The pomodoro technique is, in short, starting a timer and doing 25 minutes of focused work on a single task without interruption, followed by a five minute break. Choose a new task, restart the timer, and repeat.
Throughout 2013 I used pomodoros to execute on pretty much all of my life projects, organized into the following categories:
- work – at the Machine Intelligence Research Institute
- bizdev – other income-generating projects (e.g. Anki Essentials)
- growth – personal development projects (e.g. reading books, taking notes, making Anki decks; monthly reviews)
- misc – miscellaneous life maintenance projects (e.g. banking stuff, knocking off a bunch of small todo’s, house cleanup)
- health – exercise projects (mostly climbing, some running, some misc other stuff)
The Result: 5,008 Pomodoros
The end result was 2,504 hours of recorded work—5,008 pomodoros in total:
Stacked Pomodoros by Week in 2013
A summary, by category (with hours in brackets):
- work – 2,457 (1,228.5h) – 47.3 (23.7h) avg/week
- bizdev – 700 (350h) – 13.5 (6.7h) avg/week
- growth – 996 (498h) – 19.2 (9.6h) avg/week
- misc – 448 (224h) – 8.6 (4.3h) avg/week
- health – 407 (203.5h) – 7.8 (3.9h) avg/week
Grand Total: 5,008 (2,504h) – 96.3 (48.2h) avg/week
My version of the pomodoro technique
To be clear, I didn’t use the pomodoro technique 100% faithfully. Certain things here, such as most Health (exercise) stuff, I never actually ran a pomodoro timer. But since I had a system for tracking where and how I spent my time, and since “claiming” all that time helped motivate me e.g. to climb regularly, I included them.
Ways I deviate from the “true” pomodoro technique:
- I don’t always take breaks. For example, if I do two pomodoros, get in the zone, and work for another two hours straight, I’d still record that as 6 pomodoros (3 hours) total.
- I don’t always use a timer. Sometimes I just start working, remembering to take small intermittent breaks, and record the total time in pomodoros (4h of work = 8 pomodoros).
- I don’t record interruptions. You’re supposed to track all internal and external interruptions, but I don’t bother with that. I merely try remain conscious of interruptions and eliminate/avoid them as much as possible.
- I don’t let interruptions cancel out pomodoros. Let’s say I work for fifteen minutes and someone comes in to chat about something important that’s been on their mind. I know that “a pomodoro is indivisible”, but screw it, I chat, and when the conversation ends I count a pomodoro after ten more minutes of work. Pomodoro blasphemy? Maybe.
- I don’t always set targets. I don’t constantly set detailed pomodoro targets and track how many pomodoros were actually required. I only do this occasionally if I think my estimating ability is getting really off. I do set weekly pomodoro targets by category.
How did I track?
Near the end of 2012 I whipped up a simple web app that I use for tracking all of my pomodoros. Here’s a sample screenshot from a week from earlier this year:
Every pomodoro added is given a description, project, major area, and count. This way I can view all pomodoros by project, area, over a given date range, etc. (I’m pretty sure there are other apps out there that let you do basically the same thing, but I haven’t taken much time to explore them.)
Why I think it’s worked really well for me
Of all the productivity hacks I’ve tried over the last decade, the pomodoro technique was, for me, the hands-down most effective technique. My thoughts on why the pomodoro technique has worked so well for me:
- It helps you start – start the timer and then just start working. You’ve already decided what to work on, so just start already.
- It helps you focus on one thing at a time – work on only one thing and ignore everything else.
- It helps you prioritize – look at your lists/projects/tasks/whatever, pick the most important thing to work on, and then just start already.
- It helps create success spirals – when you have 5 successful pomodoros under your belt, it’s motivation to keep going.
In summary, if you haven’t yet, I highly recommend giving the pomodoro technique a try.