Pomodoro strangeness?
May 25, 2014 11:07 PM   Subscribe

At the beginning of Cirillo's paper on using and implementing the Pomdoro technique, there is a metaphysical justification about how we perceive time that is optimal. It seems opposed to the Pomodoro technique. Has anyone justified it?

Now, Cirillo has this to say about our perception with regards to time:

Thinkers, philosophers, scientists – anyone who’s taken on the challenge of attempting to define time in and of itself and the relationship between people and time has always been forced to admit defeat. Such an inquiry, in fact, is inevitably limited and never complete. Few have given us any truly insightful perspectives. For example, according to the work of
Bergson and Minkowski, two profoundly interrelated aspects seem to coexist with reference to time:

1. Becoming. An abstract, dimensional aspect of time, which gives rise to the habit of measuring time (seconds, minutes, hours); the idea of representing time on an axis, as we would spatial dimensions; the concept of the duration of an event (the distance between two points on the temporal axis); the idea of being late (once again the distance between two points on the temporal axis).
2. The succession of events. A concrete aspect of temporal order: we wake up, we take a shower, we have breakfast, we study, we have lunch, we have a nap, we play, we eat, and we go to bed. Children come to have this notion of time before they develop the idea of abstract time which passes regardless of the events that take place.

Of these two aspects, it is becoming that generates anxiety – it is, by nature, elusive, indefinite, infinite: time passes, slips away, moves toward the future. If we try to measure ourselves against the passage of time, we feel inadequate, oppressed, enslaved, defeated, more and more with every second that goes by. We lose our élan vital, our vital contact, which
enables us to accomplish things.

Now, Cirillo has this justification. But it does not seem to follow that turning our experience of time into Pomodoros and counting the Pomodoros instead of being nervous about the extension (the measure, that is, or the dimensional quality) of time will turn our Becoming into the succession of events, because it could be that we impose this dimensional quantity into the discrete Pomodoro. I mean, it is not incompatible with discreteness to say that this discreteness has dimension. People talk about and think about things atomically all the time. Is it not the case that the Pomodoros slip and more towards the future?

Has anyone else thought about this? Has anyone made a productivity thing that dealt with this problem as posed here in a different way?
posted by curuinor to Grab Bag (4 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
it is not incompatible with discreteness to say that this discreteness has dimension

Philosophically that may be right, but Cirillo's aims are to do with practical psychology, are they not? It's not that we change our metaphysics, just our attitude - that pomodoros make the (manageable) succession of events more psychologically salient.

I might be totally missing the point.
posted by Segundus at 2:01 AM on May 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think the way I'd take it is that the pomodoro clearly cannot change anything about the ineffable nature of time. So what does it change? Framing. The anxiety is related to "time on an axis". The axis is indefinite, or at least for all functional purposes. We operate on the assumption that time itself isn't going to end, and so the practical end to that axis is, absent anything else, "whenever I happen to keel over". A lot of events are hopefully going to happen between now and then. That's overwhelming. The pomodoro, the 20/10, the interval of whatever variety, it shortens the frame of reference. You enter into an agreement with yourself to stop thinking about the whole of your lifetime in favor of thinking about the next N minutes. Instead of being indefinite and overwhelming, that's definite and achievable.

The value of the pomodoro isn't how many pomodoros you've done of a thing in a span of time, it's how much of a thing you've done in the span of a pomodoro. The end is never further in the future than 25 minutes from now.

If what you're looking for is an ability to do longer-term planning, then that's not really what Pomodoro does well, that's more where you'd get into GTD or Autofocus or a Covey planner or whatever, the actual figuring out of what you're supposed to do and by when.
posted by Sequence at 3:19 AM on May 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Has anyone else thought about this?

Cirillo seems to be working with the distinction between what McTaggart called the A and B series in his 1908 paper, "The Unreality Of Time"
posted by thelonius at 5:42 AM on May 26, 2014

Best answer: Huh, I used the Pomodoro technique for a little while, but I had no idea its justifications were in Bergsonian philosophy and existential phenomenology. I can't tell from looking at the paper whether Cirillo is actually invested in this sort of philosophy, or whether he is a psychologist who kinda lazily adds ad hoc rhetorical punch to an introductory or concluding section by calling upon philosophy without really understanding it. (This is done ALL THE TIME.) Honestly, I bet it's the latter.

Bergson and Minkowski are not just a couple of philosophers who Cirillo invokes "for example" here: he is relying on them through-and-through for this justification. The "elan vital" mentioned in that section is very much a Bergsonian concept. I'm not competent to discuss anything about whether Becoming is the feature of temporal experience that generates anxiety. These are some pretty obscure concepts, and it would take a lot of work to figure out exactly what is being said here. If you really wanted to, you could investigate Bergsonian philosophy first-hand, and you might find some justifications of a Bergsonian/Minkowskian model of temporal experience. But I'm personally skeptical of the model, and I'd be hugely surprised if there is any work diligently arguing that the Pomodoro technique follows from that model.

I think your argument is a good one. I don't think you'll find it addressed. That said, I can imagine other good arguments for the Pomodoro technique. Maybe it is successful because we lose motivation when aiming at rewards that are far off (because of temporal discounting). Or maybe it is successful because small work units force us to have determinate plans for that time period, which are necessary for motivation. These arguments would look passingly similar to the one that Cirillo offers about how Becoming robs us of our elan vital. But they would not be the same.
posted by painquale at 7:01 AM on May 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

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