The Pomodoro Technique
This week I have been using The Pomodoro Technique® for real, in a real work environment that typically has plenty of distractions. I thought I would share what I have learned from the experience.
First of all, this is how I was doing it. I downloaded the free PomLife Lite app for Android, which is a stay-visible timer for counting down each Pomodoro that has the right default settings and lets you add activities if you like. With the app all set up, I grabbed my pair-programming partner, made sure we were both clear, grabbed a pen and paper, closed down email and IM apps and started the timer. Seriously. You can’t do this if you leave email or instant messenger turned on!
If anyone needed either of us during a Pomodoro, I explained what we were doing and asked them if one of us could come and catch up with them after the Pomodoro was over. I added their name to a list and then got back to developing cool stuff.
After our 25 minute session, we shared out the catch-ups and dealt with all the people that had needed us. We then had a quick chill-out to get drinks and then got settled for the next Pomodoro. We repeated this process as often as we could and the app reminded us when to take breaks and counted how many Pomodoro’s we managed to get through.
There are lots of things I learned by doing this for real at work.
Pomodoro is great for paired-programming. We tried taking turns at driving, swapping on each new Pomodoro we started. We also tried a bit of TDD ping-pong where we would take turns in writing a failing test for the other coder to pass.
We got less and less interruptions the longer we practised as people learned what we were doing. The interruptions also became less of an interruption because people would just ask us to add them to our catch-up list.
You get lots of focus using this technique. This isn’t just because you aren’t interrupted. The count-down timer also urges you on to complete chunks of code. You are competing with yourself to complete more in each Pomodoro.
The 25 minute sessions are great for cranking out some code, we totally got our rage on during each Pomodoro – but the breaks were also a useful opportunity to clear our minds and double-check we were heading in the right direction. We also used our breaks to go and ask questions that came up during the Pomodoro.
We actually managed 6 Pomodoro’s on the first day. We had achieved a lot, but I couldn’t help but wonder where the rest of the day had gone. This also made me realise just how little we would have achieved if we hadn’t used Pomodoro Technique. The goal would be to increase this 6 over time, which I’m sure will be possible.
Officially, you need a timer, pen and paper to use this technique. In practice though, you also need cool work-mates who won’t mind waiting to get your attention. You should be aiming to make this frictionless, so you can’t tell people to go away, you have to explain what you are doing and you have to keep your promise to catch up with them afterwards. If you don’t do this bit well, people won’t be as understanding about having to wait. In real life, I found all my colleagues to be really supportive and understanding – even the ones from Marketing!
I have slightly changed my perception of The Pomodoro Technique® from being a handy tool to have in your trunk when there is a ton of work to get done. I now believe that it is a really good everyday routine that will let you get chunks of work done without inconveniencing all the people who need your awesome knowledge throughout the day.
Download an app, or buy a kitchen timer, and have a go – you won’t regret it.