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InfoQ Homepage News Jurgen Appelo Proposes the Chunking Productivity Technique

Jurgen Appelo Proposes the Chunking Productivity Technique

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Jurgen Appelo, CEO at Happy Melly and author of the book Management 3.0, recently posted his new technique of work management called the chunking technique to increase productivity. He explains the chunking technique as:

  • Chunking (in psychology) is a phenomenon whereby individual group responses when performing a memory task.
  • Chunking (in writing) is a method of presenting information which splits concepts into small pieces of information.

As you can see, chunking can mean both grouping small things into larger chunks and splitting large things into smaller chunks

Jurgen defines a chunk of work as any focused activity lasting between approximately ten minutes and one hour, with the average being less than 30 minutes. A chunk is a well-defined activity of 10 to 60 minutes, which is either one complete task, or a portion of something bigger, or a grouping of several smaller things. He mentions three requirements for chunks:

  1. They have a natural and logical start and finish;
  2. They may not be interrupted (except when I’m not given a choice);
  3. Breaks are welcome (even desirable) between the chunks.

The chunking technique is different from the Pomodoro technique. The Pomodoro technique was created by Francesco Cirillo, Owner, product manager and development consultant at ProgrammingWithFrancesco. The Pomodoro Technique is a time management philosophy that aims to provide the user with maximum focus and creative freshness, thereby allowing them to complete projects faster with less mental fatigue. It is about cutting up work into 25-minute timeboxes and then forcing yourself to take a break.

Jurgen emphasizes the crucial difference between the chunking technique and the Pomodoro technique is that, unlike pomodoros, chunks have different natural sizes.

I really don’t see the point of setting a kitchen timer that will interrupt me in my work after 25 minutes. Several of my chunks lasted 35 minutes and then they were done. Why would I allow myself to be interrupted at the 25th minute? It would break my flow! It would also cause stress and more task- switching. And what’s wrong with a sequence of focused smaller chunks of 10 or 15 minutes each? My average chunk size last Friday was about 28 minutes. That’s almost the same as the default timebox in the pomodoro technique. But I prefer the variety and flexibility of my chunking method over the rigidity of a kitchen timer. A task is done when it’s done, not when a bell is ringing.

The pomodoro technique is like a wall of same-sized bricks. The chunking method is like a wall of silly-sized stones.

Tucker Cummings, writer and social media professional, shares her views on Pomodoro technique in her blog. She says that the process isn’t ideal for every person, or in any line of work. But if you need a systematic way to tackle your daily to-do list, the pomodoro technique may fit your needs.

The pomodoro technique is a time management philosophy that aims to provide the user with maximum focus and creative freshness, thereby allowing them to complete projects faster with less mental fatigue.

Colin T. Miller, a Yahoo employee and blogger, tried using the Pomodoro Technique and shared his views in his blog as:

Pomodoros are an all or nothing affair. Either you work for 25 minutes straight to mark your X or you don’t complete a pomodoro. Since marking that X is the measurable sign of progress, you start to shy away from engaging in an activity if it won’t result in an X. Meetings get in the way of pomodoros. Say I have a meeting set for 4:30pm. It is currently 4:10pm, meaning I only have 20 minutes between now and the meeting. If I start a pomodoro, I won’t be able to finish it because I only have 20 minutes.

Long meetings, like presentations or informative meetings, are also a small difficulty for pomodoros in that you often don’t get those 5 minute breaks every half hour.

Colin said that he wants to work out a good way to deal with smaller units of time in a useful manner like a separate series of mini-pomodoros that are tracked differently.

Jurgen suggests to focus on one thing at a time and don’t let yourself be distracted. If work takes more than an hour to do, cut it up in chunks that each take less than an hour to complete. If you have lots of little things to do, bundle them into bigger chunks that take at least 10 minutes each. Allow yourself frequent little breaks between the chunks to clear your mind and enjoy your progress and accomplishments.

Professor David Burkus, Assistant Professor of Management at Oral Roberts University, told Jurgen that:

Ongoing work that you’ve “parked” in your brain can be “incubating”, which generates more creative ideas. However, you should still prevent task-switching by chunking: build your colorful wall one stone at a time.

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