Holding attention: Can the charming little tomato timer help me maintain focus on my purpose?

Like so many people, my mind wanders easily and my days get chopped up into fragments of time. The days begin filled with alternating blocks of appointments and work time, and then are peppered with impromptu interruptions from colleagues and clients. The work time never feels like it is enough, and perhaps it isn’t, but I must manage.

Photo by Sonja Langford, via unsplash.com

Photo by Sonja Langford, via unsplash.com

I have all the ideas and intention right there! Ready to go!  Until I find that yet another day slips away and poof! My potential for the day has no where to go. All that ambition and energy and anxiety is bottled up inside, packed in a bit more tightly as these days stack up.

It is challenging to feel connected to one’s sense of purpose when we are frazzled like this, but I recently played around with integrating a mix of using the pomodoro technique with meditation and found I got a lot done and felt better.

Here is how it went…

As happens at the New Year, I am a bit more reflective as I try to figure out what I can do to enhance my contributions and satisfaction in the year ahead. I had been thinking about how my goals and time interact, and finding myself reminded that how that dynamic shakes out has a major impact on my well-being.

My sense of hopefulness about my work and life, and my ability to come home at the end of the day and feel a sense of ownership and accomplishment for what I was able to contribute to the day vary greatly depending on how spacious the day felt.

So I wondered, how could I “fake” a feeling of more spaciousness in my day?

Pomodoro to the rescue!

Many times I have heard productivity folks talk about “the pomodoro technique” and I always thought it sounded charming. A darling little tomato timer is all it takes to have clarity and find productivity? How cute.

So I tried it a couple afternoons this week, paired with very brief “mindfulness moments”, I will call them, and it was promising.

The pomodoro technique, according to Wikipedia, is a time management approach developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. To give it a try – simply set a timer for 25 minutes and have a short break of maybe 5 minutes in between sets. There are several apps you can download, but the ones I tried were clumsy so I used this free tomato timer website.

I tried this for 2-3 hour blocks of time on a couple of occasions when I felt terribly crunched for time and I found it helpful. I was certainly better able to maintain my focus for the 25 minutes. It also helped me increase my focus on the task at hand. The freedom of knowing the timer was there helped me to let go of all the other tasks awaiting me and really attend to this one task that I selected to work on during that time block.

I also enjoyed the breaks. Five minute can quickly turn into 30 if you aren’t careful when taking breaks to check social media, news, or look at email. It helped to have a timer for those breaks as well. The limited time also helped me to be more purposeful with my breaks. I got up to fill my water and walk around much more, and when a colleague started talking I had a real reason for saying, “I’ve actually gotta run and get back to something…” because my timer was running.

A cool addition I made to the experiment was using the Calm app for some of my five minute breaks. In this way I integrated mindfulness moments into the productive sessions too. I could feel the stress levels decrease with this, and I suspect this freed up my mind to really focus when it was time to start up another 25-minute work session.

Perhaps the best result I found is that at the end of the day I could leave work feeling like I really did what was reasonable to expect I could do given the time that I had available. I made small but steady progress on things that I prioritized to be most essential for the day. Leaving work I felt more lightness and ease as compared to other days when I am more drained, frustrated, or over-stimulated by information overload.

The freedom to let go of what did not get done, while also feeling heartened by the progress I made on things that reall mattered to me was a refreshing way to end my day.

Give it a try, and if you do, let me know how it goes!

I am eager to hear how you find the integration of the cute little tomato timer concept with a quick meditative break. Is it helpful? Do you feel lighter at the end of the day? Could you hold your focus more comfortably? What new ideas did you come up with to enhance this time management frame work even further?


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