I daily switch back and forth between selling and marketing our artist clients, developing content for film and television, and managing my personal brand. I do it all. My phone should be surgically attached to my body.
I receive and write an average of 500 emails a day. And while I do all those things, I kid myself that I can also find the time to go to the gym, follow my social media, and have a semblance of a personal life.
At times I get so involved in what I am doing, writing, pitching, podcasting, that I forget to eat. Or, to another extreme, I completely forget my boundaries and let meaningless phone calls, emails, or meetings take me to the land of nowhere and off focus.
Bottom line, I thought that I was Super Woman. But at what expense? My juggler superpower can leave me drained and unable to say NO. I want to be able to do it all and do it great. I get lost in activities that are not really at the top of my priority list. When I have to meet my deadline, I am so stressed by the passing of time that I start forgetting the first thing I started this morning. My to-do list scribbles become more and more disjointed, and everything becomes a matter of life and death.
But is EVERYTHING truly that important? There has to be a way to control this; for me, the control freak and many of you who write, produce, create, direct, sell, or suffer from plain old ADD. Then I discovered a Tomato, and it changed my life.
After the Cannes Film Festival three years ago, I went to Italy to visit my family. I stopped by one of those gas stations that sell stuff, including books, and my eye stopped on Francesco Cirillo’s book, THE POMODORO TECHNIQUE.
The Pomodoro, aka Tomato, is not just a vegetable. It is a famous method for time management for the individual and for an entire Team. I just had to buy it. I decided to test this Technique, and it has worked for me ever since.
How often have you been drowning in your own work, with little time, distractions, interruptions, delays?
The objective of the Pomodoro Technique is to increase concentration, awareness of decisions and give the right estimate of completion of any given task. This is done through a different way of looking at the time.
You only need three things: a Kitchen Timer (it does not have to be shaped like a tomato though I bought a cute one for myself in the shape of a black cat as I love cats), some paper and a journal.
The paper is a TODO tool, with the date, a list of things to be done within the day in order of priority, and a separate section column called unexpected and urgent. The journal is to log activities made of your to-dos and marked completed at the end of the day. Next to it will also be the number of tomatoes it took to accomplish that activity.
The Tomato is a fraction of time of 25 minutes. That is what you set your timer for. For each tomato time fraction, you get a 5- minute break (water, bathroom, check your email, write new tasks and reminders that came to mind).
These 25-minute segments are used only for ONE TASK- whatever that is. You cannot absolutely break from that and start something else. No distractions are allowed, and you need to exercise some discipline there.
When you are on the 5 -minute break, you do not respond to Social Media posts or emails but make notes of priorities and forget about them for a while. Every 4 tomatoes (every 2 hours), your break becomes longer. It will be 15 to 30 minutes. This is your perfect moment to make coffee, take a walk, do breathing exercises, play with your pet or respond to simple emails and messages. Do not do anything too involved.
Suppose you finish the task before the Tomato alarm goes off. In that case, you can use the rest of that time to reflect on what you just did and acknowledge what you learned. Once you are done with the entire task, you will know how many Tomatoes it took you so that the next time you can estimate your project timeline better.
Segmenting time can be incredibly therapeutic for many reasons. You will be able to celebrate your small victory of improved concentration. You will get good at boundary setting. Say a friend texts you to go to dinner that night. Is that a life or death situation? Can it not wait till you at least get through four tomatoes? It will also be helpful as you log in your tomatoes to put small x marks on how many times you were interrupted by others. It will clearly indicate how you manage your boundaries.
Some helpful tips:
1. If you are unable to finish the tomato segment and fall victim to distraction, do not get mad at yourself; start a new Tomato.
2. If you are working with others, let them do the Technique with you. Teamwork makes the dream work.
3. Really use a Kitchen Timer. There are apps on the App Store that you can download if you search for the Pomodoro Technique. They are pretty great, but until you master it, the loud sound of the kitchen timer is an excellent way for your brain to really understand the start and stop the process.
4. Protect your Tomato at all costs. If someone interrupts you, inform your unavailability and briefly negotiate a time that works for you.
These are the basic principles.
My confidence to work on something distraction-free has skyrocketed, as has my boundary-setting ability. Saying no has just become easier to me, and all this because of a Tomato!
Now a real Italian tomato is something else; it is best used to make a great sauce for Pasta, which you can cook for yourself to celebrate your new time management skills.
One Tomato, Two Tomatoes, Three Tomatoes. Start counting.