Sunday, November 17, 2013

One Year Of Pomodoro

I gave my first Pomodoro talk this year at the Tampa Bar Camp. Needless to say, I'm still a firm believer and practitioner of the technique. I've spent this year experimenting with what works best and makes me more productive. It has been invaluable. Now, I do it slightly different than what is discussed in the book, but I find productivity to be personal: do what works for you. For the most part though, I follow the technique strictly.

Let me begin by describing my use of pomodoros. I begin every morning with a blank sheet of paper. I draw a line down the middle and on the top left write the date and "Unplanned" on the right. I then write every task that I need/want to accomplish today. I write left over work from the day before first. I put estimates next to each item by placing empty boxes for each pomodoro.  I then prioritize each task by placing numbers to each one based on urgency. With coffee in hand, I begin my day.

I set my timer for 10 minutes and go through my email. Any requests get written down in unplanned and I put estimates on the task. I then determine urgency for each one and update my priorities accordingly. I try to keep my urgent unplanned work to a minimum. If any email needs a reply, I will try to respond immediately. If it will take more than the 10 minutes to respond, I will star the email to get back to it later. The point of the first 10 minutes is to get through my inbox. It's about minimizing distractions. If I have enough starred emails, I make an email task to get to in the afternoon. I don't prioritize this task. I want to use my productive morning time to do real work.

For the rest of day, I work in 25 minute chunks with 5 minute breaks. I try to do 3-4 pomodoros followed by a longer 10 minute break, but most of my days get broken up with meetings anyway. I try to get in as many pomodoros as I can. For each one accomplished, I check off a box next to a task and put a mark on top of the page. The marks at the top allow me to see how productive I've been that day. The marks on the boxes allow me to see how well I'm estimating. If a task takes longer than what I have estimated, I draw a circle to notate that I under estimated. This is valuable data for learning.

At the end of the day, I look back at what I accomplished and make some notes for what I need to do the next day. The day sheets are invaluable for determining productivity. When I first started the technique, I was shocked that I was finishing only 3-4 pomodoros a day. This means I was doing only 1.5-2 hours of productive work a day! This evidence allowed me to have direct and frank discussions with my management. This meant moving meetings around and minimizing which ones were really needed. It also forced me to manage my emails accordingly. Now, I get 6-8 pomodoros per 8 hour work day. It's still not to the level I would like, but I'm constantly trying to figure out how to be more productive. I would like to get to 12 pomodoros per day eventually.

That's the basics, but the most powerful part of the pomodoro is handling interruptions. This is what keeps me doing pomodoros. At work, I bought a children's timer that has a huge light on it. I got it as a huge visual clue for my co-workers . Now instead of interrupting, they will send me an IM or email. They know if it's urgent to send an IM and I will get back to them after my current pomodoro, otherwise send an email. I try to only check my emails twice a day.

I use pomodoros on my off-time projects as well. It allows me to time box all the things that I want to do. I used pomodoros to write this blog post (it took 3). I love it for its simplicity and allows me to concentrate on all the things that I want to accomplish. It might not work for everyone, but I encourage you to least try it. After a year, pomodoros are an integral part of my work and I can't see myself abandoning them anytime in the future. It's the best technique for managing interruptions, estimating, and measuring productivity.

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