For some of the other things we did during our team retreat a few weeks ago, each team member had to give a short presentation on a professional development topic. I chose to present on Pomodoro, a time management technique used to help focus and mitigate distractions while working. Since then I’ve tried pomodoro out myself, here’s a few notes from my first few days.
What is Pomodoro?
The basic concept of Pomodoro is to break your work day up into 25-ish minute increments, with short (3 to 5 minute) breaks inbetween. After a set of pomodori (usually 4 in a row), you take an extended 30 minute break. In addition, you spend a bit of time at the beginning of each day planning out your “to do list” as well as at the end of every day writing down your “review”.
While working throughout the day, you work in 25 minute intervals. During this time, you’re supposed to focus on one specific activity. If you’re interrupted by anything or anyone, you deal with the interruption by writing it down and scheduling a time to address the issue. If the interruption is critical and can’t be scheduled, you can “abandon” your pomodoro and start a new one when you have a chance – this way the impact interruptions have on your workday are reflected in the number of pomodori you complete in a day. It also forces you to think critically about interruptions and if they need to be addressed “right now”.
I use a notebook and paper to keep track of my daily to do list, and an app on my windows phone called “Focusin” to keep track of 25-minute increments. Focusin is geared towards pomodoro users, and it works pretty well – the odd bug, but nothing too critical that prevents you from using it. The Pomodoro website recommends focusing on non-technology tools in order to prevent distraction – you can spend a whole pomodoro fiddling with settings in an app if you really wanted to.
To do my reviews and activity log, I setup a quick excel spreadsheet. At the end of every day, I fill my activity log with outstanding tasks that I didn’t complete or thought of throughout the day. I also draft up a quick summary of the day – date, appx start time, activity type, activity description, pomodoros completed, and internal and external interruptions. This with a quick line graph gives a good visual summary of progress.
My focus for my very first pomodoro day was to just keep track of metrics. I created a quick todo sheet and started working. At the end of the day I was pretty surprised with the result: I had only completed 8 pomodoro in 8 hours! If you work it out, that’s only a solid 4 hours of work (with minor breaks). Now, this isn’t saying I wasn’t working the whole time, all it really indicates is how much I was able to work without interruption – I had also racked up 13 “external interruptions” throughout the day. Another factor was timing – I found myself reluctant to start a new pomodoro before lunch or scheduled meetings.
I also ended up adding about 8 activities to my activity log at the end of the day – good seed data for tomorrow’s to do list.
I used the shock of day 1’s pomodoro count to motivate myself to plan my day better. I filled my to do list with yesterday’s activity log and went from there. The end result: 10 pomodoros, 8 external interruptions, and 9 internal interruptions.
Lessons learned so far
As I already said, I’ve been made more concious of how I plan my day as a result of the review process at the end of the day. I’ve been scheduling my work so that I end closer to the beginning of lunch & scheduled meetings in order to avoid any of that “well I just have to stop in 10 minutes anyways” feelings that is common in office work.
Another neat side effect of having to log and reschedule interruptions is I’m avoiding spending “compiling time” on twitter and websites. When working with a solution that can take 5+ minutes to compile it’s pretty easy to check twitter “just for a sec” and then find yourself drifting off to distraction land. By making yourself conciously aware that you’re distracted (marking it down on the to do list) it makes it a lot harder to justify doing those things. That being said, I’m not sure what to do with my “CPU is locked up for 5 minutes while compiling” time that would be most effective yet.
My teammates have been pretty supportive of trying Pomodoro so far as well, rescheduling their interruptions for my 5 minute / long breaks.
Once I get a better handle on pomodoro and making the most of it, there’s a few advanced techniques to try. One I’m interested in is the timetable concept – pre-scheduling pomodoros into your day. I’ve kind of started this informally by scheduling around meetings and lunch, but by making it more formal you can really get the most out of your workday.
Another technique I’m going to try is the “pomodoro review”, where you review your pomodoros and sets at the beginning and end of each one. This is supposed to help with memory retention and help focus your activity by naming exactly what you’re planning on doing in the next 25 minutes / 4 pomodori.