I was reading Robert Martin's excellent "Clean Coder" and he mentions a productivity tool called the "Pomodoro Technique". The premise is simple. Work for 25 minutes, then take a 5 minute break. During a 25 minute period (called a Pomodoro), you concentrate on one and only one task. If you are interrupted, you deal with it once the 25 minutes is up. Sounded simple and I was looking for a way to increase my productivity.
The first day that I tried it, I was enlightened and shocked. First, I was amazed how much progress I could make on a task in 25 minutes. I loved the 5 minute breaks for short walks. But, I was shocked how little productive time I got done in that first day. I only got through four Pomodoros. The rest of my day was meetings and helping my team mates. But, in that time, I got more accomplished than the previous day.
I kept doing my work for the rest week using this simple technique. I discovered that I loved working this way. First, it was an effective way to manage interruptions. Instead of addressing an interruption immediately, I would simply delay until the end of the current Pomodoro. After a few days, everyone got the swing of it and supported me. Another one was taking the break in the middle of a task that spanned multiple Pomodoros. At first, it was hard and wanted to keep on working. But, I decided to stick with the program. What I found was that a lot of times, just the 5 minutes to walk away when I came back, my work would take surprising turns. It forced me to evaluate where I wanted to go at the beginning of the next Pomodoro. By the end of the week, I was getting more work done, tracking better on my estimates, and felt better about the work I was getting done even the number of Pomodoros was low. I was marking more tasks off my to do list than ever before.
The next week I decided to read Pomodoro Technique Illustrated and the free ebook. And I made adjustments to how I was doing it based on what was in those books. When I got in the morning, I looked at my to do list and prioritized what I needed to get done that day. Next, I estimated how many Pomodoros it would take to complete the task. If the task was longer than 4 Pomodoros, I broke it up into smaller tasks. What I found out by doing this is that I could make head ways via 25 minute chunks on multiple projects. I could spend a Pomodoro on a bug as a break if I wanted to to help break up the monotony of a long task. I also noticed that I was getting more Pomodoros done because I wasn't jumping up at every interruption.
Every day I'm tweaking how I work within such a simple constraint of working for 25, break for 5.
In conclusion, the Pomodoro Technique will forever be something that I do to track work. I've been amazed how much it has helped me thus far. I love that it's easy to track time on my projects, forces me to take mental breaks and exercise, breaks my flow in a good way, gives a graceful way to handle interruptions, allows me to reassess my work, and is simple. I've even started to using it on my spare time projects, so I can better allocate time to the things that matter to me. I've even playing around with the 30/30 off-shoot as well to handle free time and working on household chores. But, that is another blog post.