Pododoro TimerI've finally been taking the opportunity to try out the Pomodoro Technique that Tony Akins so ably explained to Agile Leaderhsip Network Houston in March. I suppose the fact that it took three months for me to do this should have been my first warning sign. What I've found has been both enlightening and disheartening, and it has pointed out pretty clearly just how un-focused I can be with my own time when I don't have the obligation of meeting a client's needs and expectations. 


Here is a pretty typical experience, this one attempting to write a new article for my blog:

  • Started outline for the blog
  • EMAIL ALERT! - have to see who sent me an email and if I need to reply
  • Back to my outline
  • TWEET! - oh, who sent a Tweet, oh that's interesting - have to follow the link
  • Where was I with my outline?
  • ARRF! - My dog wants out to bark at the cat across the street (not that the cat cares, which I think makes my dog bark more)
  • EMAIL ALERT! - oh, got to answer a question about next month's Agile Leadership Network Houston meeting
  • Now what was I doing? Oh, yes, here's my outline and where was I?
  • Back into the groove, the outline is coming toget...
  • ARRF! - My dog wants back in, he's tired of the cat now and the couch is looking pretty good
  • Now to my outli...
  • BRRIIIINNNGGG! - Pomodoro timer goes off, my 25 minutes are up

Don't Shave the YakI can hear Venkat Subramaniam talking about shaving yaks now. I can even hear myself patiently coaching my Scrum teams about focusing on iteration goals. Email, IM, Twitter, office phone, cell phone, Skype, newsgroups, LinkedIn groups, Facebook, Gist, Plaxo, MySpace, HisSpace, HerSpace, MyDogsSpace... Isn't it just amazing how all these productivity tools and gadgets actually sap our productivity? I have 5 work related email accounts, which does not include a client's email, and I monitor 6 more for the professional organizations I am either associated with or doing some work for. How much is enough?

The disheartening thing about all this, is that this is now considered normal, if not even desirable behavior. We slavishly react to those things that are really distractions at the cost of accomplishing something of longer term value. What's worse is that it is an exceedingly easy trap in which to find ourselves in almost any corporate environment. Activity has replaced Productivity and we reward ourselves for it.

Ok, so let's try again.

Pomodoro round 2:

  • Shut down email, Twitter, and Skype
  • Turn off the cell phone
  • Put the office phone on Do Not Disburb
  • Shut the office door - with the dogs on the other side
  • Start the Pomodoro timer
  • Review the blog outline - add a couple of final points
  • Start writing the narrative
  • Check the link for Tony's presentation
  • Lookup how to spell Venkat's last name
  • Find a reference for the Yak shaving analogy
  • Start polishing first draft
  • BRRIIIINNNGGG! - Pomodoro timer goes off, my 25 minutes are up
  • Start timer for 5 minute break
  • Pet the dog, he feels lonely - the other one is asleep
  • BRRIIIINNNGGG! - break's over

Pomodoro round 3:

  • Restart Pomodoro timer
  • Print draft to proof read and polish - I'm too old-fashioned to proof read things online
  • Make some edits, add a conclusion
  • Look for the tomato timer image - maybe one of a Yak
  • Proof read again
  • Post to the website
  • Adjust the images and formatting
  • Proof read one more time
  • Publish
  • Finished with 3 minutes left on the timer!

The enlightening part is the reaffirmation that focusing on desired outcomes does indeed let us accomplish things of importance. Have a well defined objective; break the problem into manageable pieces; set concrete achievable short-team intermediate goals; incrementally deliver in short time boxed cycles, assess progress toward the goal; adjust and repeat. The practice is easy; it is the discipline required to execute the practice that is hard. It is hard for me individually; it is harder for teams; it is harder still for organizations too entrenched in the urgencies of the moment to see past the noise and accomplish work of real value. The discipline of focus has been lost. How do we re-attain it? One individual, one team, one problem at a time.