Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Pomodoro Technique

Why Pomodoro

If you read my previous post you may have noticed a brief mention of the fact that I'm an adult with ADHD. As such, I'm not quite what one would consider a master of productivity. I do things to try to stay on task, I take my little pill daily, I do what I can. The fact is I'm still scatterbrained as hell, and staying focused on things is not among my strongest skills. I get by, I work hard, I think outside the box, and that generally does a pretty good job of getting me by. 
A couple of years back I was attending a Java developer's conference and I ended up having some free slots for time management seminars. One happened to specifically deal with something called the Pomodoro Technique. It sounded interesting, I took some notes, downloaded a couple of Android apps to evaluate, and promptly forgot about it (as I occasionally do) for a few weeks. Eventually I noticed the apps I'd downloaded and thought I'd finally give it a shot. Looking at the basics and reviewing my notes I went for it and was blown away by the success of the experiment. I was hooked, or about as close to hooked as I can get on anything like this. 

What is Pomodoro

A Brief History

The Pomodoro Technique was invented in 1786 by Antonio Del Pomodorio, the Tomato Butcher of Palermo, when he realized that...never mind, that's something else altogether.

At it's most basic, the Pomodoro Technique is a time management practice that involves breaking a task in to time based chunks of 25 minutes each. Each of these is referred to as a "Pomodoro." Once you've decided on your Pomodoros you work uninterrupted for a stretch of 25 minutes. Then you take a break for 10 minutes. You force yourself to break from the work and go Facebook, read the news, get a glass of water, pee, whatever. After the break back at it for any remaining Pomodoros. If you find yourself completing the task before the end of the 25 minutes (this part is harder than it sounds) you force yourself to review your work for the remainder of the Pomodoro. Then you end. Ideally you should not break a Pomodoro early, not even to pee, but let's be real. It ain't life and death. If you have to take a leak pause the timer and go take a leak. Interruptions should be treated in the following manner: stop what you're working on, take a note of the interruption...I like to use Wunderlist...and go back to work. When you're done with your planned Pomodoros review the interruptions and make more Pomodoros. Apply to any task.
It's great. 25 minutes can be tough for me, but it's a reasonable amount of time. I find the 10 minute break helps me to retain focus during the working phase, and when I'm actually doing the technique my productivity noticeably goes up, and I find myself fighting myself less to stay on task.
In reality I don't do this nearly as much as I'd like for a couple of reasons. First, I have to remember to plan for it and execute on it, and if we refer back we'll remember that those are not among my greatest skills. Second, and really the biggest obstacle is the fact that I manage a small development team in an "open, collaborative" environment. No walls, no privacy, and in addition to the tasks that I have to personally execute, I find that my interruptions are frequent and never just a few seconds. Admittedly, this is probably my fault, but it is what it is.
If you really want to know the deep dark dirties of The Pomodoro Technique you can go here.  Learn it, love it, and become a Pomodoro Jedi. For me, though, the simple path works.

Finally, some tools to make things a little easier. I'm an Android user. I don't know if the apps are available on other platforms, and to be frank, I don't care...I'm an Android user...That said, there's a nice little Pomodoro timer I use: This app. It's got all the necessary features and is quite easy to use. For dealing with interruptions, as I mentioned, I use Wunderlist.