I’ve recently explored a new time management method called The Pomodoro Technique (it’s pretty new, the book’s copyright is 2013). The technique’s name comes from the tomato (pomodoro)-shaped timer that author originally used; use of a timer of some sort is critical to the system. I believe that it is an excellent system for certain people, depending on both the environment and the working style of the person.
The basics of this technique are these: you split your time into (virtually) uninterruptible periods of 25 minutes with breaks in between, and you only get to work on one thing for the period of time (called, surprisingly enough, a ‘pomodoro’). The idea is that this will give you a period of time long enough to get something accomplished and short enough to be able to put other things off until the pomodoro is over.
Will it work for you?
If you are very interrupt-prone, either because of your own internal interruptions or because of environmental interruptions, this might be a method that works well for you. If you have lots of ideas you go scampering after while trying to work on something else this method will give you a way of dealing with that tendency without losing the information (but also without interrupting your current workflow). If you have colleagues who stop by and interrupt you, especially in an open office layout, it’s pretty easy to tell them you’ll get back to them in 25 minutes or less. If you have a habit of deep-ending on things that are not important, this will stop you at the 25 minute mark and give you a chance to think about whether you should pull back.
Obviously if you have a job that is by its very nature interrupt-driven, such as Customer Support, this would be a poor match.If you already have a handle on interruptions, if you do your best work once you get into the flow and work steadily until done, or if you often need to put something down and go think about it this method will probably not work well for you.
Here’s how it works.
You need a timer and three forms:
- To Do Today
- Activity Inventory
At the beginning of the day you pull the tasks you plan to address today from the Activity Inventory, adding them to the To Do Today list.
You’ll need to decide on the length of your pomodoro period. 25 minutes is what the technique’s creator recommends, but per the methodology you can use anywhere from 20-40 minutes. All of your pomodoros must be the same length.
Start the timer and work on the first item on your To Do Today list. If you finish within the first 5 minutes (probably not on the first pomodoro, but it could happen with a continuation of a task later) just write off that pomodoro and start a new one.
If you interrupt yourself with something, mark a ‘ on the today sheet by the task you’re supposed to be working on and write the task you just came up with either on the Activity Inventory (if it’s not urgent and doesn’t need to be done today) or on the Today sheet under the heading Unplanned & Urgent if you feel you have to do it today. Then get back to your original task.
If someone else interrupts you, mark a – on the Today sheet by the task you’re supposed to be working on and write that task either on the Activity Inventory (if it’s not urgent and doesn’t need to be done today), or on the Today sheet under the heading Unplanned & Urgent if you feel you have to do it today. Then get back to your original task.
If you finish the task before the end of the pomodoro, refine or mull over the task until the timer rings.
When the timer rings put down your pencil J. Mark an x by the task you were working on (ok, maybe you need that pencil - and if you finished the task cross it off the Today list) and take a 3-5 minute break. Make it a real break, don’t think deep thoughts or start something new. Then start the next pomodoro. (Note that at the end of the day you’ll know how long you worked on each task by the number of x’s by it, and you’ll know when and how you’re interrupted by the ‘ and – marks.)
After 4 pomodoros take a real break, at least ½ hour.
At the end of the day delete the completed items from the Activity Inventory, fill out the Records, and estimate the number of pomodoros needed to complete any new tasks on the Activity Inventory.
I think this is a great method if it meets your working style and type of work. There are a few things I’d want to adjust, myself. I probably wouldn’t want to do all the record keeping the book outlines, but if you use an app or application to track your work that part is pretty easy and it should help you with your estimating.
I don’t like wasting 15 minutes to ‘mull over or refine’ something I’ve just completed so I would prefer to just start on the next task – my work world doesn’t sort itself into nice 25 minute tasks.
Finally, a ticking timer would drive me – and everyone around me – nuts (but there are actually a slew of pomodoro timer apps). Otherwise, I’m good to go.
- The book is The Pomodoro Technique from Francesco Cirillo.
- There’s a cross-platform application to track your activities called myPomodoro available from SourceForge at http://sourceforge.net/projects/mypomodoro/
- There are a couple of Apple Store apps for managing the process, most notably Focus Time and Smart Pomodoro. There are a slew of timer apps as well.
The Bottom Line
Give it a try if it seems like a good fit, but be sure to let your co-workers know what’s going on to help minimize explanations when you’re interrupted J . Try tracking just with the written sheets for a few days to see if the system works for you; if it does, one of the apps or applications will probably be extremely useful. Finally, adjust the time of your pomodoros to best suit your style, adjust the process itself to be comfortable and useful, and see just how much work you can manage to get done this way.