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A Critique of the Pomodoro Technique

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InfoQ has previously reported on the pomodoro technique:

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.

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.

But is the pomodoro technique really all it's cracked up to be?  Are we over-analyzing the issue and creating complexity where none is needed?  Mario Fusco shared his critique of the pomodoro technique with us: 

Have you ever heard about the Pomodoro technique? If the answer is no you could find a brief explanation about it here:

If the answer is yes, please let me ask a simple question about it. Do we really need it? Aren't we really able to keep ourselves concentrated without a timer ticketing on our desk? Actually this is a critique not only to the pomodoro technique, but mostly on the way we are used to work and to think about it..

Let me slightly reframe my thoughts. Have you ever seen a civil engineer using a timer to keep his concentration while working on his projects? Will you trust in a lawyer employing the Pomodoro technique while is trying to defend you? Will you let a surgeon that needs a timer to stay concentrated on his job to operate you? In the end I honestly hope that the pilot of my next intercontinental flight will be able to pay attention to what he is doing for all the 8 or more hours of its duration.

So, why should our work be so different from the former ones? Why do we always think that our work is so special and unique to need a wide set of specific methodologies? Are we professionals or unexperienced kids playing with something bigger then them? I think that, like any other serious professional, I can stay concentrated on what I am doing for hours. I honestly don't need a pomodoro to keep myself focused for just 25 minutes. And if somebody can stay focused for no more than 25 minutes I am afraid that he should really rethink the way he works.

Said that, in my opinion there are also other important drawbacks in the pomodoro technique. What should I reply to my customer who is calling me, possibly from the other side of the ocean? That I am in the middle of my pomodoro and I can't break it? Oh, please. Even worse this technique pones a big limitation on the teamwork. My team is used to leverage on the strenght of the other components. Everyone in the team overcomes the lack of a specific skill or knowledge with a tight collaboration with other team's members. If somebody in my team needs a help or an advice I don't want he has to wait the end of his colleague's pomodoro. I found they are far more effective by collaborating on a minute by minute basis.

So please, bring back your timer to your kitchen and start working in a more professional and effective way.

If Mario's assertions are correct then maybe the pomodoro technique is make work, but are they?  Do you:

  • Concentrate without interruptions regularly throughout the day?
  • Get things done (as in having measurable value) regularly through the day or do you have significant work in progress?
  • Is the level of concentration reached in 25 minutes sustainable for hours?
  • Are the detrimental effects of not answering the phone or getting up and helping someone more than the positive effects of uninterrupted concentration?

What say you, reader?

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