This post documents my experience with the Pomodoro time management technique over a 5 day period.
The Pomodoro technique was invented by Francesco Cirillo, who named the technique after a tomato-shaped timer he used to track his work as a university student. A deceptively simple Time Management Technique, Pomodoro, teaches you to work with time instead of against it. Pick a task, small or large, and work solely on that for a single Pomodoro, normally 25-minutes. Simple.
After 25-minutes? You stop. Put a little tick against that task. Congratulations you've spent an entire Pomodoro on a single task, without interruptions too!
What do you do now? You take a break. Essential to the Pomodoro technique is the notion that taking short regular breaks eliminates burnout and reduces stress.
After a certain number of Pomodoros, take a slightly longer break and give your brain a moment to assimilate all that you have done.
Conclusion: What I found in the tomato
Distractions are key
As the old adage states “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”, with that in mind, list your top distractions and come up with a mitigation strategy for them. I cannot stress how important this single step is. It forms the basis of having a great experience with the Pomodoro technique.
Seriously, take a break
Breaks are good. You need to eat. You need to drink. You need to have conversations. A happy employee is a productive employee. If you get headaches or a stiff back from sitting in one spot all day trying to complete a task, who do you think you are helping? Your client? No. By neglecting your health you are actually doing more harm than good. Breaks allow you to assimilate information and being less stressed in your job will make you more efficient.
But, small breaks every 25 minutes?! That’s a lot of breaks!
Yes….but your downtime is now scheduled for set periods in the day rather than occurring at random throughout the day like it was before.
Hey, I do stuff!
What have you done today? It turns out, I do a lot more than I ever thought I did. Using “Pomodoro Time” to track tasks gives visibility to the tasks completed over a given timespan.
I only wrote this blog because I regularly assigned Pomodoros for it!
App or not to app
In essence, the Pomodoro technique can be achieved simply with a timer and paper for recording tasks. I choose to augment my experience with the “Pomodoro Time” app for the timing accuracy and reporting capabilities offered. In future, I would actually like to improve on this by using an Android wearable device with a Pomodoro app to move the technique away from the office environment. I even know a guy that has a wearable app, Daniele Bonaldo!
Below follows a slightly more verbose log of my usage of Pomodoro over a five day period.
For timing - Pomodoro Time
I found “Pomodoro Time”, a free app on the AppStore for tracking time. There is also a paid version that removes ads, provides access to syncing across the Apple ecosystem and allows exporting to CSV. For my trial of the Pomodoro technique, I decided that the free version would be more than sufficient.
To kick off my time with the tomato I created a list of todos that I hoped to complete by the end of the day, nicely facilitated by the app.
I decided to go with a 25-minute Pomodoro followed by a 5-minute break, I reasoned this would give me enough time to take a quick peak at Slack and emails to determine if I needed to change priorities in the next session or, you know, have an actual break.
(Time for a break!)
At Novoda we have very active Slack rooms, so every few minutes I found my attention wondering to the jumping Slack icon and the hidden Slack rooms within. And then there is the email and the constant, niggling feeling, that PRs need to be checked and emails replied to. All of these distractions culminated in the first day feeling something like this:
Tasks according to Pomodoro Time:
- Tomato blog x2
- Project task x5
- Review & address comments on PRs x5
- Release library x3
A more accurate representation:
- Tomato blog x2
- Project task x12
- Review & address comments on PRs x18
- Release library x8
- Recheck Slack for the thousandth time x20
Pomodoro Time can be used track the number of cycles spent on a particular task. Day two was a veritable success when compared with day one, which I am chalking down to the “distraction mitigation strategy”.
Tackle the distractions
List your distractions and try to come up with an action plan on how to reduce the risk of this distraction affecting you. Here are my distractions:
Colleagues / Slack / Email
Impromptu discussions with colleagues is a given in any work environment. To mitigate this, the use of the Pomodoro technique needs to be clearly communicated to the people with whom you work. For myself, this was clearly communicated in the company and project standups for the most visibility. Scheduling several communication Pomodoros throughout the day can be used to pigeonhole communication through Slack and email, allowing other Pomodoros to be distraction free.
Text Messaging / Phone calls
Everyone receives text messages or phone calls at work, how to deal with these without breaking concentration is hard. I personally use Pushbullet to receive live notifications to my MacBook so I can easily decide if a phone call is worth answering, without breaking concentration by switching devices.
Mania, the dog
She'll sleep, sleep some more, and then sleep again. She's pretty content until she knows it is my lunchtime and of course, her lunchtime.
Following the success of the “distraction mitigation strategy” from day 2, I thought I would expand on the process by “putting distractions at arms length”.
Tackle the distractions part II
Here is my “arms length” approach to tackling distractions. I created three virtual desktops running the following:
- Android Studio Fullscreen. Try distraction free mode.
- Browser for looking up documentation / tackling development issues, also in fullscreen.
- Communication / social desktop not fullscreen.
Fullscreen applications become a dedicated workspace, free from distractions. To reach any communication channels I need to actively switch workspaces. Too much effort, I’ll just finish the task.
A bonus would be to add a nice warning background on a workspace between your communication channels and your workspaces to hold you back from the distractions.
Client office. No distractions. Mitigation strategy is working.
It is OK to communicate. In the confines of the ongoing task. When looking at PRs I’ll frequent the Slack channel for the given project to ask questions.
Headphones, plain and simple.
Something about wearing headphones at the Novoda office that screams "LEAVE ME ALONE!" that, or "pairing, please come back later" either way it worked. No distractions!