Playing with Pomodoro

I have recently been experimenting with the Pomodoro Technique after seeing it referenced in a tweet from @david_harvey. Basically the technique is to split your time into 25 minute intervals (a ‘Pomodoro’), to focus exclusively on the task in hand for the duration of the Pomodoro, and then to take a 3-5 minute break. Every four Pomodoros, take a longer break and at the end of every day do a bit of reflection of what you’ve learned or achieved. There are a few more practices than these (see the free eBook) but this is the core of it.

I decided to have a go after realising that I was spending quite a lot of my day looking at stuff but never really getting to much done. I’d start investigating some new idea I’d had and then would get an email pointing me to an interesting blog post; I’d go and follow the link and then a few tweets would arrive that just had to be @replied to. Or else I’d get caught up in looking at something interesting and then discover that I’d spent the whole afternoon on it and hadn’t done any of the other things I’d planned [many of these are household chores … I’m taking an 18 month sabbatical from work and explaining to my wife that the house is a tip because I was ‘too busy’ to tidy up isn’t a situation I want to get myself into]. Using the technique I ignore emails, IMs and tweets until the end of the Pomodoro and do a bit of simple prioritisation at the start of the day to make sure I get the stuff I have to do done as well as the stuff I’d like to do. 

It seems to me that Pomodoro brings the elegance of XP planning to personal time management: simple, effective, easy to adopt practices that help you to spend your time on getting stuff done. It’s mainly targeted at those with a difficult task to complete and a deadline to meet but in some ways I find it more helpful on those occasions when I don’t.

Of course I’m never happy just adopting something, I usually have to adapt it too. My modifications:

  1. Pausing a Pomodoro. According to the technique a Pomodoro shouldn’t be interrupted and should be scrapped if an interrupt can’t be avoided. This is almost certainly the best approach in any situation other than mine. As with not being too busy to do chores, I don’t want to be too busy to talk to people who call me or call in on me.
  2. Different length Pomodos. According to the technique a Pomodoro is always 25 minutes and this works for me for most type of tasks. For things I hate doing like accounts or expenses its just too long and I’m more likely to schedule the task if I split it up into 15 or even 10 minute Pomodoros. Might not be the most efficient but at least actually get it done. For coding alone I find a 55 minute Pomorodo works better; 25 minutes is just too short.

All I can say is, it works for me. The only downside is I feel a little like the character from Nick Hornby’s About a Boy who has never had to work and splits his day into 30 minute activities to avoid going mad from boredom. As long as I don’t start going to single parent groups to pick up women or develop a Hugh Grant stutter I’ll be all right.


One thought on “Playing with Pomodoro

  1. Piran

    So, as I’m also taking down-time at the moment, I’ve done some reading and thinking about Pomodoro, and previously Get Things Done (GTD):

    What I like about GTD is that it works to give you a handle-turning approach. There’s no question about what I should be doing next, it’s the next thing at the top of the list. There’s no problem about the list, because I spend the first part of each day ordering my list and planning my activities.

    This is also what I like about the XP system: the iteration plan is where we work out what’s to be done. The next thing to do is the next card on the board, and the next smaller thing to do is to fix the test that’s not running.

    In my current down time, I moved towards a large scale pomodoro. I wanted to use my spare time to catch up on a lot of small at home tasks, but also to visit some exhibitions, friends, places etc. Initially, a day would start with the intention of doing a large thing, if I could just clear the small items first. By mid-afternoon time, my list of small items had shrunk, but the day was getting too short to head out. And all that time I’d been thinking about when I was going.

    Now, I operate a day-in/day-out. I spend the whole of one day on at-home tasks: emails, reading, coding, admin. The next day I am out, and won’t do any of the above.

    Perhaps the biggest problem I foresee with the Pomodoro technique is its rigidity in breaking the Pomodoro. That’s why I started I writing this comment, and that’s why I’ve got thirty seconds to finish it. I finished reading the Pomodoro book 15 minutes into my 25 minute slot, and I had to do something to fill up the last 10 minutes!


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