When I first started using it, I made a few Pomodoro mistakes and as they are sometimes the best way to learn I thought I’d share them with you. I’m also going to talk about the objectives of Pomodoro Technique.
The biggest mistake I made when I first tried Pomodoro technique I was pair-programming with a good friend and colleague. The mistake we made is that we ran a 25 minute Pomodoro, took a note of anyone who wanted to interrupt us and at the end of the 25 minutes, once the timer rang, we spent five minutes clearing down all the interruptions. This was a big mistake and it isn’t how Pomodoro Technique is supposed to work. We still got many of the benefits of the technique – we had great focus and delivered lots of great work – but we were in for a burn-out. Because we hadn’t followed the advice correctly, we had squandered our five minute break doing work. We went desk-to-desk to speak to all the people that we had postponed during our 25 minute chunk of work.
If you do it properly, that five-minute period is a true break. You do nothing work related. When you have been head-down for 25 minutes of intense work, you really need that break to relax. Any follow-ups should be done after the break is over and before the next Pomodoro starts. If you sacrifice the break, you end up hammering yourself and it isn’t sustainable.
The second mistake we made was that we cleared our list of people who needed us after every Pomodoro. What we should have done is negotiated deadlines based on how important the interruption is. Not all of those people needed us within the next half-hour – many could have been postponed to the next day or deemed not even necessary. Our method was simple – but a bit of judgement could have been applied to make it smarter.
The great news is that we spotted this at the time and adjusted our application of Pomodoro Technique to eliminate the Pomodoro mistakes. When you do it wrong it can be effective – but if you do it right it is much more so.
The most obvious objective of Pomodoro Technique is reduction of interruptions. Digging deeper, the habit of negotiating interruptions has benefits even when you aren’t actively engaging in Pomodoro Technique. Reacting to a request by talking about importance and deadlines is a good reflex to train. Once you become skilled in this art, you will be amazed to see how fast people can be lured away from their desks before they have asked how quickly something needs to be looked at. Imagine if the Accident and Emergency department reacted to interruptions in the same way people do at work – the doctor is mid-way through treating a major injury when she gets called away to look at a twisted ankle. Despite how mad this sounds, people are drawn away from working on important features to deal with trivial interruptions.
Another objective of Pomodoro is to give you a unit of measurement to estimate tasks. I personally found it very hard to tell my manager how long something would take because I couldn’t predict how long I would spend on the task and how long I would spend fire-fighting, answering questions and otherwise being interrupted. Once you have a few Pomodoros under your belt, you can easily estimate most tasks relatively in “number of Pomodoros”. This is like saying I could complete this task in 5 chunks of 25 minutes, except if I am interrupted or asked to work on something else. If you get chased up, the information you record as part of Pomodoro Technique is a great source of information to explain why something isn’t yet done. Even if you aren’t being asked for estimates, writing down your guess of how many Pomodoros a task will take helps you to practice at estimation and get better at it before you have to do it for real.
There are tasks and objectives in Pomodoro Technique that take time, but this time is gifted to you by the technique itself. I regularly scheduled a Pomodoro that I used for analysing the information I had recorded, drawing charts (by hand) and writing down what I could do better. I would plan slight changes to how I used the technique and how I would measure if it was better or worse as a result. By doing this in a Pomodoro, I could focus on the task of improving how I used the technique without interruptions.
If you get stressed out by interruptions, or find that you aren’t completing your important tasks in a timely manner, it is time to utilise Pomodoro Technique.