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The Pomodoro Technique – Scrum in the small

Over the past month I’ve been experimenting with the pomodoro technique of time management to great success.

The technique is surprisingly simple; yet I’ve found it contains a wealth of physical and emotional benefits. To give some context; I’m using it as a programmer as part of a agile scrum team. I typically program using TDD techniques. That being said, I don’t see why it wouldn’t be applicable in most “desk” based jobs.

A pomodoro is a unit of focused, uninterrupted time; measured by an egg timer. For me, 25 minutes works well.

At the beginning of my work day, I write a collection of tasks that I think I achieve during the day onto a fresh piece of paper. (my todo list). I estimate how long I think each task will take in units of a pomodoros. Next to each task I put a number of boxes; one for each pomodoro unit. I make sure not to have more pomodoro units than I achieved yesterday; and I try to make sure that I’m estimating tasks based on how long similar tasks actually took me in the past.

Then I wind up my egg timer, place it visibly on my desk and begin the first task. The ritual of winding up the timer, placing it down and hearing it tick helps me to drop into the zone of full concentration – and let my team know that they shouldn’t interrupt me.

Brrrriiinng. Pomodoro up, finish the current test and stop. Cross out one of the boxes on my todo list. Get up and leave my desk; stretch, drink some water, focus on something far away to relax the eyes, go and speak to anyone who came past during my pomodoro time & was waived away.

Then back to the desk, reassess which is now the most important task to get one with, and start the next pomodoro.

At the end of the day I transcribe the results of my todo list back to a records sheet; update our project management software (VersionOne); and leave, satisfied that I achieved what I set out to do.

I’ve found that running my day like this greatly increases my job satisfaction & efficiency.

Firstly; I’m breaking my addition to hopium, and setting myself up to fail every day. I used to live in this lala land called – I have 8 hours of productive work time each day. The empirical reality shows that I usually do 5 – 8 pomodoro units / day – so much more like 3 – 4 hours. The rest gets gobbled up by meetings, emails, conversations. So its no wonder that I used to achieved half what I thought I would each day; and left work feeling disappointed.

Secondly, having a forced reset every 25 mins really helps me to stop falling down rabbit holes. I’ll often be trying to solve a problem with a specific technique that just isn’t working, and if I’m not careful I can spend a whole afternoon bashing my head against a wall. With the forced breaks, I’ll often find that when I sit back down to the problem, I’ll have a flash of inspiration for a much simpler way to solve it, or realise that I don’t even need to solve it in the first place!

Thirdly, being reminded to get away from my desk frequently really helps physically. I’ve experienced much less “mouse shoulder” and dry eyes.

The technique is also really helpful when pairing; keeping meetings from rambling; keeping focussed on one task (rather than having to check email or twitter every 10 seconds) and getting going on a large daunting task.

If you struggle with hopium like me; I’d really encourage you to give the Pomodori technique a try for 2 weeks, and let me know how you get on in the comments to this post.

Brrriiinng :)



  • Reply Raph |

    Thanks for pointing out an interesting technique.

    I’ve also implemented it with success (I set realistic goals and achieve them – imagine that). If you want to improve on something you have to measure it, and this technique is simple enough to do that without a huge administrative overhead.

    The technique has helped me in two ways:

    (1) It helps me avoid what I call “exploring dead ends”. I often look back at my work day and wish I could have taken the straightest path from start to finish, rather than wasting time exploring non-viable options – what you call “falling down rabbit holes”. The Pomodoro technique breaks the cycle of working hard to follow a dead end by enforcing breaks, and forces me to ask “is this really where I want to head?”.

    (2) It’s given me a new perspective on how much “productive” work I can accomplish during a day. Knowing I have very limited Pomodoro units (I average 5 25-minute units daily) means I deploy them guardedly and to only the most important projects for the day/week. I’m forced to identify unimportant tasks to cut them from my schedule.

    What comprises a Pomodoro for me?

    I’m playing with the level of concentration that constitutes a Pomodoro. I’ve found that the higher I set the bar, the fewer units I have available, and the scarcer they become. When they’re really scarce I nurture them by carefully planning my approach, and pre-process some of the information. Revising the concentration requirement down and I get more units, that take up a lot of the “pre-processing”.

So, what do you think ?