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The Pomodoro Technique

Posted in Goals, Personal, Posts by

I discovered Getting Things Done back in the summer of 2006, just after I graduated from college and moved to San Francisco. Since then, I’ve used it on and off to manage my time and my tasks. I’ve learned a lot about myself and how I work in the process, which I’ll detail in a future post. But one of the biggest things I’ve learned is that GTD is not made for procrastinators. There’s this inherent assumption in GTD that you really WANT to get things done, but you just don’t have tasks organized or defined well enough. David Allen’s assertion that procrastination stems from a lack of definition in what needs to be done is probably true to some extent for some people, but it’s definitely not the whole story. For example, my sink is often full of dirty dishes that I’m putting off taking care of. It’s not that I need more definition in the task, it’s just that I don’t want to do it. Additionally, some tasks are so complicated that it takes almost as long to define them as do them. This is particularly true in web development, where you need to hunt down a bug or explore some kind of new technique. You could spend an hour defining exactly what you need to do (which would probably be wrong) or you could just jump in and do it.

The jumping in and doing is where I often get tripped up. As a result, stuff sits on my task lists for too long, the task lists get too cluttered, so I stop looking at them, which means that my system is no longer a trusted system, and I’ve lost the whole point of GTD. Lame.

Enter the Pomodoro Technique. The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method similar to timeboxing that was invented by Francesco Cirillo. You can read all about it in this paper (44 pages, but highly recommended) or in this condensed blog post version, but the gist of it is:

  1. use a kitchen timer to track your time
  2. work in iterations of 25 minutes with 5 minute breaks (one pomodoro)
  3. every four pomodoros, take a 25-30 min break
  4. once you start a pomodoro, you must finish it
  5. plan out your day and what you want to accomplish
  6. estimate how many pomodoros each task will take
  7. minimize interruptions
  8. change your plans as needed
  9. record how many pomodoros each task takes
  10. learn from your mistakes and do better next time

Pretty simple, right? So I’m giving it a try. I got a mechanical kitchen timer and it’s ticking away right now. I’ve noticed an immediate boost in my productivity…whether it lasts is another story.

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  • http://blog.notifixio.us Julien

    That Pomodoro technique works for me! http://www.ouvre-boite.com/2008/07/09/being-produ

  • http://benrasmusen.com/ Ben Rasmusen

    In reading through the PDF on the subject it seems to put an emphasis on doing this on paper and using a physical timer and not doing anything electronic until one of the last steps (adding the stats into a spreadsheet).

    Do you have any insight on the advantages to doing it that way? Is it integral to the success of this system? Or could software be used instead of using the physical items. Example: a visible timer on your computer and recording interruption items in your GTD software of choice.

    Just a thought, maybe you have some insight. Great post, thanks for sharing. I look forward to trying this out.

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  • http://matteo.vaccari.name/ xpmatteo

    @Ben: using a physical timer helps because it's outside your computer screen. I spend too much time concentrated in it, and the kitchen timer pulls me out and calls me back to reality. Also, the act of physically turning it to load the spring is fun. And the ticking tells me I didn't forgot to load it.

    One other important thing: you can put it where you (and your pair if you're pair programming) can look at it and always know how much time is left. (otherwise you have to devote screen space to it, and I don't like that.)


  • kbsamurai

    Came across this post and wondered if you stuck with this and how it worked out? I have used very methods of GTD flavor for a while, but still struggle with just exactly what you are describing. It sounds like it has something in common with how Neil Fiore suggests to implement his "unschedule". see here http://www.minezone.org/wiki/MVance/NowHabit

  • http://www.focusboosterapp.com Gavin

    If you want to try a digital pomodoro timer give focus booster a shot. It's a free download from http://www.focusboosterapp.com – it works on Mac and Windows.

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  • ccidral

    For those looking for a desktop timer app, take a look at Tomighty: http://tomighty.org

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  • http://www.pomodorium.com kime

    http://www.pomodorium.com – pomodoro technique based GAME. :)

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