More Productivity, Less Stress, With the Pomodoro Method

I said this post would be about ‘tomatoes,’ and if you’re familiar with popular productivity methods, you may have guessed that I was alluding to the Pomodoro timer technique.

Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato, and the technique was invented my Francesco Cirillo, who used a tomato-shaped household timer when he developed his technique.

The idea is simple. By breaking up complex or overwhelming tasks into uninterrupted, 25-minute work sessions, you can focus on the work without distraction, so you make the best use of your time.

You’re also less likely to be overwhelmed, because you only have to focus on the one work session ahead, knowing a break is coming soon. It also helps you assess how many 25-minute sessions, or ‘Pomodoros” it takes you to complete a certain task.

Although the technique is formed around 25-minute sessions, in practice you can use longer or shorter sessions, depending on the needs of the project, your attention span, and your life. You can use a kitchen timer, the timer on your phone, or one of several online tools.

You can learn more about how to use the Pomodoro method, and access a digital Pomodoro timer, at

Though it was developed for study and work purposes, you can use it for any task you need to face in small steps. If, like me, you dread everyday tasks like housework or paperwork, this method works great. You set the timer, get as much done as you can, then you’re done.

The method is often used in multiple sessions. You complete one session, take a short break, then start another. But you can also do just one at a time. 

I find it amazing how much I can get done in even 15 minutes sometimes, and when you spend too much time on one work session, productivity goes down, and resistance increases.

Conversely, when time is limited you’re more likely to dive in and to get more done than you thought.

So if you haven’t tried it yet I suggest you give the Pomodoro technique a try, and see how much you can get done, painlessly.

Next time I’ll talk about another productivity method based on somewhat similar principles, called “can I just…?”

And thanks to everyone who supported my 5-day Words Matter Week Challenge last week. It was more work than I would want to do every week, but also a lot of fun.

#WordsMatterWeek, Day 5

Day 5: What word, said or unsaid, has or could change your life? How?


Some of the runners-up were: “options”, “possible”, “can”, “begin”, “don’t”.

When I was a young woman starting my life in the late ’80’s, I knew I wanted to be a writer, and didn’t really know what else I wanted to or could be, but people kept telling me I couldn’t make a living at it.

So I wish someone had shown me more options available to me (and that some of the options now available because of the internet had existed then), that they had shown me what was possible, that they had said “you ‘can’ do it. You can be yourself, do what you’re meant to do, and find a way to make it work.”

Now I would like to hear the word “begin” from a potential writing client. When can you begin? Let’s begin this collaboration.

And going back to the past, before I arrived at the word “reconsider”, I thought of “don’t.” There are times in my life when I wish that someone, along with showing me what was possible, would have said “don’t do it” when I was about to make a mistake mostly because I didn’t know what else I could do.

But then no one, and certainly no artist or young person, wants to be told what to do or not to do. What they could have said instead is “I suggest you ‘reconsider’ this. You might regret this decision, here are the reasons why, and here are the alternatives that might work better for you.”

So my word is “reconsider.”

What am I reconsidering now, three decades later? My lifelong unconscious beliefs that writing and business don’t mix; that I won’t ever be able to make a living doing one of the few things I’m good at; that I just don’t have what it takes, such as ability, know-how, energy, courage, competence or confidence.

#Words Matter Week, Day 4

Day 4: Writers craft words into memorable phrases, stories, poems, and plays. What writers make your heart sing? Why?

Just a few, pulled out of my immediate memory as if from a hat, for the sake of brevity.

Helene Hanff, author of 84 Charing Cross Road, because her memorable exchange of letters with a bookseller in London, from her apartment in New York, celebrate the power of words, of books, and of the human connection that both can make possible.


I will also give credit to many film script writers, because I often come across a line in a movie that I will listen to over and over until I can copy the quote correctly and save it for later inspiration.


William James, (in the form of a quotation I found on a tea box), offered these words that continue to renew my enthusiasm and hope when I feel like I’ll never achieve my goals: “Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they’ve got a second. Give your dreams all you’ve got and you’ll be amazed at the energy that comes out of you.”


The poet Dorianne Laux, who was one of my classmates at Mills College. I will sheepishly admit I didn’t think she was so special at the time we sat at the same table reading our work out loud, but now her poems are in books, and she has even co-written a book on writing poetry.

She showed me that real people really can write something other people, including me, want to read.


Alexander McCall Smith, a Scottish man who writes insightful, joyful novels about a woman in Botswana. These stories are clean and positive – no profanity, no racy plot lines – and yet they show that none of that is necessary to make a book fascinating and compelling.

They are fun and extremely readable, and provide portraits of real people living real life with grace, humor, and decency. And at the same time, they ponder big issues, and in each novel I find myself with new words to look up. A rare combination of decency, optimism, intelligence, and a reader friendly style.


And of course Charlotte Bronte, a poor, powerless governess with great mental powers, who wrote about a similar poor, powerless governess whose strength of character, sense of self, and unquenchable hope and affection, led her to conquer a series of circumstances that could have crushed someone much stronger than she appeared.


The psalmist David, who poured out his heart to God, whether in times of intense trial or those of joy and triumph. At times he showed great faith. At other times his actions were deeply flawed. But always he maintained his faith in God, his expansive love, and his desire to please him.

The songs, or poetry, that he wrote convey deep feeling, lasting faith, and the strength that originates beyond our flawed selves. They really do sing to us, as timeless poetry is able to do.


I think that of all that writers give us, these two gifts are among the greatest.

  1. A view into a different place, time, perspective, and way of life.

  2. The gift of feeling that we are not alone. Even if we find ourselves with no one of like mind around us, when we read the writer reaches a hand across to us and reminds us that someone else does think and feel and experience life the way we do.

#Words Matter Week Writing Challenge Continues

Day 3: What person in your life helped you understand the importance of choosing words carefully? What would you say to them if you met them today?

I can’t think of one person in particular who taught me this in any direct way.

I had many great writing teachers, each of whom taught me something different, but all of them to value words and the meanings they express.

But there have been other kinds of teachers, in my personal life, who taught me things I didn’t necessarily want to know.

There have been one or two people who have, regrettably, taught me that your words can be distorted and used against you. Through them I learned how vital it is to be careful what you say, how you say it, and to whom you say it.

I would say to them that trust is an honor that should be earned, and words should be used to connect and clarify, not as weapons to be flung back at the one using them.

I have also known people who didn’t seem to understand the importance of just the right word, or of listening as a sign that you respect and value the person speaking.

As a writer, choosing the best words matters to me, but I also like to take a little extra time to really think about what I want to say when I’m speaking to someone.

Often I have had people react to this moment of thoughtfulness with either discomfort or impatience. They even try to guess at what I’m trying to say, as if I need their help.

And the further implications are that they know what I’ll say, that it isn’t surprising or special, and that my thoughts aren’t worth waiting a few extra seconds to hear expressed well.

Often they guessed wrong, and missed out on the chance to get to know me better and learn another perspective.

My answer to them: listen. You might learn something, even if it’s ‘only’ a new word, or some subtle aspect of who I am that you wouldn’t have known otherwise. Don’t assume I’m so uninteresting that it doesn’t matter if I finish my sentence the way I mean to.

Don’t rush me, or anyone, by filling in an easy, predictable response so it can be your turn to talk again.

On the positive side, there was one therapist, and friend, who confirmed my sense, even when I was a very young woman, that words had power, and could cause damage if not used carefully.

Because I was observant, felt deeply, had strong opinions, and could use words effectively, I had a kind of power that we both knew I needed to use carefully.

At the time I knew my words could cause pain or harm, and so I needed to use them with restraint, like a quiver of sharp arrows, most of which you choose to keep in their sheath. 

Later I realized words can also heal, connect, bridge gaps, teach what is valuable, fill in what is missing. There is something strengthening and life affirming about this sense of power, especially in situations when we might otherwise feel powerless.

Though I have sometimes failed to keep harmful words to myself, I now try to use the power of words for good, by choosing them carefully; by making them positive, respectful and helpful; by not saying what serves no purpose except to sting; and also by not holding back a good word that should be expressed.

So I will say to this ‘teacher,’ as well as to my younger self: thank you for making me aware of this power, so I could gradually learn how to use it well.

#Words Matter Week: Writing Challenge, Day 2

Day 2: Writers are artists with words as their medium. What author is your favorite word stylist?

As with day 1, I can’t choose only one.

I love Jane Austen, because she used words so effectively that she taught without people knowing they were being taught, and aimed arrows without the deserving recipients knowing where the sting came from.

She illuminated the unfair inequities, in both class and gender, that marred her society, all under the guise of an entertaining story.

Yet the stories themselves, and especially her artfully drawn character portraits, were so engaging and insightful that they still move readers over 200 years later.

Perhaps her portrayals of the impressive changes people are able and willing to make in their character and behavior were a bit optimistic, but isn’t that part of the job of an artist – to show would could and should be possible? She herself said that even if her own life could not have such a happy ending, she would make sure that her characters eventually would.

One can’t help but wonder, wistfully, what even greater works of art she might have created if she had lived past 41!

Having given credit where credit is due to one novelist who truly deserves to be called an artist, I will now transition to poets and poetry, in my mind the most direct and highest form of verbal art.

Poets are literally word artists, using words as material much the way a painter uses paint. They are able to take language – something common, utilitarian, and available to each of us, and make it something more.

Though I am especially drawn to several contemporary poets, generally preferring the freer forms and modern language of contemporary poetry, I enjoy the work of poets of various times, working in various styles.

I have long been a fan of the intensely emotional, lyrical, and thoughtful German poet, Rainer Rilke, though I’ve been limited to reading his work in translation.

However, if I have to choose one favorite, it would still be the poet I liked first, as a young girl – the probably obvious choice – Emily Dickinson. She was so ahead of her time in the freedom and eccentricity or her form and style.

She conveyed, with amazing ability, a deeply rich inner life that contrasts sharply, almost shockingly, with the extreme, partially self-imposed limits of her external existence.

Like so many artists, she was barely appreciated or known in her lifetime, but achieved a level of posthumous fame and even adulation that would likely have astonished, though perhaps not entirely surprised her.

It’s Words Matter Week

How great that a week about words, one of my great loves, is depicted by a poster in a beautiful shade of purple, one of my other great loves.

I’m going to put off the promised ‘tomato’ post until next week, so I can participate in a five day writing challenge in honor of Words Matter Week. I believe that idea so much that “words matter” is part of my email signature!

I’m going to try to write one short post each day in answer to each of the five questions provided by NAIWE (national association of independent writer’s and artists, the host for this blog.)

I hope you’ll tune into my blog ( each day to see my post of the day.

So, here’s day one of #WordsMatterWeek

Words Matter Week Writing Challenge

Day 1: If you had to eliminate one word or phrase from the English language, what would it be? Why?

This is one of those impossible questions, like “what’s your favorite book, food, movie?” You can’t pick only one. At least I can’t.

So I’m going to cheat a little.

First, I’m going to eliminate a whole class of words, then move on to the top two phrases I’d eliminate.

I hate profanity of all kinds and think it has no place in good writing or speech, with a few possible exceptions made necessary by context.

But in general profanity is ugly and annoying and a lazy (you’ll see the irony below) use of language. I’m 51 years old and have not lived in outer space, so it’s not likely I’ll be shocked because I’ve never heard any of the words before. I just hate them, and don’t want to be subjected to them when I read or have a conversation.

In my opinion respect; decency; and love of language, as well as consideration for others, all make all profanity undesirable and unnecessary. Enough said.

Now, on to the phrase I’d eliminate: “just saying.” I don’t feel it conveys anything meaningful or has any real purpose except to make the person using it think they can say anything they want and then seek refuge under this phrase.

Usually people say this after they’ve made a comment that is rude, intrusive, unwanted, or irrelevant, then follow it by “just saying,” so you aren’t supposed to be mad at them because they’ve somehow neutralized it with these two words.

The phrase is annoying by itself, and usually follows something also annoying that the person knows they shouldn’t really say. So, try just “not saying.”

If I could pick a second phrase it would be “you’re lazy.” To me, that usually just means that the other person isn’t doing what YOU want them to do, or isn’t doing it in the way or at the time you want them to do it. Then you want them to feel bad about themselves for not meeting your expectations.

It’s mean, controlling, and probably not true.

Do you see a theme here? None of these are kind, nice, considerate of the other person, or particularly insightful. They’re about imposing something on someone rather than listening.

So, let’s go out and have a day free of ugly words, pointless words, and unkind words. There are plenty of other, better words to choose from.

Choose carefully, because words matter.