May 30, 2009

Pomodoro

I finally gave up and went with the hype. I admit it, I bought my first piece of Apple hardware. It wasn’t even as expensive as I thought it would be and its shiny. I always had a soft spot for brushed stainless steel.

Here it is, my first Apple product. IMG_1746

So why am I blogging about a kitchen utensil you might ask? Well, actually this fruity piece of stainless steel is a productivity enhancer. Let me explain.

Focusing your work is often hard. And many tasks, like programming, need focus. Lots has been written about how interruptions from telephones, coworkers or managers will ruin productivity. But there’s a dirty little secret here. Even when you leave them alone most programmers are perfectly capable of interrupting their own work. They read blogs, have a chat at the coffee machine or read email. Having some time to wind down between work is of course good but but only when you’re able to do focused work in between those distractions.

Part of the problem is that our expectations about ourselves are too high. We expect ourselves to be able to do hours and hours of work. In exceptional circumstances this is possible, when you get into the mythical state of ‘flow’ time just flies by and todo-lists shrink at an alarming rate. But in most circumstances you need short periods to rest your mind in between work. The trick is to keep those rest-periods short and to really focus during work.

Enter the pomodoro. Or in my case a stainless steel apple-timer.

The idea comes from Francesco Cirillo who had the same problem us programmers have when studying. Days of study would fly by but when he looked back at what he accomplished during those study he was usually underwhelmed. In order to improve matters he used a tomato shaped kitchen-timer to keep an eye on time. He lives in Italy where a tomato is called a pomodoro and so the pomodoro technique was born.

Francesco realized he needed to do things to be able to focus, time his work-periods and rest-periods and write them down to be able to see if he improved. The technique is actually really simple, just simple enough to work.

The first thing is to achieve focus. You can do this by splitting up your time into periods of focused work with rest-periods in between. The pomodoro technique uses 25 minute work-periods with 5 minute rest-stops in between. After 4 of these you get a longer rest-period.

To make sure you know what you need to do in these periods you need to keep a couple of simple lists. First you need to make a to-do list of the tasks you plan to do during the day. Just write down several tasks on a piece of paper. Set your timer to 25 minutes and start working. When the timer rings you mark a successful pomodoro and take a 5 minute break, you can talk to a colleague go to the bathroom.

The real trick is dealing with interruptions. Normally this is the hard part. Most interruptions can’t be delayed indefinitely. But because your pomodoro is only 25 minutes long you can often delay interruptions till the next break. Write it down, mark an interruption and continue the pomodoro.

If you want to know more about this check out these resources

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