The Pomodoro Technique - An Agile Way of Working
If you’re able to work from home, then you have probably been working from home for some time now. You probably have mastered a routine, have adjusted your work/life balance and are used to attending meetings in jogging bottoms and bedroom slippers!
But then, someone like me comes along and asks if you know what a ‘Pomodoro’ is and how it may help you improve your working day. The Pomodoro Technique is a very simple technique to learn, incredibly quick and easy to apply. All you need is a pencil, paper and a timer then you’re ready to go!
The basic premise is this: you work on a single task for 25 minutes, then take a short 3-5-minute break. Every fifth break, you take a 15-30-minute break.
It can be divided into six easy steps:
1. Decide on a task to be done.
2. Set a timer for 25 minutes.
3. Work on the task.
4. Stop work when the timer rings and put a checkmark on the piece of paper.
5. If you have fewer than 4 checkmarks, take a 3-5-minute break then repeat.
6. If you have four checkmarks, take a 15-30-minute break then start over.
The reason this is called the 'Pomodoro Technique' is because when Francesco Cirillo developed the process while at university in Italy during the 1980s, he used a kitchen timer that was in the shape of a tomato or in Italian, a pomodoro!
There are, of course apps out there you can download that does all this automatically for you (...apart from deciding upon the task and actually doing the work, of course). I’m running one right now as I write this.
However, Francesco recommends you stick to using paper, a pencil and an actual kitchen timer. He believes the physical act of winding the timer confirms the user’s determination to start the task, ticking externalises the desire to complete the task and the ringing announces a break.
The 25-minute unit of time, which is often referred to as a Pomodoro, is pretty flexible. Twenty-five-minutes is the traditional length of time but you can lengthen or shorten it if that works better for what you’re doing or how you work.
The basic idea is that you work for a pre-defined period of time and then force yourself to take a short break. The Pomodoro Technique has a couple of really good objectives. One is to break a big job into smaller tasks, in a very similar way to the Agile Methodology. With Agile, you might be developing a large software application but have broken all the work down into two-week chunks, including software testing, UAT etc.
Here, you are breaking your day down into twenty-five-minute chunks but the principle is the same.
25 minutes Breakdown Steps:
1. Define a piece of work to be done in the allotted time.
2. Do the piece of work.
3. Review, repair, plan and repeat until the job (or day) is done.
If you’ve completed a task and still have time left in the current Pomodoro, then you shouldn’t just move onto the next task. Use that time to review what you’ve done, fix any mistakes and plan what you’re going to do next.
You don’t just want a 25-minute timer running in the background of your day reminding you to take breaks and reset it. That’s not one of the goals and would just be annoying. The Pomodoro Technique is about breaking work down into 25-minute tasks, focusing on that single task for 25 minutes, then having a break.
Sometimes I can find a piece of work I need to do as a bit daunting and I’ll procrastinate myself away from it for as long as possible. One such task is catching up on e-mails after some time off work. It can be quite a task some days. However, the method I use now is to take twenty-five minutes and just quickly scan all my unread e-mails. I accept/reject meeting requests because this is usually a no-brainer. I will send quick one sentence replies where possible. When I find multiple emails on the same thread, I don’t stop to read them all. Instead, I move them to a folder called ‘Threads’ where they can be read as a unit and in order. I also flag any emails that will take more than thirty seconds to reply to. Then, I take a break.
In my second e-mail Pomodoro, I might plough through all the e-mails in threads and get caught up on those topics, sending replies after finishing an entire thread. Then, in my next Pomodoro I’ll go through the e-mails that require more in-depth attention and so on.
If you get interrupted during a Pomodoro, you have to make a judgement call. A short interruption, for example a quick chat question, can probably be absorbed into the Pomodoro. Although, if something takes you away from your task for 5, 10 or 15-minutes, you have to decide to either abandon that Pomodoro/start again or press on/let the work get bumped to a later Pomodoro.
I also find that if I know I have just 25 minutes to do a task, it really forces me to focus on that task. It doesn’t matter if it’s a task that excites me or makes me want to groan, I know I can do it for 25 minutes and then I get a break!
Where I work, we try to start all our meetings at five past the hour. The idea being that this builds in a short break between meetings for people who have back-to-back meetings all day long. So, for me, a 30-minute meeting is one Pomodoro: 25-minutes of meeting + 5-minute break. An hour-long meeting is just two Pomodoros with a 10-minute break after the meeting.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a pro at working from home or new to the sport, the Pomodoro Technique can be a useful method of scheduling your day and getting the job done!