Search & Replace Episode S01E02: Nick Darlington

Would you twist a tomato to get more things done in a day? That’s the productivity secret South African writer and business consultant Nick Darlington told us made a difference in his writing practice. It’s called the Pomodoro Technique, named for a tomato-shaped kitchen timer that its creator had handy when he formulated the method in the 1980s.  

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Announcer: [00:00:00] Support for the following podcast is provided by the User Experience specialist at Johns & Taylor, more information follows this episode.

Joe Taylor Jr: [00:00:11] Twisting a tomato to get more things done. It's a productivity hack that's been around since the eighties. I'm Joe Taylor, Jr. This is Search and Replace

South African writer, Nick Darlington specializes in creating business to business content. He writes blog posts, white papers, and other long form material for technology companies. When Nick started growing his practice to include clients from around the world, he leaned on a popular creative method called the Pomodoro technique.

Nick Darlington: [00:00:45] The Pomodoro technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the eighties. The 50 minutes focus technique, I came across it on Ed Gandia's website, and basically how it works is you focus for 50 minutes intensely on a specific task, you take a break for 20 minutes. So then you step away from work.

You go for, have a cup of tea, and then you focus again for 15 minutes. And by taking that break, you actually generate ideas and you're able to better solve problems. So this technique helps you focus. And I guess, get more done in less time.

Joe Taylor Jr: [00:01:22] Here's an important distinction between what Nick's doing and the original Pomodoro technique.

Francesco Cirillo first developed his system using a 25 minute period of focused work followed by a five minute break. As a software consultant, he found he could fit two highly focused work sessions into a single hour, and that broke down well for the traditional business world. He named his technique after the Italian word for tomato that's because the timer he used to keep track of his work was a simple tomato shaped kitchen timer he had handy at the time. Ed Gandia's suggestion to double the standard Pomodoro session to 50 minutes, appeals to writers and to other creative professionals for whom a longer work period and a much longer break can really help deep focus.

Nick Darlington: [00:02:13] Everyone's different and everyone works differently. I'll typically start by looking at any projects I have. So for example, if I have an ebook project, I'll then be like, okay, cool. So let me try and do two to three of these focus techniques during the day, and then I'll call it quits for the day. So I look at the projects and then I schedule it backwards. I wouldn't say I'm overly rigid. I don't tend to work according to a schedule. I tend to work according to deadlines. So if I set myself a deadline, then I can kind of use this technique to meet those deadlines.

Joe Taylor Jr: [00:02:46] Nick notes, that the break is one of the most critical elements of the Pomodoro technique. No matter what version you're using,

Nick Darlington: [00:02:53] If you don't take that break, you risk burnout. And you kind of are breaking the process. The process is to take that break, to prevent you from number one, getting tired and also it allows you your brain to kind of process what you've done in that 50 minutes. So sometimes when we are writing, we get stuck and then somehow when we ended the 15 minutes, then we're stuck.

But if we take that break we were able to kind of process what we're struggling with and go back into that task and tackle it and maybe solve that problem or issue we have. So it helps with creativity & problem solving at break.

Joe Taylor Jr: [00:03:32] So I asked Nick whether he felt this modified version of the Pomodoro technique really helped him meet his business goals.

Nick Darlington: [00:03:39] What I did do in the past, I don't do it as actively. I typically track my time when it comes to specific tasks and what I did find that is, when I compared how much a task took with the Pomodoro technique, it was far faster for, say for example, I was writing a blog post. It would take me seven hours. This is just an example. Under the Pomodoro technique, it would take me a lot quicker because I was so focused on doing what I needed to do in that timeframe without distraction. So it just helped me become more productive and get more work done in less time. You can measure it in that way. And then also just feeling, you know, when you're writing. You just get that feeling that, you know, it's just working for you. And look, this technique won't work for everyone. I think everyone works differently. But it's definitely something, I think, people should give a try and just see if it works. You don't need to work seven hours in a day and this technique kind of helps you work less really.

Joe Taylor Jr: [00:04:34] So if a busy writer like Nick working less, what else can you do with the time you'll save from a dedication to deep focus?

Nick Darlington: [00:04:41] It gives me time to go for runs. It gives me time to do absolutely nothing. And I quite like doing nothing. It's easy to give an idea that kind of says, this is what you should be doing, but often I just liked doing absolutely nothing with a day, just relaxing. Maybe spending's going to see family. And that's the beauty of working from home as well.

And this technique kind of amplifies those benefits for you.

Joe Taylor Jr: [00:05:05] That's Nick Darlington, business copywriter, and co founder of WriteWorldwide. You can find links to Nick and to more of his work in our website,

Also on our show notes for this episode, we've got links to more research that indicates break time could include the most important moments of your workday. Writing for Psychology Today, author Meg Selig tracked down five of the biggest reasons a good break makes a big difference in the quality of your work. Among them, you need to move around. Studies show that taking just five minutes every hour to get away from your desk can reduce your risk of diabetes and can even slow age related declines in memory.

So Nick told us that he felt he got the best benefit from in 50 minute blocks. And he's not the only one. Julia Gifford ran a bunch of her coworkers at a technology consulting group through an even more rigorous time audit. And she found her most productive and her happiest colleagues worked for 52 minutes in each hour. Like Nick, her research found that the employees her team with the highest satisfaction scores were getting more things done in less time and using the balance of that productivity gain for personal pursuits. And a report from Fast Company's Stephanie Vozza backs up those discoveries. Her piece profiles researchers who note that our bodies are wired for cycles of pulse and pause. And we hit our peak performance on a rhythm that can range between 75 and 90 minutes.

All those stories and more available on our show notes at Search and Replace was produced by Nicole Hubbard. With support from Christine Benton, Connie Evans, Amelia Lohmann, April Smith, and Executive Producer Lori Taylor. Our theme music was composed by Alex Rufire. I'm Joe Taylor, Jr.

Announcer: [00:07:05] This has been a Podcast Taxi radio production. Support for Search and Replace is provided by Johns & Taylor, User Experience specialists serving media and technology companies that want their websites to work. Learn more about how top performing businesses eliminate barriers between customers and their goals at

Joe Taylor Jr. has produced stories about media, technology, entertainment, and personal finance for over 25 years. His work has been featured on NPR, CNBC, Financial Times Television, and ABC News. After launching one of public radio's first successful digital platforms, Joe helped dozens of client companies launch or migrate their online content libraries. Today, Joe serves as a user experience consultant for a variety of Fortune 500 and Inc. 5000 businesses. Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

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