Where the Pomodoros End
At some point in every software developer’s career (and likely so for other knowledge work), they are subjected to a tomato-based hazing ritual known as "the Pomodoro Technique".
The process is always the same:
The Initiate overhears the Senior Engineer Cabal during one of their cloaked rituals—the Morning Standup—as they describe the number of Pomodoros a task will take. During their open office peer one-on-one, the Initiate vocalizes their curiosity of how Italian tomatoes map to man-months, to which the Senior Engineer coyly responds:
- A Pomodoro is a 25-minute span of uninterrupted work.
- Each Pomodoro is followed by a 5-minute, uninterrupted break.
INSERT_TIMER_APP_HEREto keep track of your Pomodoros. All other timer apps suck.
And off the Initiate goes, never to be seen again. Not because they’re working, but because they’re testing alternative Pomodoro tracking apps. Only 173 to go...
Even if this story is only a shoddy attempt at half a polite chuckle, the Pomodoro Technique is both very real, very misunderstood, adored, and occasionally even effective.
What about those interruptions? Leaving distractions—called “internal interruptions” in the lingo—aside for a moment, what are you supposed to do if others interrupt you?
According to the original Scripture, you are supposed to “inform effectively, negotiate quickly to reschedule the interruption, and call back the person who interrupted you as agreed.”
For such a prescriptive schedule of work, there’s nothing to acknowledge when that interruption is to be rescheduled for. Furthermore, as a leader I’m interrupted constantly, so this is not a small issue: it’s core to how I need to work.
- Do I tackle all interruptions right now? If so, what is this timer doing?
- Do I reschedule interruptions to take the place of my break? Not much of a break, then, is it? And breaks are why I need something like this!
- Do I reschedule interruptions for after the next break? If so, does that count as a part of my next Pomodoro, or is this some sort of extrajudicial task?
- Do I schedule some sort of “Office Hours” like a professor trying to corral a group of hormal late teens? Now you’re just being ridiculous. And that’s coming from me, who’s writing all this nonsense.
Where Pomodoros go to die
Interruptions kill Pomodoros. This is why so much of the language, writing, and culture of Pomodoro users talks about “protecting the Pomodoro.”
When your work is about interruption—when your work is about being the interruptable one—then you yourself have taken the Pomodoro Technique to a farm upstate.
I’m still working on the same problem, but the solution I’m using today works better than I initially expected:
Run that timer all day
For a few months now I’ve had a small device running in the corner of my office. On it displays the current time, and most importantly a buzzer goes off at :25 and :55 when it’s “time” to take a break, and at :30 and :00 when that “break” would be over.
Do I actually take those breaks? Almost never, but the little buzzer keeps me informed of the break time I’m missing through my various meetings and interruptions, and my subconscious does a remarkable job of nudging me each time the buzzer goes off just how much of a debt I’ve accumulated. Practically speaking I only get to pay up a couple times a day, but now it’s become a conscious, guilt-free choice both to take the interruption and to take the break(s) I’ve neglected.
When I first started using the Pomodoro Technique circa 2009, my emotional takeaway was the feeling that I’d taken control of my time, no longer controlled by it. My tomato timer may be dead and gone, but this new timer has resurrected that feeling of control and determination, and I look forward to working with it for even longer.
11th of March, 2021