That Potent little Tomato

2020-05-18

Last week, I asked 'How does one seize a day?' And the general form of that answer boils down to choosing where to spend your time. But before we can make a choice about a 'better' way to spend the day, we needed to know where it was being spent first. To that end, I encouraged readers to try to record what they did during their day at 15minute increments. Then at the end of each tracked day to categorize the time as either Proactice, Reactive or Other. This post is intended to build on that information, but it does not require it.


Once you see where you see where you're spending too much, the next step is to budget. Just like with dollars, you need a plan for where you're minutes should to go. But let's start this simple; with one task at a time. But let's not go crazy! we'll start with something easier to wield than a minute. Planning down the minute would be exhausting! So let's start with 30minute blocks. My mentor shared a clever technique that will be a good place to start. It's called the Pomodoro Technique, after a 'tomato' timer used by the Italian inventor. Here's how it works:

  • Pick the task to be done.
  • Set the pomodoro timer (to 25 minutes)
  • Is the timer going? Then you're working.
  • Someone wants you attention? see 3.
  • Timer is done? Woot!
  • Are you done with the task? No? Ok, jot down a couple quick notes on where you've left off.
  • Take those 5 minutes a a quick break. Bio-break, Tea Break, Pacing. Whatever floats your boat. But don't 'just keep working'. Your brain needs rest too!

Repeat this process as you are able. Then at the end of every fourth Pomodoro, take a longer break. By that point you'd have done about 2 hours of focused work, so we're talking about 15-30 minutes.

Sounds simple enough right? But step 3 and 4 are harder than they look. Think about this scenario: You're plugging away at some deep code work, when suddenly a friendly colleague appears! [Queue energetic encounter music] Friendly colleague wants to ask for help. What do you do?

And that's where the rubber meets the road. Do you break the Pomodoro, and your plan to offer help? Or do you keep your Pomodoro going and help them later? Both are good outcomes, right? But which is better?

To be honest, you can't answer that until you are in that situation. I've found it helps to think in these terms: In order to say Yes, I must first say No. Now that is not 'must first say no to them'. The point is recognizing the trade-off one must make. If I say yes to helping my colleague, I must say No to completing my focused work and honoring my time budget. Something similar holds true in reverse. Saying Yes to the Pomodoro and focused work, means I'd have to say no to the Colleague... at least for the moment. Not to worry thought, that potent little tomato is build to handle this!

The Pomodoro technique is not about capturing every last drop of the day, and forcing it into 30minute blocks. It is for honing, and organizing your intentional work, in a way which helps you protect your attention, your focus, for effective work! That little tomato acts as your little helper when it's going. With it's subtle little tick-tick-tick, its reminding you what you promised to your future self. When your friendly colleague comes along, you're actually presented with a choice. Honor the commitment made to your future self, or try to claim another good thing in the present at the expense of that commitment.

But enough waxing philosophical, back to brass tacks. I hope this post has encouraged you to look into the Pomodoro Technique. I'll personally recommend this PDF for a deeper dive into the whole technique. Want to see what a mature Pomodoro practice looks like? Check out this blog post by Claudio Lassala . Interested in giving it a try? Why not try to use Pomodoros to plan your next half day? Think what you plan to do, and put 30min blocks on your calendar with a label for what you plan to do in each. Then be sure to inform your team about your plan. It will help limit interruptions!