Recently, my programming-pair and I adopted the Pomodoro time-management technique and applied it to our software dev tasks. We’ve been doing this for about a week and we’ve found it incredibly helpful. Our work environment is fantastic, but sometimes it’s too easy to be distracted by work-related interruptions (or other). This system allows us to focus on core development activities for a block of time, and a short-break in between. The purpose of this system is NOT to force us into being more productive for the sake of management or metrics – it’s to allow us to make the best use of the time we already have.
In a nutshell, the pomodoro (tomato in Italian) technique involves:
- Pick a task and work to complete it in 25 minutes
- Break for 5 minutes
- Repeat steps 1 & 2 three more times (4x25min blocks + 5x5min breaks in total)
- Have a 15 minute break
Although we’re still aiming to achieve 4 consecutive pomodoros in a row, we both have noticed the increased focus and commitment to delivering on our development tasks. The 25 minute time block actually acts as an incentive to try and complete a problem up to a logically clean point before time runs out – this has in turn helped us break the problem down into smaller tasks.
This system worked so well within the first few days of using it, we even set-up a box and screen right in the middle of our desks which (amongst other things) is used to display a big timer from the website http://tomatoi.st/. Any visitors who come to talk to us are kindly pointed to the big count-down and asked to come back at a time that’s better for us. Whilst it might seem unprofessional, we’ve yet to encounter someone who felt it important to disturb us in the middle of a timed task. There’s something about two people working diligently at a desk with a count-down over their heads that prevents others from wanting to disturb them.
What’s also nice about the tomatoi.st timer, is that it keeps track of the last 7 actions (either pomodoro or break). I whipped up a Yahoo pipe to convert the pomodoro list into an RSS feed. The purpose of the RSS feed is to at least keep historical records of how we’ve been tracking to see how whether or not we’re improving. This content could be fed into uladoo and tracked via Twitter or some other unnecessarily Web 2.0 service.
No doubt we’ll refine this process the more we work with it, but it’s been quite beneficial thusfar. I suspect a lot of other development teams will also benefit from this practice.