Life-Hacking and the Tomato

There’s an interview with the deputy editor of the Economist on LifeHacker in which he remembers with amusement that in 2006 Danny and Merlin Mann, two expert ‘life-hackers’ had been asked to write a book on ‘life-hacking’ as a means to improve productivity, but after some considerable period of time, still had not got around to it.

Still life with pomodoro - Meléndez

Still life with pomodoro technique – Meléndez

That sounds pretty typical to me. Actually doing stuff, as opposed to talking about how best to do it, is hard. However, undaunted, I spent a part of yesterday morning learning from one of my students about the pomodoro technique of time-management. The pomodoro technique, so-named for the tomato-form kitchen timer used by Francesco Cirillo, its inventor, requires its practitioners to work in uninterrupted blocks of 25 minutes. You set your timer to 25 minutes and work on whatever task you have to hand without allowing yourself to be sidetracked or distracted. After 25 minutes you have a short break (3-5 minutes) and then crack on with a fresh pomodoro.

In the course of working your way through all these pomodori, you are supposed to monitor your performance, count the number of times you have to abandon a pomodoro, for example, and adjust your pomodori accordingly, perhaps moving to a different room, or putting up a do-not-disturb sign, etc.

You can both buy a pomodoro timer on the pomodoro site, and in time and with study become a Certified Pomodoro Master.

Of course you can. Which petty despot doesn’t want to codify and package their practices? Someone I know once showed me how to put marmite on my toast, according to his tried-and-tested practice. He started by grabbing my knife.

But there you go. The point, in essence, is to achieve what psychologists call flow, the state of uber-productivity in which you forget to eat, drink, or reset your pomodoro timer, so easily and fluently does your work come. Flow is something that cannot be achieved without uninterrupted blocks of time. Some people manage themselves and their environment naturally, in order to make this possible. Some people don’t. Those that don’t presumably require repeatable techniques in order to drill the practice, but the point, in the end, is to internalise the discipline, and just get on with it. Ironically, there are now so many life-hacker sites and techniques, you could spend a lifetime reading about how to maximise your productivity.

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