My exploration into the Pomodoro Technique
So like a lot of web professionals I’m very interested in the topic of productivity and tools & techniques for improving it. Unfortunately, I often feel like my interest in the subject really doesn’t translate into results. I’m very guilty of procrastination and letting it destroy what could have been a wildly productive day. I’m also a night owl and by association, not a very good morning person.
What is Pomodoro?
Rather than try and confuse you with my interpretation of what the Pomodoro technique is or isn’t I’ll simply provide you with some great posts on the subject that explain it far better than I could:
My Background with Pomodoro
I’d heard about the Pomodoro technique plenty of times over the past couple of years, from reading productivity specific blogs to listening to podcasts and interviews with wildly productive and influential people like Matt Mullenweg and Tim Ferris. My initial thoughts were something like: “Oh that’s a nifty idea, but I’m skeptical at how that really works in practice. How do you deal with tasks of different length”. My mentality with a lot of stuff is to think about what doesn’t or won’t work about something rather than focusing on what does work which leads me to miss out on trying and adopting great things into my workflow.
So fast forward to this week after hearing the Pomodoro technique mentioned again at a talk at WordCamp US I decided to stop making excuses and actually try it. After some quick research and decision making I decided on the tools I would use:
I found a cool little Chrome extension called “Strict Workflow” which provides a 25-minute timer that also blocks a user definable list of distraction sites followed by a 5-minute break timer.
To track tasks I opted to use something I was already very familiar with. I set up a Trello board with lists for Future/Week/Today/Now/Done tasks and use the coloured labels to show how many Pomodoro’s were done on a task (starting with Green = 1 I worked down to Blue = 6+). Simple and effective for my purpose of getting started quickly.
Goal: to achieve 40 Pomodoro’s per week (approximately 16.7 hours of highly focused work)
My First Week:
Even with the goal of getting onto the computer and hitting the ground running with this technique I still spent the first part of day 1 doing the usual multi-tasking: checking through emails, checking facebook, looking into random bits and pieces. After about half an hour when I felt mentally ‘caught up’ enough with what I’ve got going on I decided to kick off my first Pomodoro timer. Having that clock running put pressure on me, good pressure, instead of the mentality that I can do any of my tasks anytime because I’m my own boss and I’ve got all day/night to do things I was pushed down into “I’ve only got 25minutes to do this task!”. I bogged down and got the core task complete within the 25 minutes while an ancillary task I moved onto didn’t get completed in the time period so I added that to Trello as a new task to come back to.
Throughout the week I had spurs of success using my pomodoro timer along with sessions where I would forget about it or get drawn back into multitasking through different tasks rendering my pomodoro’s invalid. I also found it easy to get lost in distractions during the 5 minute break time between pomodoro’s and forget/be unwilling to jump back into a pomodoro at the end of the break. Ultimately, this comes down to practice and strength of will to push yourself back into focused work.
Overall for my first week I managed 18 successful Pomodoros which I feel is an ok start. The real challenge will be improving on this number to get it up to the goal of 40.
Thoughts & Lessons
- Pomodoro provides a simple and actionable way to approach getting things done that doesn’t overcomplicate itself.
- By forcing you to work within time chunks you can actively start to reclaim the hours in the day that are lost to task switching.
- Pomodoro gives you a reason to actively avoid distractions like calls / emails / facebook notifications.
- Like anything, it takes practice and committment to adopt successfully
- The more complete and documented your task/to-do list is the easier you’ll find it to select tasks to work on in your pomodoro.
UPDATE: Since starting with this method I’ve come across a very handy free Web/Chome/Phone app called Pomotodo. As I haven’t managed to stick with a to-do application for more than a month in the past I’m hoping that this solution that ties your to-do list tightly into the pomodoro timer will keep me actually using it. It’s also really handy having the chrome extension where during a pomodoro if I discover a new task I can quickly jot it down into pomotodo and keep on with the task at hand.