Need balance? Turn on your tomato!

I find myself tutoring my students on balance / efficiency / time management / practice strategies almost as much as I teach them concepts of singing. I quite enjoy this work—it has far-reaching ramifications way beyond music, and can help them learn to “adult” with some sense of ease and grace.

My central tenet of time management is BALANCE. I wear many hats, and I simply can’t afford to focus all of my day on any single project. I have to divide and conquer, bit by bit, drop by drop, day by day.


And that’s where our friendly tomato comes in… In the 1980s, the “Pomodoro Technique” become popularized by Francisco Cirillo. He was reportedly inspired by his kitchen timer, which bore the familiar shape seen above. (“Pomodoro” is the Italian word for “tomato.”) According to Cirillo, the shtick is that you set the timer for 25 minutes, and then work assiduously on Task A. You then take a 5 minute break, reset the timer for 25 minutes, and then work on Task B. Etc, etc. By doing this, you get a little bit done on multiple tasks, and don’t fall in the familiar trap of getting a lot done on Task A while totally neglecting Task B.

Now, if Task A is truly pressing, you of course could do multiple “pomodoros” on it, but the above notion of balance and boundary holds.

I use timers on an embarrassing array of daily tasks: how much I sing, how much time I spend recruiting, doing yoga, meditating, tidying up, etc. They help me immensely to shift from one task to another, so that I can creep closer to that illusory goal: balance.

Even within singing practice, the block of time can be divided. For instance, I have a 45 minute block in which to practice. Quickly at the beginning I’ll jot down:

  • 10 minutes of vocalises

  • 10 minutes of Vaccai

  • 15 minutes of woodshedding notes and rhythms on the Bach

  • 10 minutes of writing out that Schumann song I’m memorizing

Now I’ve really moved the needle on four different items, and practiced very wisely. As mentioned earlier, I also avoided the “tunnel vision” trap—it would have been easy to keep going and going and going with the Bach, but instead I switched gears and made progress on multiple fronts.

So, get those pomodoros / egg timers / iPhone timers humming, and up your productivity while balancing your life!

Kyle Ferrill teaches voice and vocal pedagogy at the University of Memphis, SongFest, and the Interlochen Arts Camp and performs around the country, primarily in art song and oratorio.