Writers of yore had it so easy. Sure, living conditions weren’t the best at times: No indoor plumbing, antibiotics weren’t a thing, and existential threats lurked inside and outside the body on the daily. But the Bronte sisters never had to repel the magnetism of the internet, or hide their phone under a mattress just to get some work done. Emily et al. didn’t have their attention drawn and quartered by television, news, or any other 21st-century confection. 

We live in rough times. The advent of the digital zeitgeist at the end of the 20th century means there are now more distractions than ever. Sure, tuberculosis is inconvenient. But you don’t know real inconvenience until a friend shares a viral video of a cat dressed as a shark riding a Roomba when you’re up against deadlines. Thankfully, Charlotte was spared that horror.

I jest, of course. Although everything is relative: Dodging digital distractions when you need to work is a real problem. It might not carry an existential threat like infectious diseases, but it is bothersome in its own right.

By the late 1980s, there were enough of these distractions to prompt student Francesco Cirillo into action. We weren’t quite at the hyper-connected point of internet-in-your-pocket and online refrigerators, but we had come a long way since longhand-by-candlelight. Swimming in deadlines, Francesco needed a way to manage his time more efficiently. And, after some deliberation, a new time-management tool was born: The Pomodoro Technique – named after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer.

Francesco’s original method contains six steps, but the entire premise is quite simple: You select a task, whether that’s an article or a paper, set the timer – traditionally 25 minutes – and work until the buzzer goes, ignoring all distractions for that time. It sounds basic, but it proved so successful it was later adopted by professional teams in search of a reliable productivity-booster. Sometimes, the simplest ideas are the best.

The tomato-timer website I use is almost as basic as the original kitchen timer. There’s a start, stop, and reset button, and a settings page to change the time. Once you press start, you write for the allocated time. If you count down from the default 25 minutes, then for those 25 minutes, you write – and nothing else. No Facebook, no emails, no Twitter, no news. No cats on Roombas. Nothing. 

It’s surprisingly effective. Sitting down to open a word processor is a task in itself some days, so the tomato-timer helps hone your focus so you can get words down on the page. It won’t do the work for you, of course. But a simple commitment to only getting up from the desk once the buzz of the alarm sounds helps you achieve more than you think.