Umesh recently discussed the Pomodoro Technique (slides), a time management method that uses a timer to break down tasks into 25-minute intervals called ‘pomodori’ (PDF book on PT, book on PT). The work intervals are separated by brief breaks, usually five minutes each. The name comes from the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that was used by Francesco Cirillo, the inventor of the method, when he was a university student. Why care? Because you have a lot to get done and using your time effectively is crucial to getting it done.
Related concepts that Umesh mentioned include Stephen Covey with The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and David Allen with Getting Things Done (GTD). Covey makes four quadrants from the combinations of urgent and not urgent with important and not important. This framework, in the least, seems like a useful thing to have in the back of your mind, like which of the four quadrants is this activity in, if it’s in the wrong quadrant consider switching to other activities. GTD is based on ‘making it easy to store, track and retrieve all information related to the things that need to get done’. It uses things like a weekly review to, among other things, determine the priority of the individual tasks and commitments gathered during the workflow process. Another tool is mind maps, which you can use to ‘represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items linked to and arranged around a central key word or idea’. Other stuff that Umesh mentioned are the Unschedule and GQueues.
Next point was some reminders of why these tools are important. First, Parkinson’s Law: Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Second, mistaking activity for accomplishment. Umesh gave some examples of non-accomplishment activity: Gmail, Rotten Tomatoes, Cat Melon Head, YouTube, Roger Federer, Engadget, Facebook, OMG! Ubuntu!, etc.
You need a timer (and there are many software timers, see below); an Activity Inventory, where you’ll make estimates of the number of pomodori needed for each task; and To Do Today. For example Activity Inventory, ‘Answer questions on thermodynamics in Ch. 4, 3’. For To Do Today, you’ll allocate, essentially making blanks for each of the tasks that you’ll do. Normal thing is to use a fixed number of pomodori. Pick a task from the To Do Today. Set timer to 25 minutes and work on it until the timer rings. Then mark it done. Take a five minute break and continue with the next pomodoro. After four pomodori, take a 30 minute break. Continue until the task is done.
Pomodoro rules include 1 pomodoro = 25 minutes work + 5 minutes break. Long break (30 minutes) after four pomodori. If you think a task will take more than 7 pomodori, break it down. Once a pomodoro begins, it has to ring. Further, protect the pomodoro. For example, void it if interrupted often. Consider internal interruptions (self) and external interruptions (others).
Mark internal interruptions, such as with an apostrophe in your To Do Today. If not urgent add it to your Activity Inventory (perhaps marking it as not urgent). If urgent, add to To Do Today, such as under Unplanned & Urgent. External interruptions, inform, negotiate and call back. Last thing is to plan, track and record. Look at what you’ve wanted to accomplish and compare to what you did accomplish. Pros of Pomodoro Technique include that it’s easy to concentrate for 25 minutes, you have frequent breaks and it helps track productivity (and postpone interruptions). Cons include that it focuses on efforts and does not tell you how to prioritize.