The Pomodoro Technique 3: Pros and Cons

I typically clock eight to nine Pomodoros a day. You can easily calculate, that even with nine Pomodoros a day, that is four and a half hours of work. With the break time excluded, on an average day, I manage to stay focused for 3 hours and 45 minutes. Out of an eight hour working day that doesn't seem too much, does it?

Why I find it good

The difference is in the quality of the time spent working on the tasks, the planning of that time, the tracking of my progress, recording what I have achieved and reviewing how accurate my planning was. When I'm starting a Pomodoro, I know I am ready to focus for the next 25 minutes and most importantly I know exactly what I am supposed to focus on in those 25 minutes. No running back and forth, reading emails, chatting to Skype contacts, making coffee or anything. It's the pure concentration of focus that makes you realize how different the quality of your work has become.

Probably the most important change is the clear and measurable progress. No more is the task either not yet attended, or being worked on, or finished. Now I can clearly see the list of 1-4 Pomodoro long subtasks I have planned for the project, the one I am currently working on, as well as those finished. Day by day, I can clearly see myself moving forward, making progress with my projects. What a boost of motivation!

And what is cool, too, is that my boss -- without even knowing that I had started using the Pomodoro Technique -- acknowledged the change in my productivity and expressed his satisfaction with my work results, believing the critique at the December review was a good step. Another motivation boost!

A very interesting observation is what I call reversed time flow. Instead of the usual perception of time flowing from now into future -- in which somewhere there is the end of what you're currently doing, -- in the Pomodoro Technique the time seems to go no further than 25 minutes from here. Even better, the timer is counting backwards, showing how much there's left of the current Pomodoro and when you're going to have another break.

The benefits of the Pomodoro Technique, or any other time management or productivity technique put in action, are not only in the increase of productivity, but the change of your attitude. Starting with a productivity technique is the manifestation of your willingness to do something about the way you work, how you spend time working and how you value your time.

Apart from the time management the Pomodoro Technique provides, the planning, tracking and recording parts are of equal importance. The rituals of planning the day, winding the timer, crossing out a Pomodoro, and recording the progress all make you feel you are in control of your tasks, and not overwhelmed by them. I can literally feel how this all brings in a decrease of stress and procrastination. Maximizing the focus while at work and putting everything work-related on a paper and removing it from your head makes you think about your job much less outside the working hours and brings better quality to your leisure time, too.

The problems with the technique

Like with everything, there's a couple of issues with the Pomodoro Technique. First of all, I don't believe it's a good one size fits all technique, perfect for everybody, regardless of the position, team size, work environment or working habits. I have not yet tried any other productivity technique and probably will not, because so far, I'm very happy with the Pomodoro Technique as it seems to be working pretty well for me.

Meetings

One of the major issues I have with the Pomodoro Technique is that I can only use it for the research and coding part of my job. Maybe it's just the meetings' anti-productivity nature that makes it impossible to put any productivity technique into place. Even starting a meeting usually means voiding my current pomodoro without even being given a chance to protect it.

Communicating interruptions

Applying the Inform, Negotiate and Reschedule procedure is just another part of the technique which hardly ever works for me. There is no way I can ask my boss not to interrupt me while I'm working on something. There is no way I can ignore random people entering the office asking for directions to the eye clinic (which is just around the corner). Or when a colleague asks about where that good sushi place was I went the other day, I can't ask her to come back in 20 minutes. Not only it would be rude, but by that time her lunch break would be over.

Interaction with the co-workers

Sometimes it's quite difficult to even tell what the interruption is. When I need to ask a colleague programmer about the location of a file I'm going to need to be able to keep working, not only I am interrupting him, but I am not sure if it's not an interruption for myself.


Time Management at Amazon

The Pomodoro rules

After a week of using the technique, trying to find out the answer in the book or on the Internet, I am still not quite sure what I am supposed to do when I have urgent tasks which are too short to even add up. Can I just squeeze a 5 minute activity in the middle of a Pomodoro session dedicated to an entirely different task? I don't know. Currently, I feel this lack of knowledge keeps me back since I just don't complete the short tasks until there's enough of them to fill a Pomodoro.

On a similar note, what to do with two minutes left of a task which would be otherwise get finished, had this Pomodoro been two minutes longer. May I finish the task at the beginning of the next task, or am I then supposed to spend the rest of the Pomodoro reviewing those two minutes of work? Or, again, should I wait until I have enough short tasks to fill a Pomodoro? I don't know.

And there's a couple more issues with the fundamental Pomodoro rules, which I'd be happy to follow whatever way there was to deal with them. Unfortunately, I haven't found answers to some of these questions. Let me know if you have the answers or similar questions, I'll make sure to keep this space updated as I go and learn more about the Pomodoro Technique.

Comments

Hello Jan. I've been using

Hello Jan.

I've been using the pomodoro technique no for about a week and I have exactly the same problem as you with short tasks. Did you find a good way of dealing with them?...I mean, when do I sent that 5 minute email?

John

I haven't found an "official"

I haven't found an "official" answer, but there's not much you can do else than squeezing the short and urgent task at the end of a Pomodoro. I guess it's like adding up multiple small tasks, but this time it's a big and a small ones added up. Just make sure you've planned it before the Pomodoro starts.

A less clean method, bending the technique's rules, would be to start a whole new Pomodoro, finish the 5 minute task and void the Pomodoro. However, the Pomodoro should and must be voided only when it is interupted so I don't really recommend this one.

In case there are some extra

In case there are some extra minutes, you should spend overlearning, reviewing your work(like you suggested in the post), I'm not sure how would you work with an urgent zero pomodoro activity(less than one), but I suggest trying to fit it with another activity, even if it's more than one pomodoro.
I found many of my questions answered in this great book: http://www.pomodoro-book.com/
I didn't implement the whole process of pomodoro technique before reading this book, and didn't even track anything, but now I understand a lot more about what I'm doing and implemented it all.

I'm using pomodoro for a

I'm using pomodoro for a couple of months, these are my answers to those cons.

If you have some short tasks, I suggest to set several mini-tasks to fill a complete pomodoro or do those while you are in your "planning pomodoro", first one of the day.

If you face those mini-tasks during a pomodoro, common sense is to do it if are urgent, do not void pomodoro if it is a less than a quarter of the time of your pomodoro

I would say Keep it flexible to your own criteria and needs!

That's right! At first the

That's right! At first the Pomodoro rules seem very strict and it may take some time to get used to them, and also find your way in real life situations.

The Pomodoro book teaches to use the entire Pomodoro for the planned task and even when done with the task, to use the remaining time to review the job. Also, we're supposed to combine short tasks into a single Pomodoro. Instead, though, it is often more sensible to squeeze in short task at the end of Pomodoro.

Like you say, for the sake of flexibility, that's what I do. When starting with the technique, though, it is a bit frustrating that the Pomodoro book doesn't seem to be dealing with a few quite frequent real life scenarios.

Looking back at the book, it

Looking back at the book, it says in 2.1.3 "If you finish an activity in the first five minutes of the Pomodoro and you feel like the task was actually already finished during the previous Pomodoro and revision wouldn’t be worthwhile, as an exception to the rule the current Pomodoro doesn’t have to be included in
the Pomodoro count"

So if I have something that spills over and only takes 5 mins I just rewind

what would you do if you have

what would you do if you have 5 tasks that only take 3 or 5 minutes? like a quick call, or a 10 minute meeting, etc

I think it is better to mark a full pomodoro and group all those tasks

I try to stick to the rules

I try to stick to the rules pretty strictly. I defer external interuptions by wearing headphones. If it isn't important enough, people will usually leave on their own. If they truly interupt, then I cancel the current pomodoro.

RE: Small unplanned tasks. I incorporate a catch-all pomodoro just after lunch where I "stash" unplanned and short tasks. If I only have 3 5-minute emails to send, I can take my time composing them and fill up the whole time without feeling I cheated.