The Tomato Method/Pomodoro Technique and other tips for productivity

I often use a simple version of what I now know to be called the Pomodoro technique, to help me get lots of little niggly chores out of the way.

I did not know it had a name, but stumbled upon it the other day. See Wikipedia entry below:


Most translators work per number of words. I work and am paid in terms of hours. If I am translating something horrendously difficult, I often have an urge to break for a snack/cup of tea/walk when things get difficult. Not because I need a snack/cup of tea/walk, but because I want to flee from the stress of what is in front of me. So what I do is I set a stopwatch on my computer or phone, and work away for an hour, after which I take a break. If I am unable to concentrate in large blocks of time, I set myself a total target of hours for the day and I am then free to reach it whenever and however I wish. I generally find though, once I get into it, time goes really quickly.

When it comes to small niggly tasks, like household chores or administrative tasks for work, I use a slightly different method. I wait until I am doing something like

  • laundry
  • cooking
  • boiling the kettle
  • waiting for a tv show to start
  • commercial breaks
  • backing up my hard drive

and then I do as much as I can. So for example while the kettle is boiling I can unload the dishwasher. While the washing machine is on its 45 minute wash cycle I can take out the recycling, tidy a couple of drawers, sort files on my computer desktop, backup my hard drive, reply to emails. If I am early leaving for work and I have time to wait for the bus, I can plan my outfit for the following day or take my newspapers for recycling.

I also often set a kitchen timer for a short amount of time – 15 minutes say, and use that time to do a quick tidy up or get little chores done.

This means that chores don’t take on humongous proportions. You just do a little at a time, while you would have been waiting for something else anyway.

If you say ‘I am going to spend the entire weekend sorting out my wardrobe/kitchen/workshop’ it often ends with you a) not even starting because it is so daunting or b) getting about one third of the way through and ending up with chaos/a headache/waning enthusiasm. Instead of setting such a huge goal, rather spend 15 to 20 minutes a day working one one shelf or drawer at a time. You have a constant sense of achievement and the job gets done. After all, the only way you can eat an elephant is one bite at a time…

Do any of my readers do anything similar, or have any good tips?

Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

6 thoughts

  1. I do it too! I hate wasting time and when waiting for the kettle to boil I empty the dishwasher or do something else. Even when I’m on the phone waiting to be connected to my correspondant I check my planner and start scheduling tasks.

    As far as translating is concerned I differ from you though. I invoice per number of words so time is not an issue. Apart from a few set works which have a set price, only the number of words matters to me and unfortunately I sometimes happen to spend a long time on a tedious translation but as it is rather short I don’t invoice much.

  2. Yes, Janet, I agree with you wholeheartedly. Why stand around waiting for three minutes for the kettle to boil, when with a little forward planning you can do a couple of small jobs? Take out the rubbish, or wash the few dishes from breakfast, or feed the pet etc. It just takes a little fore thought and makes you into a more efficient person. I do so many things like this automatically that I’m finding it difficult to recall exactly what they are, but I shall have a think and try to be more specific. Like you, I didn’t realise it had a name!

      1. I’m sure I learned the technique from my last job which was permanently hectic. Utilising all spare minutes ensured that I got jobs done on the day. Obviously, it was sensible and effective as I do it automatically now.

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