Friday through Saturday I attended my first retreat for strategic planning at my new place of employment. The time went quickly and a lot was accomplished; all things considered, it provided a pleasant ending to my second week of work. Today I am back in the office with a newly expanded to-do list. I will deploy my newest tool:
Not tomato, the fruit, but the Pomodoro Technique, named for the Italian kitchen timers that look like tomatoes. This time management technique supplements other systems (Getting Things Done, for example) and provides a structure to accomplish tasks. The basic idea involves prioritizing your to-do list and breaking it down into blocks of activity than can be accomplished in a couple of hours or less. You then set a timer for 25 minutes, a length of time for which most people can concentrate on a single defined task (there is science behind this). The timer rings at the end of the time period, and you then take a 3 to 5 minute break. Setting the timer and knowing you will get a break allows people to make better decisions and reduces anxiety about meeting a looming deadline. Every four Pomodoros you take a longer break in the range of 15 through 30 minutes.
The Pomodoro bears a striking resemblance to "Mad Writing" and some related activities.
Implementing the Pomodoro strategy can be very low tech. Pencil, paper, and a simple timer are sufficient. Every Pomodoro finished gets a tic on the sheet. The official website offers free downloadable worksheets. Of course, higher-tech solutions can also be employed (would I settle for pencil on paper?). Several low-cost iPhone apps are available which can track every time period for you with customized tic-tocs and alarms (I'm using this one).
I began using the technique while between jobs at home when there were few external interruptions. The technique helps you deal with internal interruptions- getting food, drink, stretching, etc. Why screw up your Pomodoro when you have a break coming up in 25 minutes? Now that I am back in an office setting, external interruptions become more problematic; however, very few calls and questions cannot wait for your 25-minute interval to end! The book (available here as a free e-book) discusses strategies to deal with interruptions of all sorts (like right now, when my computer keeps asking me to restart). If you're not ready to commit to the book, the website and a downloadable cheat sheet both offer an overview of the technique sufficient to allow implementation.
My post has almost been completed with 9 minutes left in my second Pomodoro. That should be enough time to preview and proof the tomato and then hit the "publish" button. Then I can cross "Blog" off my to-do list for the day.