fitness · training

Fitness and the Pomodoro Technique

tomato kitchen timerAnyone who knows me is aware that my favorite “productivity”/time management thing in the world is The Pomodoro Technique.

It’s a simple and profound way of getting things done in small, do-able increments of time called, not surprisingly given the technique’s name, “pomodoros.”

I started using it years ago, when the only thing on their now-snazzy website was a bit of info and a downloadable free pdf that explained how it works.  It’s all about parsing out uninterrupted time for your projects. I needed (and need) it because I am a world-class procrastinator, especially when it comes to writing.

Being such an accomplished procrastinator means that when deadlines approach (and there always seem to be deadlines looming), I take to weeping and hyperventilating. Add winter to that, which I know came late and so we’ve gotten off easy but it’s wicked cold now and we’re about to get a bunch of snow, and all I want to do is hibernate.

Here’s how the pomodoro technique works (the fitness activity angle is coming, I promise). Pick a task–let’s say you have a paper due on February 1st that you’ve known about for almost two years and you can’t push the deadline anymore than you already have (it was actually due December 1st). You set your timer — that’s where the technique gets it’s name from, those kitchen timers that look like tomatoes, and “pomodoro” is Italian for tomato–for 25 minutes. That’s the length of a pomodoro. It’s so do-able. Who doesn’t have 25 minutes? C’mon, sure you do!

So you set it for 25 minutes and during the whole time the timer is counting down your 25 minutes you keep working on your task, uninterrupted. If someone wants to interrupt you, you tell them to come back after 25 minutes. Because after that first pomodoro, you get a little 5 minute timed break to do whatever you want. And then you do another pomodoro. And another 5 minutes. And two more pomodoros. By the end of four in a row, you can take a longer, 15 minute break. But you don’t have to do four in a row. Sometimes one is good enough, depending on the task.

I’m not giving away any secret that they only tell you if you pay money. Their website outlines the basics of how to get started with the technique.

You can be amazingly productive in these 25 minute chunks. I’ve written whole articles and book chapters using this method. In fact, I used something similar, called “the unschedule,” which divides work time into 30 minute chunks and puts a limit of no more than 5 hours a day on your project, to write an entire book (and revise it from beginning to end too).

I know you’re all smart and savvy feminists, so by now you are probably seeing the fitness angle in all of this. It came to me when I was running with friends the other day and complaining about how I’m not getting enough running into my week. “Maybe,” I said, “if I just zip downstairs (to the exercise room in my condo because, yay, I got to move in finally after 4 months of temporarily having to live elsewhere) and spend 25 minutes (=one pomodoro) on the treadmill at some point during the week, that will be just the thing.”

Because (see above) who doesn’t have 25 minutes to do something? It’s in keeping with my whole “do less” approach.

One of the biggest reasons people don’t get their workouts in, or don’t start any sort of workout program in the first place, is purported lack of time. But the idea behind the pomodoro is that giving some activity or task our sustained attention for 25 minutes can make a world of difference.

It’s not just about being productive at work, though it’s really great for that too. There are even apps that will count down your pomodoros for you.  I use this one.

And don’t think you need to read the book or the pdf to get started. The amazing simplicity of the technique is that it distills down to just what I explained. I starting using it five minutes after I read about it and never had to read that pdf to make it work for me. But you can buy the book in hardcover or as an e-book too.

If you’re struggling to find time to get a workout in, try scaling back to a pomodoro or two.  Let us know how it goes. Or if you have some other tips for fitness time management/productivity, please share about them in the comments.