Pomodoro Power: 5 Free Timers You Can Use to Bolster Productivity
Behold, the humble tomato.
Commonly mistaken for a vegetable, possessing a host of nutritional benefits, and occasionally employed as a missile in contentious public debates, this tempting fruit has one more attribute many of us may not yet be aware of.
Namely, it can help us with our writing.
I know, I know, you’re skeptical. You’ve seen all manner of story writing hacks. Kitten images awarded for achieving word count goals. Snowflakes that are purported to outline your novel from start to finish. Writing an entire novel with a flock of writers from around the world in the month of November.
Nuts, isn’t it?
But today I’m here to introduce the tomato as the solution to your concentration concerns, transcending its rep as primary ingredient of Italian cuisine to rise up and conquer the perpetually overwhelmed scrivener’s schedule.
Because, as the unwitting representative of the Pomodoro Technique, the tomato has been fashioned into a timer that regulates 25 minutes of focused activity alternating with 5 minute breaks to attend to our human needs. And, if as modern writers on the cutting edge, we leave the timer in the kitchen and turn instead to our computers, we will find a bevy of digital pomodoro timers, many of them using the tomato’s rotund shape and ruddy hue as their insignia.
Ranging from full-featured apps, that monitor all your screen activity and create a weekly bar graph chronicling your productivity, to simple countdown timers, the web is bursting with timing options.
Which to choose? A writer could spend days sorting through them to find the best one and, as sorting through timers to find the optimal chronograph is not the productivity boost we’re after, I have taken it upon myself to dig deeper into this phenomenon. My criteria were that the offerings would be free, simple to use, and be available for both Mac and Windows.
Herewith, I present to you five worthy contenders for pomodoro-powered productivity, plucked fresh from the branches of the worldwide web.
1. Tomato Timer
The first timer I test drove is called simply Tomato Timer and can be found by pointing your browser at tomato-timer.com. Nothing fancy here, just a green button for start and a red one for stop, and a grey reset button.
Each button comes with a corresponding keyboard shortcut, detailed right underneath the timer buttons.
Digging slightly deeper and exploring the black navigation buttons pulls up an FAQ about the Pomodoro method and a Settings menu with selections for sounds and timer adjustments.
The whole page rearranges nicely to a mobile layout that could just as easily be pulled onto its own narrow tab on a desktop layout. The countdown also continues on the tab while other windows are open:
And that’s it! No distractions. Only one small ad in the settings box supports this minimalist timer, leaving you with no excuses to fiddle around on your timer when you could be writing.
When you’re done you even get a desktop notification:
Our next entree … the Marinara Timer.
2. Marinara Timer
What, now the old salts are getting involved? Oh, wait, this is Marinara Timer, not Mariner Timer. The Perfect Storm can take a number, because we’re about to get productive around here.
You can find the Marinara Timer at this address on your browser: http://www.marinaratimer.com/, and when you arrive you’ll be greeted by this menu:
As you can see, the Marinara offers three flavors of timing sauce: pomodoro, custom timer, and kitchen timer. The pomodoro timer is permanently set for the standard 25 minute on/5 minute off schedule and has a menu on the bottom for selecting the buzzer. And when I say selections, I mean there are a broad range of sounds to choose from. You want angels? Fire alarms, or trombones? An alien bot ordering lunch? No shortage of sound effects here.
The second option, custom timer, allows you to simmer your own sauce and create work/break cycles to your own taste. Any number of steps can be added for an entire evening of work cycles and breaks. Good times if you’re looking to make some progress on your writing.
The final option on the Marinara application, the kitchen timer, is the simplest of all, and works just like its culinary counterpart: Set the length of time you want to work, and then start the countdown.
The Marinara timer also has a few less obvious features that some users might find desirable. One is the sharing link feature, which allows other users on remote computers to view or even control the timer, a great option for teams working in remote locations who are looking to synchronize their timed sessions.
A timer history feature lists your current pomodoro, along with any others you have done during the time the browser was open for this session. This history isn’t saved over time as it would be in other apps such as RescueTime or Focus Booster, but for a timer that requires no email login that is to be expected.
But let’s move along, as the alien bot sound effect is smacking its slimy lips over lunch, and I don’t want to be next on the menu!
Don’t be fooled by the simple interface when you first visit the Tomighty site at http://tomighty.org/. Tomighty is up to speed and ready for download on both Mac and Windows. And it’s free and open source, although donations are accepted.
The Tomighty for Mac download is a 244 KB dmg file that uncompresses to a 496 KB application. Once installed and opened, the application places the tiny tomato icon inconspicuously in the status part of the menu bar right at the top of the screen, where it counts out its pomodoros.
The Preferences selection allows modifications on all aspects of the timed sessions, including the length of sessions and breaks, and alert sounds. When started, the application makes the familiar windup sound you know from your kitchen timer and you’re off and running.
Other than that, there’s not much to this timer, which is in fact perfect for those seeking a distraction-free timer as part of their workflow. The tiny tomato countdown at the top of the screen is a good location, as it is easy to reference no matter what windows are open on your desktop, but small enough not to be a distraction.
One drawback I should note is that, just like an analog timer, the countdown can’t be paused. So, let’s just say this timer requires a level of commitment above that of the other pomodoro models.
Speaking of distractions though, the next timer on our list is beautiful … and useful.
This timer is called Moosti and you can find it at http://www.moosti.com/.
Nice, isn’t it? But let’s say blue isn’t your bag. How about green? Or violet?
Yep, if you ever tire of tomatoes, (and who doesn’t?) Moosti has a nice set of alternate color schemes, that incidentally carry over nicely to a mobile device. The main screen is pretty self-explanatory, with metallic-looking sliders for adjusting the length of the focus, short and long break intervals. The focus intervals can range from ten to sixty minutes, and the break intervals range from three to five minutes for the short break and five to thirty minutes for the long break. Click the audio alert box to activate the sound (and you need sound, right?!) and an authoritative bell like the one that ended classes back in high school sounds at the end of your session. No alien bots here, no sirree bot.
Time’s up! Our final candidate awaits.
5. Pomodoro Tracker
Another worthy entry into the free timer app fray is the Pomodoro Tracker, which can be found by visiting https://pomodoro-tracker.com/.
The screen is dominated by the tomato red banner proclaiming the standard 25 minute pomodoro interval, with the start and stop buttons embedded in the same field.
Things get interesting, though, in the Tracker part of this timer. Found beneath the banner, a table displays fields for category and description, and a column for time and star rating. Could it be that I can track my overloaded to-do list right alongside the time it takes to wade through it?
I think so, and even better, all I need to do is estimate how many pomodoros my task will take. Goals of this exercise seem to be to refine the estimation process by breaking it down into manageable increments. In fact, if a task is estimated to take longer than 5-7 pomodoros it is advisable to break it down into smaller parts. Once the list is filled out, the application uses my pomodoro count to calculate my completion time.
Now that’s something I can use, as a visual representation of what my day looks like after completion of my task list is simultaneously sobering and reassuring.
The Pomodoro Tracker also features a pause button, (human needs, you know), adjustable focus and break intervals, volume levels on the alarm and ticking sound, as well as web notifications and browser alerts. All this information can be saved if you want to login, but since we’re not sharing our email addresses for this test, I’ll leave that for you to decide. Your to-do list by category, description and pomodoros is saved, however, between browser sessions, which is handy in case life interrupts your careful plans.
Pomodoro Tracker even gets a bit philosophical in the short user guide that appears upon scrolling down the page. After a few rules and tips, the Pomodoro Technique is summarized thus:
For many people, time is an enemy. The anxiety triggered by “the ticking clock”, especially when it involves a deadline, leads to ineffective work and study habits which in turn lead to procrastination. The aim of the Pomodoro Technique is to use time as a valuable ally in accomplishing what we want to do in the way we want to do it, and to enable us to improve continually the way we work or study.
And who can argue with that?
Other Timing Options
Meanwhile, in the course of narrowing my list down to the five most versatile and simple timers, I ran across quite a few others, with some very interesting and fun features. I’ve summarized them here.
For those of you interested in taking a closer look at the features for these timers, this link will whisk you to a table with a side-by-side comparison:
Timers are a valuable asset in a writer’s workflow arsenal, and there are so many low-cost and free options available, it might be hard to choose which one would be a good fit for your personal preferences. Hopefully this tour through tomato timers of all flavors will make this more enjoyable and help you take charge of your projects and productivity. After all, making friends with time, our most valuable asset, might be the key to achieving your writing goals, or at least to catching up.
Oops, sorry, not like that! In fact, just to reassure our produce-protective readers, no tomatoes were harmed in the writing of this post.
Have fun picking your pomodoro!