The Pomodoro Technique

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.