A few weeks back I wrote about how effective time blocking could be. I typically only have a few opportunities to time block per week (due to the nature of my job) and I try to maximize that time to get all of my lagging projects finished.
One of my co-workers sent me an email about how a software vendor we use maximized their work time and increased efficiency using the Pomodoro Technique. In the 1980s a student by the name of Francesco Cirillo developed this technique, and I am seriously surprised I haven’t heard about it until recently. The basic gist of the technique (copied from wikipedia) follows s below:
- Decide on the task to be done.
- Set the pomodoro timer (traditionally to 25 minutes).
- Work on the task.
- End work when the timer rings and put a checkmark on a piece of paper.
- If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes), then go to step 2.
- After four pomodoros, take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step 1.
The Pomodoro timer is basically a tomato shaped kitchen timer (which basically what the technique is named after) See pic below:
With the magic of technology you don’t even need a kitchen timer anymore. There are several apps available as well as this nifty tool dedicated to making the Pomodoro technique a lot easier to implement called Tomato Timer. https://tomato-timer.com/
I’ve only gotten a chance to use this technique once, but it seems to be very fruitful. The structure lends well to time blocking and the scheduled breaks are a great reprieve from mental strain. The timer feature also is quite motivating. I actually want to do more in that 25 minute time slot to “earn” the 5 minute breaks between the 25 minute time slots. Maybe it’s some sort of psychological trick, or some weird connection to Parkinson’s law (work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion), but it seems to work on me.
The 5 minute breaks in between is great to clear the mind and switch context if working on a series of tasks or different projects, and enough time to settle and re-evaluate if you are working on a larger project that you have chunked out. The 20 minute break is even better as it allows you to relax – knowing that you’ve done your best to maximize the 4 other 25 minute chunks of time (or 1 hour and 40 minutes of work plus 15 minutes of downtime).
While this is great for individual projects, this technique doesn’t play well with the intricacies of collaboration. This becomes more apparent when you are collaborating with multiple people on a single project. I feel like the 25 minute time limit is too short for collaborative efforts, so moving forward I’ll only apply this technique to activities or tasks that I would individually be responsible for completing.
You have to be secure in your number 1 step – meaning you need to know exactly what task you want to get done in the 25 minute Pomodoro. If you deviate from the task it can and will mess up your “Pomodoro flow” which is a term that I totally made up. This takes a lot of discipline to accomplish as there are so many distractions and interruptions that can happen. As Jim Collins states in Good to Great “A culture of discipline is not just about action. It is about getting disciplined people…who engage in disciplined thought and…who then take disciplined action.” You must have in you a culture of discipline for the Pomodoro Technique to work, or at least try to strive for discipline.
Another shortfall that I personally found using this technique is the fact that it doesn’t lend itself to short tasks. What I find helpful is to line up shorter tasks consecutively (if you have a laundry list of them like I usually do), and knock them out until the 25 minutes is up. However the technique itself seems to be geared for single overarching tasks rather than smaller process tasks that may take only 5 – 10 minutes to complete.
Overall I enjoy using the Pomodoro technique and will continue to use it and modify the use of it until I find a better way.
What time management/task management techniques do you use to get your projects done?
Thanks for reading!