Jen Against the Machine (If the machine were an egg timer) Part 2– The Test

So! Previously, I discussed a time-management method called the Pomodoro Technique.  In part one the blog went over the book and my initial thoughts on how this process would work for me.  If you didn’t read it, part two might not make any sense, so definitely check it out here. Now, let’s get in to how it actually worked (or didn’t) for me.

The Tools:

I used a small notebook and labeled my pages as such: Week 1 Activity Inventory Sheet (a list of the things I would like to complete that week), To Do Today (one for each weekday with the task items listed in order of importance and a section at the bottom of the page for “Unplanned & Urgent Activities” and then a Records Sheet (which ultimately remained blank).  A second set of these pages was created for week 2.

Because the thought of a ticking timer would drive me insane, I looked through Google Apps for an appropriate app to use and found the aptly named “Tomato One”.  Tomato One is an online timer that ticks down from 25 minutes and then automatically switches to a 5-minute break count down.  After the four sets (pomodoros), it then times down from 15 minutes as recommended in the book. I have my laptop screen and then a secondary screen, so I placed the timer where I could see it counting down.

Week 1:

I felt pretty optimistic when I completed the inventory sheet of what I wanted to complete. This was easy to do since I already bullet journal and had my week spelled out for me.  I ended up with a pretty long list on my to-do today sheet, and my first lesson of the process was that I completely over-estimate how quickly I can complete things. I got through four pomodoros and felt okay, but a little concerned at how little I was checking off my list.  Then I got to some client work and started to get really frustrated because not only was I having to monitor Tomato One, but I was clocking in and clocking out for each client.  I will tell you my clients got a few minutes of free work from me several times.

InterruptionsI also noticed that my “Unplanned & Urgent Activities” list got very long.  These came from “Internal Interruptions” such as checking my budget and scanning a stack of business cards to get them off my desk to multiple “External Interruptions,” i.e. clients.  Or, in this case, one particular client who came in through multiple channels (email, a text, and a phone call) which made me make a note to myself to evaluate the way I work with that client.

Day 2 had similar instances plus several occurrences of my just needing a few more minutes to finish something and that flipping timer would click over to break. By noon on Wednesday, I had abandoned the process.

Week 2:

Deep breath and here we go. Felt good about my inventory list, and developed a weird tactic for dealing with just a few more minutes needed to complete something with the Pomodoro going to break.  I would actually stop for break, then finish the item in the next Pomodoro and start the next task during the same Pomodoro. I recorded the “shared’ Pomodoro by drawing brackets on my list.

I also was more detailed on my task list because I was not accounting for the little things, such as reading/returning emails, checking social media pages I manage for comments or anything weird, sending out invoices, etc. These little things occur around the big tasks I have to complete. By Thursday I did not have any unplanned and urgent activities on my list. Score!What it starts to feel like.

I did develop a deep-seated hatred of the Tomato One app. That stupid, ticking time bomb caused me, on more than one occasion, to rush to finish something before it flipped to break which resulted in my messing that task up and having to work on it during the next Pomodoro. I also began to dislike the color change (red for work time, green for break) and actually made fun of it by asking it why it was Christmas colors and who did it think it was to tell me how to manage my time. I believe once I told it to “piss off.”


And I used to like tomatoes

This process does not seem suited for a free-lancer with multiple clients who needs to track worked time for a specific client on a specific task and ends up taking 5-minute breaks all the time. As I mentioned in part 1, I do think this is probably a great idea for students and school work or studying. Having said all that, I do think there are probably people this method would work for, but since I usually get on a roll when I’m working, I feel that my efficiency dips using this method. And if I never see another tomato timer, it will be too soon.

Jen Against the Machine (If the machine were an egg timer) Part 1 – The Book


As evidenced in many of my blog posts, I love to try out organizational or time-management methods and see how they work (or don’t).  When a client mentioned the Pomodoro Technique, I must admit I had never heard of it. She lent me her book,The Pomodoro Techniqueby Francesco Cirillo. It is a very short (112 pages) read. I’m not going to lie; I had many doubts early on in my reading. Even so, I committed to trying this technique for two weeks, and even as I write this, the timer is still ticking.


imageThe basic premise of the Pomodoro Technique (PT for short) is working with a timer going. You work for 25 minutes intensely and then take a 5-minute break (one Pomodoro). After 4 Pomodoros, you take a longer break of at least 15 minutes.  You create an Activity Inventory Sheet of all the tasks you want to complete and then a To Do Today task list in order of importance for each day. As you complete Pomodoros, you mark them next to the task until the task has been completed.  FYI-Pomodoro is Italian for tomato, which is the shape of the kitchen timer the creator used to develop his technique.

My Doubts from Reading the Book:

One of the “rules” is that you cannot keep working past the 25 minutes, even if you are certain that you could complete the task in just a few more minutes. I’m one of those people who gets on a roll, and stopping just hampers my efficiency. It made me picture when I learned how to drive a stick-shift in Colorado-stop, go, stop, go, stall.

Another portion of the book is the stated rule “If a Pomodoro begins, it has to ring.” As in the timer must ring.   From the rule that you can’t work past the 25 minutes, I’m to understand that I must start another 25 minutes for really 10 minutes of work to finish the task and then … what? According to the book, I’m to use that time to overlearn by repeating or reviewing what I’ve done. That just sounds like a waste of 15 minutes. Keep in mind that I’m a consultant who charges by the hour, so I have to be very careful about wasting my minutes. There is an exception that if you finish the activity in the first 5 minutes, then you don’t have to count the Pomodoro. In my mind, that means waste or 5 minutes of time I cannot charge the client.

One rule of this technique states “If it Takes More Than 5-7 Pomodoros, Break it Down.” I’m uncertain about this as a rule, though 2 ½ to 3 ½ hours may be reasonable for some tasks. For one of my clients, I complete a monthly online calendar for her website. During my testing, this took 5 pomodoros but in my mind, how do I break this task down? You try finding and inputting 20 family-friendly events in less than 2 ½ hours! And if I did try to break it down by finding all the events and then inputting all the events, is this most efficient? I can’t charge a client more because some technique says I need to break down a task because it takes 3 hours.

One part of the book discusses deadlines and insinuates that if you have to work overtime, you shouldn’t do so for more than 5 days in a row. Good luck telling your boss or client that you can’t work overtime on the assigned project because this technique says you shouldn’t do it for more than 5 days in a row.

Some Positives from the Book:

notebookOn your To Do Today task list, you add a section called “Unplanned and Urgent Activities.”  This technique acknowledges that things will come up. It even discusses dealing with internal and external interruptions. I liked this section because it was filled daily with tasks for the same client. I was able to evaluate how I was working with that person and whether it was my efficiency or the client’s that determined the results.

The other thing I really appreciate about this methodology is that it encourages me to schedule all my tasks, not just the big ones. It’s sometimes easy to overestimate how much you can complete if you aren’t taking into account the little things around the big tasks such as emails, phone calls, research, etc.

As someone who charges by the hour and by the service, I need to know how long (i.e. how many pomodoros) it takes to complete a task.  By using this technique, I will apparently be able to track a good average for most activities.  However, each client and subject matter is different, and it may still take some educated guessing based on discussions with the client. In the long run, it may not be more helpful than looking through time-tracking (clocking in and out) that I currently use for billing.

Biggest Takeaway from the Book:

The book includes quite a lot of references to studying and school work. While I am doubtful about using it as a long-term business time-management method, it may work very well for students.

Stay tuned for part 2 when I actually try out this technique for two weeks!

Disclaimer: The Pomodoro Technique is very detailed and could only be summarized briefly here. If you are interested in this process, you should read the book to see if this time-management tool is for you.