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Pomodoro - An Agile Approach to Time Management

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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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