30 Day Experiment with Pomodoro 4

Posted by Warner Onstine on October 25, 2009

I decided to try out the Pomodoro Technique after hearing various people mention it (can’t remember who first mentioned it – maybe Peldi from Balsamiq?) and I just recently saw the book announced on Pragmatic Programmers. Last Thursday I finally sat down and read the free PDF book on the Web site (good introduction and gave me all the tools I needed).

Why am I trying out the Pomodoro Technique? (And other GTD techniques I’ve tried)

Before I dive into the how, I want to dive into the why of trying this technique out. I’ve struggled with time management for years; I’ve tried a variety of techniques, including:

With GTD I had all the folders laid out, I created my giant list. In fact I did this several times in order to try and truly “do” the system. But even all the gadgets, software programs, etc. couldn’t make me want to do the system. It was too much for me, it really was. The system got weedy and I stopped using it.

Then along came the Scheduled Procrastination, where you work on something for 15-20 minutes, take a break for 5 minutes and then do another stretch. This is similar to the Pomodoro Technique, but instead of stopping at 25 minutes if you feel the desire to keep working you keep working. What happens is that after doing a few 15 minute stints you get on a roll with what you’re doing and you don’t want to stop.

Then came the Autofocus system. I’ve been through all the various iterations of the system. With each iteration I was like, “Oh this will work much better than the last one!” (My wife got tired of hearing that one I’m sure.) I used this in conjunction with the Scheduled Procrastination at work (along with a variation of Treadmill Journaling to track my progress on tasks). But old items I didn’t want to touch got shuffled around and still ended up on the back-burner for so long they got neglected.

What are some of the reasons why I am trying to improve my time management skills in the first place? The truth of the matter is I’m a huge procrastinator. There, I admitted it to whole blogosphere. Unfortunately, I don’t feel any better about it. Another reason is to actually finish some of my personal projects. There are a ton of these that I’ve left in my wake that I started and never went back to because they got hard or there was something shinier elsewhere. Both of these aren’t good qualities to have as a software developer, or as a potential startup partner. So, ultimately, I want to get better.

Why will this be any different?

Now, here I am with the Pomodoro Technique. Why do I think this time will be any different? This time I’m going to make a concerted effort to try this. From what I’ve heard it takes at least 30 days to instill a new habit, so I’m starting with the goal of doing this for a full 30 days. Second, and most importantly, I’ve laid out some very specific goals and will be tracking the progress of those goals throughout this experiment.

  1. Better management of my time while at work
  2. Be more productive at work
  3. Minimize distractions at work
    • E-mail
    • Interruptions from co-workers
    • Instant Messages
  4. Managing my non-work, non-free time
    • Homework
    • Open Source projects I’m working on/participating in
    • Business ideas/work
  5. Unstructured Time – making sure that I have enough unstructured, free time to recharge my mental batteries

What attracts me to the Pomodoro Technique? There are several things I like:

  1. Structured and Un-structured time – this concept really appeals to me
  2. Focus on one thing until it’s done – Autofocus kept me hopping from one little task after another until they were magically done. The procrastinator in me liked this, but it didn’t work for me at all – stuff never got “finished”.
  3. The Pomodoro (time-unit of 25 minutes) cannot be broken – I like this a lot. It really forces you to sit down and focus on one thing (or 2 or 3 little things) to bang them out. So far I feel really accomplished with this.
  4. Mini-breaks, followed by a longer break after 4 Pomodoros – this gives me the opportunity to catch up with Twitter, E-mail, IMs, etc. and gives me a nice mental break from the task at hand. This goes hand-in-hand with what I’ve been reading and following (roughly) for a while now. Helps me to recharge a little in-between things, but keeps me on track with finishing stuff.

My implementation of the system

I’ve chosen to implement this using some minor modifications:

  • Digital Timer (instead of the ticking analog timer) – For a couple of reasons:
    • It’s a visual reminder of the time I have left.
    • I wouldn’t be able to hear the ticking anyway since I work with headphones on most of the time.
    • It’s a visual and aural reminder to my co-workers that I’m “on a Pomodoro” so please don’t bother me unless it’s urgent. Admittedly, this will take some work, as everyone feels free to interrupt at any time in my workplace (including myself). I’ll be explaining this to them tomorrow when I setup everything.
    • It has a dual-timer function on it so I can set one for my break as well as my Pomodoro.
  • For now I’m using the paper templates provided on the site. As I get more used to the system, I’ll be reincorporating it into OmniFocus in some fashion. I’ll detail what I come up with when I do it.
  • Excel spreadsheet for tracking progress with specific tasks and Pomodoro compliance.

Being accountable

Over the next few weeks I’ll be putting up a weekly recap on this (going to shoot for Sundays to keep this to a schedule). I’ll post up some of my Pomodoro pages and some of my tracking results as well to keep myself honest and let others see how they can work with the system. If you haven’t already, download the book (or buy the Pragmatic Programmer book – “Pomodoro Technique Illustrated“), get a timer (I personally like the idea of something physical I have to work with, but there are several apps/widgets that will do this for you too) and get back to work!

If you’ve tried Pomodoro in the past, I’d love to hear your impressions on it in the comments below!

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  1. [...] promised I’d update everyone with my progress using the Pomodoro Technique, so here it is. This reporting covers the period from last Friday, Oct. 23rd, to Thursday, Oct. [...]

  2. [...] here is week 2 as promised of my “30 Day Experiment with Pomodoro” (Part 1 – Why I’m doing this, Part 2 – Week 1 recap). This covers Friday, Oct. 30th – Thursday, Nov. 5th. First, I [...]

  3. Haider Thu, 03 Dec 2009 09:45:25 GMT+6

    Do you mean structured procrastination? The original site, I believe, is: structuredprocrastination.com

    To be perfectly honest with you, I believe “time management” and “being productive” are extremely vague and, therefore, meaningless expressions. They certainly shouldn't be what we aspire towards or make our focus.

    You're a software developer. You don't want to be productive. You want to build software (given the context of your occupation). “Being productive” isn't a vivid image or a specific target. Building feature X, on the other hand, or writing the CSS for the login page is clearer. You know what it involves and looks like.

    Rather than ask yourself whether you're being productive or not, ask yourself more specific questions about your work and what you intend to do. If you were to re-write the “Why will this be any different?” section with specific projects/activities for each list item, what would they be? You don't have to share them over here, but I think you'll find it much easier dealing with tangibles than aiming to “be productive.”

  4. Haider Thu, 03 Dec 2009 16:45:00 GMT+6

    Do you mean structured procrastination? The original site, I believe, is: structuredprocrastination.com

    To be perfectly honest with you, I believe “time management” and “being productive” are extremely vague and, therefore, meaningless expressions. They certainly shouldn’t be what we aspire towards or make our focus.

    You’re a software developer. You don’t want to be productive. You want to build software (given the context of your occupation). “Being productive” isn’t a vivid image or a specific target. Building feature X, on the other hand, or writing the CSS for the login page is clearer. You know what it involves and looks like.

    Rather than ask yourself whether you’re being productive or not, ask yourself more specific questions about your work and what you intend to do. If you were to re-write the “Why will this be any different?” section with specific projects/activities for each list item, what would they be? You don’t have to share them over here, but I think you’ll find it much easier dealing with tangibles than aiming to “be productive.”

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