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Damian Maclennan

Technologist, Agilist, Speaker, Ex Musician, Cyclist, Troublemaker, Dad. Engineering Manager at Tatts Group

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The Pomodoro Technique - Staying focussed

I’ve been working at home by myself for a few weeks, it’s mostly going well but some days I’m really easily distracted and not as productive as I want to be. As a result, I get unhappy about my days output, which makes me more easily distracted the next day… it’s a vicious cycle.

Anyway, recently while on another engagement, a colleague told me about the Pomodoro technique. Essentially you use a timer to do 25 minute blocks of work where you turn off all interruptions like IM / Email / Twitter, when the timer goes off you give yourself a 5 minute break. Every 4 “pomodoros” you give yourself a longer break. The idea is that 25 minutes gives you enough of that sense of urgency your mind has when under a deadline while giving you a reprieve from it.

Done properly it’s a lot like a mini Scrum. You commit to what you want to do in your 25 minutes, at the end of that look back at the work and decide what you need to move to the next one.

Then you keep track of how long standard tasks take you, what your interruptions are and how you can work with them.

My first day I spent most of today working with the basics, 25 minutes head down and focussed, then 5 minutes to check email, get a drink etc and I got a lot more achieved that day than I did all week.

I fell off the wagon with it after a couple of disrupted days with meetings in them, but came back to it this week, and once again found it to be a massive productivity boost.

I found it very helpful to write down a list of all the things I could think of that needed doing, and adding to that list when I thought of something I wanted to do. Once again, this seemed a lot like a Scrum product backlog, and I found that some of the things I’d usually drop what I was doing to look into never really got important enough to include into one of my blocks of work.

There’s a web site and free ebook at the official site, and a nice timer app called Focus Booster that I’ve been using.

Hope it’s helpful to someone else, as someone who often struggles maintaining focus on some of the less interesting tasks I’m finding it to be a great technique.

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