This is a Talking Typewriter Production – Which means this blog post has also been turned into a video. So…you can read this post below or you may watch the video version at You Tube, above. It’s the same stuff. It’s your choice.

The Tomato Timer Tool and Technique

The Tomato Timer Technique breaks the problem of getting a project started. It sticks a finger in the eye of procrastination and helps sync the parts of us …

Welcome to the creative road. Taking the first steps down the creative road, frequently, is very difficult. It’s hard to get started much of the time, and if we can’t get started, if we can’t get the first steps in, then we can’t get down the road. There is no creative road. We have the normal things that causes bumps in the road that come up from outside of ourselves. We call them distractions, but probably the worst distractor are all the things that are within us. At times we feel overwhelm, self-doubt, lack of really energized intent, taking an idea and really focusing and saying, “It’s going to happen.” A lack of boundaries to protect our creative space and time, and inconsistent effort towards of what we want to do. That’s just the beginning of our interior distractions, and all that serves to cloud any place that we’re looking towards, especially looking down the creative road. We can’t even see it most of the time.

Most of these obstacles can be overcome, or at least managed with the right tools. [00:02:00] The problem is this: we have some time set aside, we really want to jump into our project, really get started on our project, but something is blocking us, something that we know really is coming from within that is pushing us aside, pushing us off our mark, pushing us away from our goal. We wrestle with it, we just can’t get a grasp of it, and we know that we don’t have it, whatever this inner resistance is about working on our creative project, but it has us.

Our Many Parts (and the trouble that causes)
This problem comes from the fact, for all practical purposes, we’re not a single person, we’re not a single personality, but a person and a personality is made up of many parts. We’ve all used the expression, “A side of me wants to do this, and another side of me wants to do that.” That’s how we’re composed. Many psycho therapist have recognized this for at least a hundred years. Everything is great to have so many sides because we can take different perspectives on the world. However, sometimes they are in such strong opposition, seeing the world in two different ways, wanting to go in two different directions. There’s a lot of inner conflict. That inner conflict is probably one of the most stressful things in life. How do we handle our sides? How do we handle the conflict of wanting to this versus that? How do we handle or avoid conflicts when one side wants to do something else than doing our creative work?

The goal is to find ways, and there are multiple ways, of starting to synchronize those parts. Where the energy is being more synchronized, or at least it’s not working against each other so that they’re really building upon each other. Everything is working well together. We don’t feel the resistance. We’re either going to feel neutral and that we can go ahead with what we want to do on the creative side, or we feel the rush of flow when things are really connecting, when things are really synchronized. It’s away from inner conflict, it’s towards inner agreement.

Getting Our Parts to Work Together: Enter the Tomato Timer
Now, we need to shift from what was the problem, what is the behind scenes part of that problem, and switch to the tool we’re going to discuss today. With some tools we can point to the person who either discovered the tool, or made the tool, or alerted us to the tool, or distributed the tool. To me they’re a star, they’re a very important person because they’ve given us another tool to get on to the creative road. Today we have a star with us, Francesco Cirillo. In the late 1980s he was a second year university student, and he was really up against the wall. He couldn’t sit down, he couldn’t get started on all of his work. He was getting desperate. When he thought about doing his projects and getting started he faced being overwhelmed and the frustration of not understanding why he couldn’t move forward, and it was becoming a crisis. He had to get his work done. 

One day, as the story goes, he said, “Look. I’m going to sit down. I’m going to work for ten minutes, that’s all. Certainly, I can sit still for that long. Certainly, I can concentrate my mind and get down to some work. No matter how painful it’s going to be, no matter how chaotic, no matter how much self-doubt I might be facing, wondering, ‘What the heck am I doing?’ at least I’m doing something. At least I’m getting started,” and he survives. He makes it through that ten minute period, and he does another ten minute period and another ten minute period. That becomes the tool, that becomes his tool, and now it becomes our tool. Of course, in the bigger picture, working in ten minute blocks gave him something to focus on, gave him a way to get started. He knew how to put in his time, he knew how to calculate how much time he was putting in each day and to record that. It was also helping him to break starter’s block, and in breaking that, not only can he get started, but he also discovers that he can combine ten minute segments into a much longer chain of work.

He refines his technique over time, finding that, probably, twenty-five minutes is the best work period for most people, that a person can keep concentration high for that amount of time. Then, after twenty-five minutes take a true break, get up, move around, clear out one’s head, and then come back, hopefully, for another, he calls Pomodoro, we’ll call it another tomato, and just be able to chain those together as he did. There’s a special note in the history. One day to help him refine this technique he goes into his kitchen and returns with a, actually not a real tomato, but a timer in the shape of a tomato. This becomes important because since the early 1990s he’s been writing, teaching, even has a [00:08:00] informal certificate that you can get in what he calls the Pomodoral Technique. People who know Italian tell me that pomadoral means tomato, so we’re going to borrow that word and call it the Tomato Technique. We’ll let him keep the Italian phrase, The Pomodoral Technique, that’s his. Perhaps history would have been different if he had picked up one of these. We got off easy with just a tomato.

Francesco Cirillo was saved by a tomato. We, too, can be saved by a tomato. Let’s pull back the curtain. Let’s look in more detail what Cirillo doing consciously or unconsciously with his tomato timer.

– He stopped waiting for willpower or inspiration to suddenly appear and make everything easy, interesting, and fun
– He accepted the fact he had to get down to work.
– He trusted that movement begets movement. Early small steps lead to wider and bolder steps later.
– He sensed how his inner parts/sides were in conflict.
– He cut a deal that would work for both. The non-worker side got: “You only have to put up with this for 25 minutes.” The side that wanted progress, got some progress, at long last.
– After a few sessions, his willpower and concentration kicked in.
– Having a target (25 minutes of work), gave willpower something to shoot for and he could hold his concentration for that long.
– The game like nature of the deal brought on the side that liked challenges.

How You Can Use the Tomato Timer
Okay, with all that behind us, let’s get back to you. Here are the next steps for you.

Step #1
Decide to give up waiting and decide to work, now.

Step #2
Decide to work for fifteen or twenty-five minutes every day. There’s tremendous power with that, and you’ll discover that power only by doing that each and every day fifteen or twenty-five minutes.

Step #3
Since we’re working in small blocks of time we need to learn how to chunk our work down. I know this sounds, maybe, impossible. The best thing is to see whatever you do, whatever your creative activity, see if you can bring it down, if you can chunk it down into practical pieces that you can do problem solving with, that you can touch every day and do something with.

Step #4
Go out today and get yourself a timer. It can be a tomato, or any of those other shapes that you saw. If you prefer, use one of the many apps, and there are a tremendous number of apps specifically mentioned as pomodoral timers, or tomato timers.

Step #5
And the last step, give this some time, and stick to it. Rather than trying twenty other tools, as tempting as that might be, stick with this one tool for, say, thirty days, or forty days. Really make it your own, and discover the pros and cons, discover limitations, and discover the advantages of this specific tool. Make it your own. Become an expert and master The Tomato Timer Technique. 


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2 thoughts on “[Video] Tomato Timer for The Stuck Creative

  1. Hi Gary, this is great! These are very practical tips. It’s impressive that you are forging into this area of video. I’ll be sure to share this with the creatives in my life. Cheers! Karen

  2. One of my best friend’s mother used to say ~ “Beginning is half done!” This is a great way to get past that beginning point.

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