Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Pomodoro Technique Illustrated

Staffan Nöteberg. The Pomodoro Technique Illustrated: The Easy Way to Do More in Less Time. Forewords by Francesco Cirillo and Henrik Kniberg. Raleigh, NC: Pragmatic Bookshelf, 2009. $24.95 (paper). $16 (eBook).

Yes, I wound up a timer before beginning this sentence. And yes, as Henrik Kniberg acknowledges in his foreword, it feels a little silly having a timer tell you what to do.

I learned of Francesco Cirillo’s Pomodoro Technique late last year, in Sue Shellenbarger’s write-up of several time-management strategies. The simplicity of the Pomodoro strategy — work for twenty-five minutes (one Pomodoro), take a break for three to five minutes, take a longer break after every four Pomodori— appealed to me at once. I liked the practical emphasis on tasks and minutes, free from business-speak about life-goals. And I loved the idea of a strategy built upon the dowdiest of gadgets, a tomato-shaped kitchen timer.

The Pomodoro Technique Illustrated is a beautiful and potentially inspiring guide to practicing Pomodori. Staffan Nöteberg makes clear the many ways in which the Pomodoro Technique serves to focus attention. The practitioner chooses a limited number of tasks for the day and the most important one among them with which to begin. He or she works on one task at a time, tracking interruptions both external and internal, setting them aside for later attention (whenever possible), and stopping at regular intervals, no matter how well the work is going, for breaks and review.

Repetition is important in the Pomodoro Technique: the repeated gesture of winding up or setting a timer is meant to teach the mind that the time for work has begun. (That must be why Hemingway sharpened so many pencils — not as a way to postpone work but as a way to get started.) Granularity is important too: any task that requires many Pomodori is to be sorted out into smaller tasks. The aim, always, is to create “sustainable pace,” a way of working that lets one keep going without anxiety or loss of focus. That aim allows for considerable flexibility: Pomodori can be of any length, as long as they’re consistent. As an old song says, it all depends on you.

I’ve been working with the Pomodoro Technique, on and off, for about two months, and I’ve found two great benefits. One is that I have a much better idea of how much time tasks require. (Grading quizzes from three classes? One Pomodoro. Re-reading an installment of Bleak House? Three or four Pomodori.) Even more helpful is a drop in self-interruptions, which tend to come about when I stop working on x because I've started thinking about having to do y. The ticking orange that Elaine gave me — it really does work.

This book’s terminology, much of it drawn from software development, might seem to the non-programmer a bit overdone. I draw the line at “drum rhythm,” “buffer,” and “rope” (yes, they go together). But the jargon is offset by Nöteberg’s witty illustrations. They make The Pomodoro Technique Illustrated a uniquely charming book of time-management. Having the book around is likely to inspire its reader to put its helpful strategy into practice.

[Cover illustration by Staffan Nöteberg.]

You can read more about the Pomodoro Technique at Francesco Cirillo’s website (which offers several helpful PDFs). Thanks to Pragmatic Bookshelf for a review copy of this book. This post took four Pomodori to write.

comments: 4

Unknown said...

I spent about 3 Pomodoros today learning the Pomodoro method, thanks to you. I have used timers in the past to help me get through specific projects but not with so much overall attention (to your interruptions, how many Pomodori, etc). I downloaded the book and worksheets and am going to try this. Cirillo's website is very nicely done. Thanks!

Michael Leddy said...

Mari, you’re welcome. Enjoy.

brownstudy said...

I used the Pomodoro very successfully at my workplace, but the 25min limit is almost too interruptive for me now that I'm a doc student and need to get my head into some hard-focus tasks. It sometimes takes me 20 minutes to get warmed up and into doing my stats homework or a lit review. So I'm using a 50/10 split now, and am getting more done.

Michael Leddy said...

I know what you mean, Mike. If I’m writing, a timer feels like an interruption. If I’m grading papers, it’s really welcome.