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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Writing to the tick of a tomato timer

 Two fundamental principles cemented in the foundation of CHP are capacity development and  working  collaboratively. The Centre for Health Policy’s bi-monthly writing days, spear-headed by  Deputy Director, Dr  Nonhlanhla Nxumalo, are one example of this. They are open to any CHP staff,  including masters and post-doctoral  students, and help CHP to produce regular, quality research  output.  

 Taking this a step further, CHP hosted a writing retreat over three days in Spring as a supplementary  strategy to  advance the papers staff had been working on during the year.  It was attended by  academic and honorary staff, as  well as the post-doctorate and Masters students that CHP  accommodates.

 Professor Lenore Manderson facilitated the retreat using the innovative Pomodoro Technique® to help to structure  the time and reduce distractions, and so improve productivity.

“The Pomodoro Technique® was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. He coined the name from a tomato-shaped timer – ‘pomodoro’ is Italian for tomato – which he used to organise his time as a student,” explained Lenore.

“The idea is to use a timer – it doesn’t have to be a tomato! – to work on only one task in a 25-minute session known as a ‘pomodoro’. You may not attend to cell phone calls or emails in that time! Then take a five-minute break before starting the next session. After four ‘pomodori’, take a longer break to recharge your batteries. This can include a short walk or having something to eat, she said.”

Nonhlanhla agreed that this method had proved to be a remarkably efficient way to increase focus and ensure that participants didn’t suffer physical discomfort or injury from sitting still for too long.

“It may sound counter-intuitive to break away from your work in mid-stream, but research has shown that this ‘task switching’ improves your concentration when you return to your writing. Winding up the timer commits you to the task, and the ticking reminds you about finishing it,” she said.

Several staff made substantial progress with their papers and hope to submit them to identified journals by the end of this year or early in the new year.