30.06.2009

Pomodoro Technique Revisited

Three months ago I stumbled across a time management system called ‘The Pomodoro Technique’. I really liked it due to the immediate productivity gains it gave me. I thought I’d follow that blog post up with my current impression of the technique, now that I’ve used it for a while. Todays blog entry will make more sense if you read my the original post first.

pomodoroTechniqueLogo

Recap

The idea of the Pomodoro Technique is that you work in timeboxed intervals of 25 minutes. Each interval is called a “Pomodoro” (tomato). Once you’ve completed a pomodoro you make a note of it, and take a five minute break. After four pomodoros you take a longer break.

The Good

I’m ultra focused when I work on tasks using this system. I initially found the ticking egg timer somewhat distracting and stressful, but that passed after a week or two. Once I start the clock I’m usually able to enter a state of flow really quickly.

I’ve repeatedly seen clear benefits from the self-enforced breaks; they sometimes make me step back, rethink and adjust what I’m working on. This has prevented me from going too far down some potentially time-consuming dead ends.

Recording completed pomodoros forces me to document and take stock of how much time I spend on different tasks. This provides historical data which really helps when I estimate similar future tasks.

“I’m going to complete a few eggs, dear” has become a catchphrase at home (eggs = egg timers / pomodoros). It’s a clear way of communicating to my fiancè that I’m setting aside a concrete amount of time for work. This lets her know exactly when I’ll emerge from my cave again. :)

The Bad

It’s hard to stop working once the egg timer rings. This is especially noticeable if I’m almost done with a task; it’s very tempting to put a few more minutes in before I take that break. Of course, those “few minutes” sometimes end up taking an hour or two…

The technique forces me into a certain mindset. I become really focused and efficient, which is great for concrete, well planned tasks. It’s not always suitable for more reflective and explorative work, though. I find I do better at things like research, brainstorming, design and general planning when I’m not under the gun of my egg timer.

I have not used the technique seriously at my dayjob yet. I’m not using a mechanical timer there, since a ringing egg timer would be quite distracting for my coworkers (several of us share an office). One solution: use headphones combined with a software-based timer instead. Unfortunately, I find tools like mytomatoes.com much less effective than a mechanical clock; the “break” audio signal is far less noticable, and it’s often lost on me because I take off my headphones or listen to music while working.

Conclusion

The Pomodoro technique has boosted my productivity, and I highly encourage more software developers to try it out. I will keep using it for my side projects. It has been less useful at my dayjob, but I’m going to try to adapt it to work well there as well.


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