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Time Won't Let Me

No, the title isn't that great No. 1 song from the Outsiders, who hail from my hometown of Cleveland. Instead, it's the single most vexing problem that everyone seems to face these days: finding a system that allows you to get things done at work while maintaining “another life.”

As an editor and the owner of a company, I have struggled endlessly with the problem. I've listened to audio tapes, read books, devoured articles and probably watched a few videos (though I don't recall when). I even thought of taking a course about how to corral time or in essence, become more productive.

I recall Mark McCormack, the person who came closest to being my business guru, address this issue. McCormack was an extraordinarily compulsive tracker of his time, a practice he began as a teenager, if I recall. If you don't know who he is, one news organization dubbed McCormack one of the 100 most influential people in sports in the 20th century. He started IMG, the largest sports agency in the world (with $500 and Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as his first clients), and wrote, “What They Didn't Teach You at Harvard Business School.”

McCormack, who died in 2003, said that for him, a legal pad and pen (or was it pencil?) worked best. Make a list in order of importance and scratch it off when you're done, was his advice.

Because my brain tends to wander (I am a writer, after all), I too have looked for that perfect time management tool. Haven't found it yet, either. But I have discovered one that works better than anything else.

My “secret” is the pomodoro (, created by Francesco Cirillo. I urge you to try it. (Full disclosure: I have NO connection or fiduciary interest in the creator, his website or company. Just a fan.)

First the name. It's Italian for tomato. You'll understand why shortly. Stripped of its modest complexity, it's an inordinately simple approach. The pomodoro technique works this way: You use a timer, setting it for 25 minutes. You work until you hear the timer go off and DON'T allow for any interruptions (unless John Ehlen, my publisher, is calling). When you hear the ping signal at the end of the pomodoro, you STOP. PERIOD. NO MATTER WHAT. Then you take a five-minute break that should NOT relate to your work. Each 25 minutes is called a pomodoro. When you do four pomodoros, you stop and take a 25- to 30-minute break. Again, it shouldn't relate to the business at hand but can include personal items like emailing your spouse or calling for a dentist appointment. You also maintain a list of activities that you fill out at the beginning of the day in order of importance, which is not surprising.

The reason for the name is that the creator's first timepiece was a mechanical device, shaped and designed like a tomato.

You can download for free the entire 35-page eBook at I would suggest reading the entire “book” to learn the finer points of the technique. But you can apply it in one minute after simply reading this column and the cheat sheet Cirillo provides at the bottom of the download page for his eBook. You can also buy the book on amazon. (I write, so I love it when authors make money at

My personal observation about what makes the pomodoro so effective is that Cirillo understands that distractions and lack of focus are probably the great villains to time management and completing tasks. If you don't allow an interruption, you'll usually get something done in 25 minutes. Focus matters, too, especially when you don't WANT to work at the task. I also suspect the less you're interested, the more important the pomodoro becomes in completing a task. Why? Thinking of working on a report that you dread for two hours makes it almost impossible to start. But working on it for only 25 minutes seem so much more palatable.

Cirillo is also shrewd about the timing issue. He knows that no matter how much of a work ethic we think we possess, the body clock becomes restless. It might be longer when we're really interested in a task or love what we do, but at some point, we get weary. I don't recall how he deduced that 25 minutes was the “perfect” slice of time, but it's a manageable length to which almost everyone can adhere.

I can become rather enthused about something when I believe it has special merit. If you or someone on your staff has problems managing their time, I urge you to examine the pomodoro technique. It's better than spending a full day at a time management seminar, and the price is perfect. Don't let its simplicity or lack of cost fool you. It's a system that works. Remember: (No, I won't tell you how many pomodoros I spent writing this column.)

HVACR Distribution Business welcomes letters to the editor. Please send correspondence to: Tom Peric´, Editor 2040 Fairfax Avenue Cherry Hill, NJ 08003 856/874-0049 or email [email protected].

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