By Tom Peterson
To get ready for the new year, I started with two Pomodoros at Panera listening to Pandora. By time the holidays are over, I’ve usually taken stock of the past year and written down what I’d like to do in the next. (A few pages from the journals on my shelf back up this claim. But they won’t prove that I’ve actually accomplished any of these goals.) Recurring themes: be more disciplined, more courageous, more connected to those I care about.
All things being equal, I try to shop locally. And because a black coffee costs about the same everywhere, few things are more equal than coffee shops. You’ll often find me working in one of our nice local shops, but I occasionally visit this Panera because it’s nearby and adds variety. So I happened to be there when I did my two pomodoros to start my year-end thinking.
Pandora is simply the online radio I listen to if there’s a too-interesting (or annoying) conversation nearby. In go the earplugs.
Pomodoro: Tomato-based Focus
So what’s a pomodoro? It’s a time-management technique developed in Italy. The kitchen timer they first used looked like a tomato, hence the name—pomodoro is Italian for tomato. Now it’s also a smart phone app to help people be “more productive.” Basically, it’s a timer set for 25-minute sessions (and five-minute breaks). Their research says this schedule creates productive, focused work periods. For someone like me who’s attention challenged, it helps.
I like to make and prioritize lists of what I want to do because that beats actually working. I recently read that William James, champion of developing habits for self-improvement, was himself a procrastinator.
But in the predawn sky outside where I write I’m noticing a big moon that reminds me of a Georgia O’Keefe painting. Miraculously, I’ve made it a habit, most days, to get up at six and write. The time may not be the most productive, but I do it. And I’ve learned that we can form new habits.
William James championed the notion of habits as a way to progress:
The more of the details of our daily life we can hand over to the effortless custody of automatism, the more our higher powers of mind will be set free for their own proper work. There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision, and for whom the lighting of every cigar, the drinking of every cup, the time of rising and going to bed every day, and the beginning of every bit of work, are subjects of express volitional deliberation.
In other words, the energy we spend in deciding whether to do something could be better spent actually doing!
It was surprising to read in Mason Currey’s book Daily Rituals, that James suffered greatly from procrastination. Currey quotes a James biographer: “James on habit, then, is not the smug advice of some martinet, but the too-late-learned too-little-self-knowing, pathetically earnest, hard-won crumbs of practical advice offered by a man who really had no habits.”
When I write about things like Pomodoros, innovation, growth, marketing to change the world, I’m really like James. I’ve struggled for decades—and every day—with habits, working smart, screwing up enough courage to speak out. I’m just sharing the crumbs picked up along the way. Hoping that by putting this out there, some will rub off on me.
A review of Pomodoro on lifehack, and the official Pomodoro website. Photo of the original Pomodoro: Wikicommons.
No comments yet.