After having read a book on Pomodoro along with viewing some of the information on the technique's website I have started to put the idea to practice. What is actually humorous is that while using a new (to me) technique for time management, I wasn't able to fit in time to write this entry yesterday. I'm a day behind, but I put writing this up higher on my list and set aside two pomodoros for it.
I won't really describe the concept too fully here. You can find a more thorough description at the official website or by reading the Pragmagic Programmer book that is released this week. Instead, I'll describe my experiences in the very small amount of time that I've been practicing it, namely yesterday and today, along with my analysis of the value I think it provides.
So yesterday I created my first "ToDo Today" list with 7 items on it totaling an estimated 11 pomodoros. A pomodoro is basically a unit of time measuring 25 minutes plus a 5 minute break for a grand total of 30 minutes. After I started the day I ended up creating 6 more items that I added to my ToDo list for a total of 13. I completed 11 of these items, however several of them were so small and minor that they were done outside of any pomodoro (making dinner reservations for Friday, telling my fiancé about some carpooling, answering a question... etc). I completed a total of 7 pomodoros in the day, which totals to about 3 hours worth of focused work time plus a half hour or so on small, spread out breaks.
One interesting thing I noted, and was expecting from having read up on the technique, is how little of my time was spent being productive. 3 hours of solid productivity in an 8 hour work day. I discovered that there are a few reasons for this. One is that the beginning of my day has a 15 minute meeting at 10:30 that prevents me from doing many, if any, pomodoros before it. I normally arrive to work between 9:45 and 10:00. Since the first thing I need to do is add to my activity inventory and compile a ToDo list for the day, I generally don't have a solid 25 minutes to focus on a pomodoro. by the time the meeting is over and I'm settled again it's around 11, giving me an hour to work before lunch.
The afternoon hours are when the real work gets done and where I have the most solid stretch of uninterrupted time. Unfortunately one of the problems that comes up when trying to complete pomodoros is interruptions. I actually tried to write this blog yesterday, however I was interrupted so often by IMs that I had to void the pomodoro to address them. In retrospect I know that I could have possibly ignored some of them until the pomodoro was done, but it became difficult to do so when my fiancé was asking me about plans for the week and a friend of mine was pinging me constantly. It is also very distracting to have my email client constantly making noise when new mail arrives; which is around every 10 seconds due to the mailing lists I'm required to be on at work. I've since taken care of both distractions by creating a pomodoro away message for my IM client along with disabling all of the notifications from my email and IM clients.
Even though I only completed 7 pomodoros, I still felt more productive yesterday than I have in weeks. I know that I was able to really focus on something to the exclusion of everything else at least 7 times. I was able to hack out a database design that I had been banging my head against the wall for a week now, mainly by forcing myself to focus on it and avoid procrastination by not making it an option. It's a difficult thing to experience if you're used to doing dozens of things at once, working alongside your train of thought.
I also feel that I'm being more complete in my work. I often will go to a meeting or someone will tell me something over IM that I'm supposed to act on or do at some later time but then I forget. By forcing my work schedule and all of my work activities to be pulled from an activity inventory and today list I end up not having to worry about forgetting to do something because I write everything I need to get done down on a list. If I don't get to it today, at least it will still be waiting in my inventory for tomorrow.
I've never been good at time management. I've often scoffed at several of the self-help books and I'll probably continue to do so in all honesty. For me, forcing myself to timebox is something that allows me to gather up my scattered thoughts and see my own accomplishments as items are removed from a list and little Xs are marked in boxes. If I can keep this up for a few months, I think I'll be in a better place than I am today.
(Oh, I finished in one pomodoro instead of two. I guess I can mark this task as being overestimated).