Focus has never been a problem for me. I was the boring kid who could study for eight to ten hours straight without complaining. This continued into adulthood until I had my own series of unfortunate events. Over the past four years, my parents and our 17-year-old dog have all died in rapid succession from incurable neurodegenerative diseases. It didn’t help that it happened alongside a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic. And because I’m a genius, I decided to make digital media my bread and butter, an industry held together by fraying duct tape and brainworms.
Needless to say, I started 2022 off as a hot mess. All that time spent doomscrolling and crying has left my concentration in shambles. Things chained to the point where I would walk into a room, forget why I was there, go back to the room I came from, remember what I was supposed to do, go back to the first room and forget again. But the reality of adulthood is that you only have one month to look like a functioning human again. My problem was that I didn’t know how. Surprisingly, my response was a tomato timer.
Pomodoro timers are a tool used with the Pomodoro technique. Developed in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo, the idea is to devote 25 uninterrupted minutes to a task. When you’re done, you can take a break for five to ten minutes. Each 25-minute interval is called a Pomodoro, and after four Pomodoros you can take a longer break of 15-30 minutes. If you finish early, you use the remaining time to review your work or plan for upcoming Pomodoros. You can also change the length of intervals and breaks to suit you.
I’ve used Pomodoro timers for the past decade (maybe longer), but they’ve never really stuck. I mostly used them during my school years to study for exams. And even then I played fast and loose actually using the timer.
In addition to work deadlines, I also had to plan funerals at home and in South Korea. I had to consult estate lawyers, learn to be an executor of my parents’ estate, deal with real estate sharks, and even spend 45 minutes explaining to a Citibank representative that my mother was dead. and could not telephone. I never knew where to start because everything was urgent, and my to-do lists looked like CVS receipts. Worse still, I could barely concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes at a time. What I needed was a Pomodoro timer with a built-in to-do list.
After searching the internet, I came across Focus on the things to do. I wasn’t expecting much – it had never stuck before, so why would it now? I messed up a lot, but at the end of the first week, I noticed a small improvement: I was much more efficient at getting the little things done. You know, the annoying little tasks that need to be done but are constantly put on the back burner. These tasks always leave me anxious, but that week I felt immense relief.
The Focus To-Do app gives you an estimate of how many hours your list will take. This, in turn, helped me better visualize what I could reasonably do today and what needed to be moved the next day. It also taught me how much time I was spending on recurring tasks. For example, I now know that it takes me six to eight Pomodoros to write 2,000 words.
My little breaks were a chance to make some time for me
During this time, my little breaks were an opportunity to make time for myself. Instead of browsing Twitter to acquire more brainworms, I forced myself out of my office. My rule was that I could do whatever I wanted as long as I wasn’t chained to my keyboard. I picked up packages, watered my plants, or decluttered my kitchen counter. For longer breaks, I would go for a walk outside or play with my round cat. While grieving, I always felt like I couldn’t do something I loved. It spilled over into every aspect of my life, leaving me unable to do much more than show up for work. But what that silly little timer did was create a space for me to relax – knowing that the job would be done. For the first time in a long time, I’m starting to feel like myself again.
None of this happened overnight. This happened gradually over the course of the year. I didn’t even notice how much it had changed until a few weeks ago. Everyone has their own way of dealing with the grief and mental fog of the past three years. But if, like me, you’re looking for a way to organize your time, this is a free and widely available tool to try. You don’t have to use the one I make or follow the Pomodoro technique to the letter. (Certainly not.) You can use a real kitchen timer or an app on your phone. But sometimes you just need a little push. Tomato timers are perfect for this.