bowl of tomatoes from my garden

some thoughts on pomodoro

Can a kitchen timer help your focus? Can a book about this simple technique improve your understanding? Should you read it?

Yes. However, as with all productivity techniques there are those that think it’s a bunch of rotten tomatoes and others who believe it is the answer to all their problems.

I take a more balanced approach. Yes, I believe that there are valuable lessons found in this technique, however, I think it best to adapt it to work for your situation.

Last week as I read the new and revised edition of the Pomodoro Technique book, I found some parts clicking that hadn’t before (and no it wasn’t the subtle tick of a timer). My work has shifted over the past year and I’ve taken on different roles and responsibilities. Lately I’ve struggled to look at my task list, available time blocks, and estimate if something will take me five minutes or five hours. If it’s the later, I often feel compelled to sit glued to my desk for that entire time and not take a break even if I want another cup of tea. It’s created an environment that’s not very healthy for either myself or my work.

What is it

The essence of the pomodoro technique is quite simple. Take a humble kitchen timer, set it for 25 minutes, and work until it rings. During each session, make a note of any and all interruptions. After the timer ends, enjoy a short five minute break. Once four of these sessions are completed, take a longer break.

It sounds simple. There are some additional suggestions developed by Circillo and many take these as rules written in stone. They believe that it’s best to ignore the technique completely because they can never be bent. I disagree.

I’m an adult, do I need a timer?

Some people take issue with the timer and the pavlovian response it evokes. Personally I love it and have worked with timers for years. The 25 minute span is different from how I normally break up my time. As I’m reevaluating the technique I find this change in time span helps to focus my work. While it’s nice to get in the zone and be focused on a task for hours and hours, I know from hard earned experience that my work benefits from short breaks.

Interrupt…

The interruptions log is one of my favourite parts. When I believed that being active in social media would be the answer to my networking issues, instead of scheduling time to focus on it, I would constantly open and close tabs to social media sites in my web browser so to be engaged, even when I was attempting to focus on a completely different task. As I began my focus on deep work, I realized how harmful this habit was for my goals. Even though these were brief interruptions, I couldn’t seem to change what I did. Yes, I logged out of sites and blocked network access. What was effective and assisting me in modifying my behaviour? Recording a mark of each time I tried to check while I was working. Seeing a long list of marks and knowing that while they were quick interruptions of less than a minute, there was attention residue left each time that was affecting the quality of my work.

But if I don’t do it all I don’t do it at all

Others take issue with the all or nothing approach. For example I finished a task within the first few minutes, I need to continue on that Pomodoro for the entire twenty five minute session. It’s suggested to review or refine during that session instead of stopping the timer and moving to a new task. I believe it depends on the task and the attention residue that could stick to the item that’s next on the list if time that’s already been allocated isn’t fully used. For example, I often write posts by the seat of my pants, and press publish moments after I finish editing. So being told I have additional time to refine is often helpful for me.

Review!

It should come as no surprise that I love the recording and review aspects. To me this is common sense, and shouldn’t surprise anyone reading here that I like to write things down. I understand that review is annoying, why think about a task you’ve already completed, there are other things you could do. However, review and introspection are important for making progress and understanding how you work.

PEN at work suggestions for implementation

This quirky technique now offers a shiny new and expanded book to explain it. I urge you to read it and try it as suggested for a week. During your weekly review session, set aside some extra time evaluate what aspects of it fit into your life. I’m in the process of modifying my work log so I can better record time spent on an activity against my original estimation.

bowl of tomatoes from my gardenYou may decide this technique is bunk, or that it’s amazing. Circillo developed and standardized this system and finds it works best for him. The technique differs in large parts from the system I use but also is similar in many ways. It is important to remember you may work and think differently from others, what works for me may not work for you.

The overall advice is good the ultimate parts that you choose to implement are up to you. Not using a technique as it was designed does not make you more or less productive than anyone else. The magic is to find what works for you and be consistent and diligent in how you implement it.

Learn more about the the Pomodoro Technique online and in book form.

For the curious, I estimated that this post would take 4 pomodoro timers to draft and edit. It took five. What can I change? I need to spend more time at the outline stage and take care of structural edits earlier.