Tracking Time with Tomatoes?!
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management system. Unlike GTD it is not a complex task management system, it merely focuses on the time. Francesco Cirillo, who first formulated this approach, used a mechanical kitchen timer in the shape of a tomato to track his name, hence the name. The idea is simple:
- Choose a task (or continue the last one).
- Eliminate all interruptions, and focus working on this task for 25 minutes (this interval is called a pomodoro).
- Take a 5 minute break.
- Rinse and repeat. After 4 pomodoros, take a longer break.
I’ve started experimenting with this time management system in the last couple of days and so far it seems to work well for me
My Tool: Instead of a mechanical kitchen timer, I’m using an Android application called Pomodroido on my smartphone. The advantage of this app over a simple timer is that it has a built-in, but customizable work-break schedule. Also, it shows some motivating hints about productivity and statistics; it even uses some game mechanics.
There’s a couple of things I like about the technique:
- The emphasis is on focused work! In fact you are supposed to void a pomodoro in case of any distraction. There are many tasks which require your complete focus and distractions can be a huge productivity killer (Jason Fried from 37signals, about whom I wrote earlier, talks a lot about this as well).
- I tend to fall into procrastination when I have many things to do and don’t know where to start, because each task feels like the most important one. With a time management like the Pomodoro Technique, you can just get started on any of the tasks and delay your decision what to do next or to switch tasks into the next break. It doesn’t ensure the truly most important thing gets done, but it ensures at least something gets done. It is a similar “mind hack” like what I described in the 10 Minute Tidy Up. It’s also good to do the things which can be done in 25 minutes but always end up undone, because knowing you can do something else after half an hour makes it easier to get started on unpleasant work.
- There are regular breaks. In my opinion this makes it easier to focus during your pomodoro, because a temptation like “I should quickly check my Facebook” is easier to resist if you know you can do it as soon as the timer rings.
- Actually, the 5 minute breaks are perhaps the most interesting part of the pomodoro technique. Getting up from your desk and stepping outside the door is something that really feels refreshing, but it’s something you usually don’t do on a regular basis. And the best thing is that it is happening without guilt, because you know (and have a timer to ensure that) you’ll return to work in 5 minutes. If you do nothing in your break, you’ll notice how long and relaxing 5 minutes can be. But if you do some small things (e.g. checking your mails), you’ll also learn (and possibly be surprised by) what you can achieve with a few minutes to spare.
As you see, I’m very positive about this right now. But it never works 100%, especially if you are not “a lone wolf” but have to synchronize your time with others. I may also experiment with alternate durations, but if I do that I’ll surely write a follow-up post.