Using the Pomodoro Technique, developed by Francesco Cirillo, you work in focused sprints throughout the day. Matthias Günther delivers Pomodoro wisdom in short sprints on this series.
This article series describes the necessary steps for becoming a “Self-Certified Pomodoro Master.” (Since the Pomodoro Technique is a self-driven approach to becoming the master of your time, why shouldn’t you be able to self-certify as a Pomodoro Master?) Each article in the series is a small step in mastering the technique, just as the technique emphasizes small steps. This article describes the necessary tools for becoming a “Self Certified Pomodoro Master.” Having the right tools for doing your Pomodoros is an essential step in getting started with the technique. I will explain each tool in detail and will tell you what worked best and how I’m using them.
Editor’s note: If this series piques your interest in this productivity technique, you might be interested in knowing that the Pragmatic Bookshelf just released its first audio book, the audio version of Pomodoro Technique Illustrated by Staffan Nöteberg.
The key thing to get you started with the Pomodoro Technique is a timer. Take your time and choose something you really love and embrace, because you will spend a lot of time with it. Using this timer, you will work for 25 minutes—one Pomodoro. It is important that the tool of your choice is able to produce sounds when the Pomodoro is over. This helps you to work in a time-boxed manner, and to stop working when the Pomodoro is over.
Example of a mechanical kitchen timer.
There are nearly endless timers you can chose from. To name a few:
1. Mechanical Helpers
A classical stop clock from your last running competitions back in your old school days. If you plan to do an Ironman Triathlon you may want to track your time and progress during the preparations for it.
Your lovely kitchen timer—or your spouse’s (ask before you grab it to avoid being hurt). Under squidoo you can find a wide range of kitchen timers.
Arduino-based timers: I have seen Jim Weirich build some awesome stuff with the Arduino, which raises a flag when a time interval is over—just watch this video. If you want to learn more about Arduino, check out the book from the Pragmatic Bookshelf).
2. Digital Helpers
Wrist watch: I’m not a wristwatch wearer but if you are, this is a very handy timer, because it is always close at hand. I’ve heard of people who use smartwatches; one like i'm Watch should do a good job in timing Pomodoros.
Cellphones: I still own a classical Nokia cellphone and it runs and runs...
Digital timers are easy to get—you’re probably carrying one or more around with you now.
3. Software Helpers
Pomo gem: This is a command-line plugin to manage your Pomodoros.
Software for running a Pomodoro.
Once you’ve selected and acquired your timer, use it! Try working in 25-minute blocks, timed by your timer, as much as possible so that it becomes natural to you work with it besides you.
In using the original kitchen timer at home, I trained my brain to the ticking sound. Whenever I hear it I’m getting deeply into the task, tuning out music, incoming emails, or other distractions. I’m feeling like Nero in The Matrix when he is moving in Bullet Time to avoid projectiles (in our case: distractions). Of course it would be better to turn off all of the distraction before starting the Pomodoro, but that’s not generally realistic and besides (yay!), I’m training myself to get into this mindset even at work where I have distractions the whole time.
I prefer to use the kitchen timer at home and not at work, I don’t want to annoy my coworkers, and there are some who want to work in absolutely silence. I have to respect this.
Getting used to the kitchen-timer-working-mode was no problem for me. I was working time-boxed before knowing the Pomodoro Technique, but without taking any breaks. That’s a problem of programmers: your brain needs time for recreation as mentioned in Pragmatic Thinking and Learning by Andy Hunt. With the help of the Pomodoro Technique I’m still feeling energized to keep on writing a book or do open source work after a long working day. Of course, being passionate about what you do is very important too. The Pomodoro Book suggests that the most important part in life are breaks. The time offline gives you time for self-reflection and thinking about yourself.
After the timer, the next tool you need is a To-Do-Today Sheet. This is like an ordinary to-do list that everybody uses (even if you are just going to the supermarket to buy food). But crucially, it’s only a list of items you want to finish for the current day. The idea behind this is to have a plan about what you want to accomplish today, and not be overwhelmed or discouraged by the size of the entire project.
Example of a To-Do-Today Sheet.
Since at work we are using Scrum, we are organizing our tasks on post-its. Post-its are like the small items of the To-Do-Today Sheet.
At home, when working on private or open source project, I have a big collection of to-dos tagged with certain terms in my collect.txt file. Here is a small example of it:
Activity Inventory Sheet
Another tool you need to be a Pomodoro Master is an Activity Inventory Sheet. This is the backlog of all the items you want to work on.
During my working time we are ordering all our tasks on the Scrumboard. So everybody in the organization can see what we are working on. It's like an inventory of the things that needs to be done to finish a new software feature.
At home or on side projects I use my global tagged to-do list in a simple text-file and not on a piece of paper. I did this because I ran into serious issues with managing so many different papers, and one day I just threw them in the trash can and converted the list into a text file.
As you can see I’m not using the tools exactly as described in the Pomodoro book. I’m taking what I need and adapting existing things.
Example of an Activity Inventory Sheet.
My Inventory Sheet is like my basement: It’s a big pile of things (tasks) that need a space and end up in mess. At first I was gathering so many unnecessary things that my Inventory Sheet looked like a garbage dump. If that’s what you find yourself doing, stop and clean it up every week, like you would clean your house. Keep the things you really need and get rid of the clutter.
Done right, the Pomodoro Technique will give you insight into how long things take, and help you to plan your work. The Record Sheet is the tool that enables you to measure the number of Pomodoros you need for a piece of work. Simply multiply the number of Pomodoros per task by 25 minutes and you get your working time.
I'm not recording my time on a sheet of paper. Instead I’m using Slimtimer for tracking this data.
Slimtimer—tracking your time paperlessly.
Why should you track the time? In order to become better with your time management. For example, I take a close look at the end of each week to see where I spent my time. Also, if you are freelancing, you may need to keep track of how many hours you spend on a client project. Don't forget: Time is your most valuable asset.
As you can see, you don’t need much to get started with the Pomodoro Technique. That’s by design. The technique should be easy to learn and should be performed with objects you already have. In the next article, we’ll look at how to use the Pomodoro Technique to estimate how long tasks will take—and how to successively improve those estimates.
But the timer indicates that our time is up for this installment. I was blessed to be able to meet Francesco here in Berlin during the first Pomodoro Meetup, where I got my starter-pack consisting of the lovely Pomodoro timer and a T-Shirt that says that I love my time.
When Günther is not working as a developer at MyHammer, he spends his free time visiting hacking events, painting small figures, running for his health, organizing ruby conferences like eurucamp 2012, and experimenting with making delicious cakes. His blog and website is wikimatze.de. He lives in Berlin.