Boosting Productivity with Research, Tomatoes, and an Hourglass

Let’s face it, being productive is a challenge that most of us have to deal with daily. Our minds have a tendency to doze off, and our fingers have a tendency to swipe without our permission. I’m sure you know what I mean, especially if you work in an environment full of distractions (like home). In this short article, we’re going to take a look at some of the findings on increasing productivity and how using an hourglass can help.

What is productivity?

Contrary to the usual perception, productivity is not about getting more things done but rather accomplishing the important things that need to get done. The good news is that since working efficiently is such a universal challenge, there has been a fair amount of research done in this field. Although there are no quick fixes and no silver bullets, there are tools and habits that have been found to significantly increase productivity.

The cost of distraction

Today, the demand for our attention is higher than ever. Apps, devices, and ads on social media are designed to compete for our attention, to draw us in, and to distract us from something else. However, relatively all studies discussing the topic agree that scattered attention is the primary antagonist to productivity. 


If you’re cooking or watching a movie and pretending to work while you’re reading this article, I am sorry to disappoint you, but you are not being productive, you are exhausting yourself. And you’re not getting as much done as you think since productive multitasking is a myth. In reality, human beings can shift their attention, but we cannot effectively do two demanding tasks at once, let alone do them well. 


You may be familiar with another term for shifting your attention often. Most people call it “being distracted”. Therefore, it is no surprise that the best advice that can be given to increase focus is to limit those distractions. So turn off your phone, switch off the Internet, and find a place where others won’t bother you. If you are able to, switch to using an analog clock or an hourglass to keep track of the passing time, but avoid being distracted by it. 

Break work into bite-size pieces

Another common piece of advice that many experts studying productivity give is to break tasks down into smaller parts. The reason why this helps is that working on a huge task can get demotivating after a while because the progress is barely noticeable. 

sticky notes on a wall


So if you have a big project to finish in a week, consider slicing up to the tasks that you can get done in a day or in an hour. That way you will see that you are moving forward, will be more focused, and less bored. 

Focused and diffused brain modes 

Apparently, our brain has two states. One for problems where we know the solution and simply need to remember it, and the other for tasks that require a creative approach. We are often used to working in a focused state. And since we can’t be in both it takes effort to get into a creative problem-solving state. 

Scientists call this creative state “diffused brain mode”. Researchers have found that in this diffused or relaxed mode, our thought patterns change, and instead of traveling the same patterns giving us the same answers, our brain is able to come up with new and innovative solutions drawing on neural networks that are simply inaccessible when we are focused.

a coffee mug and a coffee jar on a table


This means that when faced with a problem, where the solutions used in the past are not working, we should try to switch to a diffused mode of thinking. And that can sometimes be done fairly easily by taking a short break between different tasks. 

Pomodoro technique using an hourglass

The Pomodoro technique is a method of improving productivity which encompasses all of the tips we already covered. In Italian, Pomodoro means “tomato” and the name of the technique comes from a tomato-shaped timer that its developer, Francesco Cirillo, used.

Regardless of its name, it is a powerful time management tool based on breaking your schedule into smaller chunks divided by small breaks; often 25 minutes of work, and a five-minute break after. 

This technique requires you to set a limited amount of time to work on one task, take a break, and move to the next task maintaining the focus and alertness of your mind.

Using an hourglass as a timer

Although you could use tomato and egg-shaped timers, perhaps even an alarm on your phone, we suggest using an hourglass. It will do several things that a phone or a timer won’t. An hourglass allows you to keep away from distractions that might come if you used a phone to keep track of time. When your mind starts to wander and you start looking around, taking a quick glance at a beautiful hourglass can be a great physical reminder that brings you back to work until the time runs out. 

an hour-glass on a table

You may be wondering: “Why would I use an hourglass instead of a clock or a watch?”. You can use either, but remember that while a watch is a device to tell you the time, an hourglass is a device that shows if the set period of time has finished. That makes it more convenient because taking a look you’d know if the time has run out or not. No counting minutes or trying to remember when you started.

Finally, comparing even the most beautiful tomato timer to an average hourglass you’d have to admit, that hourglass is much more aesthetically pleasing. It can remain on your desk and act as an interior detail symbolizing productivity and significance of time, while tomato timer may symbolize burning cupcakes or tomatoes at the very best. Not even to mention the annoying sound of the timers!

Time to get started!

We are used to working on big tasks with lots of distractions and taking on whole projects at a time. No doubt, it will certainly take some effort to unlearn these habits before developing new ones. However, now you know what research says about productivity and how you may achieve it. Equipped with both the Pomodoro technique and an hourglass, you’re ready to become more productive than ever. The question is, are you ready to start today?