Need to Keep Yourself on Task? Try the Tomato Technique Badge


Tomato Timer01

While looking up blog designs and doing my research, I checked out the site of an illustrator and writer I really admire. I have loved Debbie Ridpath Ohi ever since I discovered her work in an interview by Dan Blank last year.

Debbie has a brilliant idea to but up a badge for wordcounts.

She created a badge you can use to post on your site if you commit to writing 250, 500, or 1000 words 6 days a week.

I recently found that word counts don’t work for me unless I’m deep in a long draft. Even then, they are a bit of a stressor. I find myself anxious to get through it rather than sinking into the process.

Instead, I found a technique that works better for me from a wonderful Massive Online Open Course called Learning How to Learn.

In this class, Professor Barbara Oakley describes the Pomodoro Technique, using the fancy Italian word for tomato.

Apparently (though I have never seen one away from the Internet) timers often look like tomatoes. I guess the ‘egg technique’ isn’t as elegant.


My own timer looks like an iPhone. This could be distracting if people called or texted me at 4:30 am when I am writing but I suspect most people are asleep. (Shortly after writing this first draft my son’s school district did call to say there was a 2 hour delayed start at 6:00 am. So it’s possible.)


I set my timer for 25 minutes of focused attention and then dial into what I am doing. After 25 minutes, I take a 5-10 minute break to get tea, check Facebook, or talk to my husband as he gets ready for work. If I have more time before the day job, I set the timer once more and get back at it. When I went on my writing retreat, I worked three 25 minute sessions in the morning and then one or two in the afternoon, too.

The professors in Learning How to Learn say that this sort of focused time is crucial when learning anything new (like how to write a darned novel or draw a tomato). They also say the breaks are vital. Our brains need the down time in order to process the information and come up with creative solutions like we do in the shower or while driving.

At the top of the post, I have a Tomato Technique Badge. I’m calling it by its English name because the poet in me likes the sound of the t’s.

My favorite Online Etymology Dictionary also told me this about the word:

‘tomato (n.)
1753, earlier tomate (c. 1600), from Spanish tomate (mid-16c.) from Nahuatl (Aztecan) tomatl “a tomato,” said to mean literally “the swelling fruit,” from tomana “to swell.”‘

I find it even more poetic and encouraging to think of my writing and other creative work as a ‘swelling fruit.’

Anyway, feel free to save my hand drawn tomato for your blog and link it back here. Or use Debbie’s badge if the word counts work better for you. If you don’t have a blog, you could print and post it to your wall. You could even draw your own!

However you do it,  the badge you choose shows your commitment to wordcounts or focused time on any creative endeavor you want to dial into 6 days a week. 

May you find time to create your own swelling fruit-

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Money where the Language Mouth Is


IMG_0101This past week I decided that to become a better teacher, I needed to commit to a language again. This has been on the back of my mind for some time. I’ve had several excellent excuses for not working on my own language learning, including an infant who was not fond of sleeping or letting his mother sleep.

He’s three now. He sleeps. And last summer a speaker at the state ABE/ESL conference in Yakima, WA let me practice my rusty German with her. Heide Spruck-Wrigley (link this) always gives a wonderful presentation that I would recommend seeing if you are in the language business and get the opportunity. She backs her words with solid research and sprinkles in hilarious stories like this video of a poor guy learning English:

Heide is also is a native German speaker. I pulled up my courage and told her in a small group session that I once spoke German and she gently shifted our conversation into her first language to let me practice. The experience of trying to decode another language while frantically trying to remember the vocabulary and structure I needed to respond in something like a conversational time frame stuck with me.

“Ah!” I thought. “This is what my poor students feel like everyday! No wonder they aren’t so chatty with me before class.”

Of course, I know this when I use my native language with them. But experiencing it myself gave me such a powerful feeling of empathy. I wondered what else I could get from learning another language alongside my students.

I said something along these lines to the Russian speaking administrative assistant Inna who works in the office where I go to make copies before class.

She nodded and said she tells new learners: “Nothing works. Not books or any special program. Just practice.”

“Hmm,” I thought. Sounds a lot like writing and anything else worthwhile.

So I asked my patient coworker if she’d help me by practicing with me in Russian. She agreed with a smile and a nod.

It’s not like I haven’t walked this path before. A part of me is screaming: “You’ve done this! You’re just going to find another excuse and make a mouthful of mistakes again!”

I’ve learned Russian in fits and starts for as many years as I’ve had Russian speaking students. One of my other Russian speaking coworkers shakes her head at me when I bring students in to her for interpreting.

“You should know Russian by now,” she says. She’s right. If I’d kept at it from the start I would.

Life pulls me away, I get busy and, because it’s not vital to my everyday existence, it’s easy for me to let it slide. So far this first week of practicing I’ve worked on a few phrases with Inna, found a free program on the Internet and cracked open a few of the books on the language section of my office library at home.

I suppose I’m hoping that writing about it here will keep me going through the embarrassment and drudgery that learning a new language brings because, since I started Russian on my own in (gasp) 1997, I have managed to learn a few things. And not just words to use with my Russian speaking students but also experiences to share with those who speak a multitude of other languages in my classes.

Besides. Something indescribable happens when I speak another language — something about the practice opens new worlds and novel ways of seeing the world I’m in right now.

Do wish me luck.