It’s been a while since I worked on my own, and one of the first things I did was completely fail to remember how to prioritise and structure my day effectively. I’d forgotten how to motivate myself when there’s no standup meeting to energise you and no team members to be accountable to.

To this end, I spent the first ten minutes of my first real “day in the home office” flailing around looking for the right thing to work on first. I decided to re-learn the Pomodoro Technique in short order, and to attempt to use it how it’s meant to be used.

How I’m doing it

The technique appears straightforward at first glance. A pomodoro consists of an indivisible 25-minute block of time. You set a timer for 25 minutes and take a very short break afterwards. If you are interrupted, and you cannot deal with it within a few seconds, then that pomodoro is cancelled and a new one is started. Every 4 pomodoros you take a longer 15-30 break. What could be simpler?

Well, it turns out there’s quite a lot more to it than that, if you learn the whole technique. It goes something like this:

Planning: At the start of the day, decide on the day’s activities from your list.

Tracking: Throughout the day, record pomodoros completed against tasks, and how many times you were interrupted. There’s a number of other things you can record, such as whether a task was planned or not, or whether the interruption was “external” (someone demanded your attention) or “internal” (your mind wandered).

Recording: At the end of the day, compile your notes into a recording of the day. I’m using a Google Spreadsheet for this, but a paper record works fine too.

Processing: Think about the data you’ve recorded, and analyse it for information.

Visualising: Visualise the data and perform a mini-retrospective on how your day went. When were the interruptions most frequent? When were you most tired? How can you improve your work timetable to be more effective? How can you get the same amount of work done in less pomodoros?

After you’ve got this down, there are a number of techniques you can layer on, such as estimation, to give you even more data. If you want to know more check out the Pomodoro Technique website and especially the free book (pdf) for more info.

Why bother?

At the moment I feel like I really need this. I’m working from home, on a flexible schedule. Ellie and my eight-month old baby are here much of the time. My two older kids come in from school around 4pm, and I’ve made the decision that at the moment I really want to stop work for a while when they come home.

On top of this, I have some client work to finish and a lot of paperwork to do to close Eden. I also want to be spend quite a lot of time creatively thinking about what’s next. I need some data on how I work effectively so I can make good decisions about when I do my work in the day, and when it’s best for me to do different kinds of work.

Is it helping?

It’s a little early to tell, but I’ve already learnt a few lessons after just today:

The jobs you dread are the ones it feels great to get done. By allocating a pomodoro for starting to process my inbox, I really got into it, scheduled a second one and managed to get it down to zero in only an hour. If I hadn’t, I’d still be staring at it, fearing it.

I discovered internal interruptions dominated the early part of my day. This showed me that I hadn’t prioritised my work properly: my mind was drifting off the task I was on and was worrying about many of the things I hadn’t originally scheduled. After finishing the current pomodoro, I re-prioritised, got the urgent stuff done and ended up feeling much better.

I’ll be really interested to see how this informs my work patterns and hopefully helps me find a good daily timetable for this season. It’s already adding value after just a few hours.

Have you used the technique before? What are your impressions: a fad, or a useful tool?