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Pomodoro - An Agile Approach to Time Management

by Chris Sims on Sep 28, 2009 |

A personal time management approach known as The Pomodoro Technique is becoming quite popular with agile practitioners. Pomodoro includes a number of practices similar to those used by an agile team: time-boxing, frequent opportunities to inspect-and-adapt, estimation, a preference for low-tech tools, and an emphasis on maintaining a sustainable pace.

Francesco Cirillo began developing the technique in the 80's, while he was a student. He was looking for a way to improve the quality of his study time and cut down on the distractions and interruptions that kept him from focusing.

So I made a bet with myself, as helpful as it was humiliating: “Can you study – really study - for 10 minutes?” I needed objective validation, a Time Tutor, and I found one in a kitchen timer shaped like a pomodoro (the Italian for tomato).

Over the next few years the technique evolved until about 1992, when it took the basic form that it still holds today. In Pomodoro, work is accomplished in uninterrupted 25-minute sessions called Pomodoros. At the end of each Pomodoro, there is a short break. After every set of 3 or 4 Pomodoros, there is a longer break.

The technique includes some lightweight planning and tracking as well. At the beginning of the day, a list of the day's objectives is created and then estimated in terms of how many Pomodoros it will take to accomplish. Tasks that will take more than seven Pomodoros should be broken down. Tasks that will take less than one Pomodoro should be grouped together until there is a full Pomodoro's worth.

Interruptions and distractions are dealt with by quickly recording them in a way that they can be handled after the current Pomodoro is over. On the rare occasions when an interruption can't be handled in this manner, the current Pomodoro is stopped and considered void. As Francesco says, the next Pomodoro will go better.

Over the last couple of years, the Pomodoro Technique has caught the attention of the agile community. Staffan Noteberg's session on the technique was so popular at Agile2008 that it was selected to be re-run at the end of the conference. At Agile2009 Staffan again presented on the technique, as did Renzo Borgatti with a session called: You say tomato, I say Pomodoro.

For those wanting to learn more about the Pomodoro Technique, Francesco has a 45-page book and a one-page cheat sheet available for download from The Pomodoro Technique website.

Have you tried the Pomodoro Technique? Leave a comment and share your experiences with it.

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Pomodoro for Mac by Talip Ozturk

You liked the idea? and a Mac user? check out
pomodoro.ugolandini.com/

It also auto tweets your pomodoros for you! Great for tweeters.

Re: Pomodoro for Mac by Pavel Veller

Apple Store has a number of pomodoro timers app for iPhone, some free and some for $0.99. Works ok but I still prefer the old good kitchen timer because it ticks. That sound really makes the difference and helps concentrate when I need it the most. I am not all into the technique - too much multitasking during half of my day working with teams in different timezones - but when the dust settles and I need to concentrate on something, nothing helps better than the pomodoro. And it's always nice to know how many indivisible pomodoros I was able to squeeze out of a working day :)

My experience by Renzo Borgatti

I started using the technique consistently 3 years ago and collected around 5000 pomodoros/year. It changed the way I work by improving focus ability, removing waste (unnecessary distractions) improving productivity and definitely removing anxiety even in case of tight deadlines. I'm also able to produce more reliable estimates. When I started, I was searching for a way to remove the bad feeling of those days where I couldn't get anything done. Now I experience just a constant throughput without any frustrations. The Technique is really simple to adopt but a huge effort to get it done right: always expect this when the goal is to change yourself. GTD is a nice complement to the technique: while GTD focuses on organization and planning, the Pomodoro Technique focuses on execution. My suggestion to start: don't let the software distracts you, pick the most simple timer and track pomodoros with paper and pencil. Good luck.

Re: My experience by Adolfo Neto

I have been using the Pomodoro technique for three weeks. I am still trying to follow all the rules (the rules make sense!), but the results I got so far are great.

Read also "The Death of Multitasking and Rebirth of Unitasking":

www.dumblittleman.com/2009/10/death-of-multitas...

Free app to track your pomodoros by Joshua Ewer

I've been using www.focusboosterapp.com to track my pomodoros. Free and simple, though not as tangible as an actual tomato timer ;-)

Re: Pomodoro for Mac by Ricardo Pravia

I very much like the idea. I guess paper can always get the job done when it comes to simple Pomodoro tracking. However, if I want to use the collected data to bill clients, make reports, track improvement and so on, then using paper would pretty much defeat the purpose; any time you might have saved by using the methodology could just as easily be wasted while transcribing the data onto an electronic format.

The one obstacle I have right now is that I'm still using Mac OSX 10.4 and the app you refer to is only compatible with Leopard. Do you know if there is any Tiger-compatible, Pomodoro-oriented software out there? I'm looking for an app that not only keeps track of your Pomodoros' process, but also automates the whole logging side of things.

I really appreciate your help!

Good technique by José González D'Amico

I often use the Pomodoro technique when work conditions permit it: if I'm sure I will have zero interruptions, for example. It works for me, in particular because it helps me in getting focused at one task at a time (I'm a really dispersed kind of guy)

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