Mark Needham

Thoughts on Software Development

Pomodoros and the To-Do list

with 2 comments

Anna and I were recently discussing the way that we get things done outside of work and since December I’ve been fairly religiously working through various ‘to-do’ lists with a pomodoro timer.

So far I’ve done 308 30 minute pomodoros in about 8 weeks which is just under 20 hours a week which is not bad but still leaves time for a ridiculous amount of procrastination.

These are some of the things that I’ve noticed from only doing things when it’s explicitly on a timer:

I waste a lot of time

I haven’t been keeping track of how many pomodoros I’ve been doing each day but the Easy Pomodoro app which I’ve been using to track my time allows me to see how many pomodoros I’ve done on a task so I have a rough idea.

On some days I’ve managed to go from 8pm to 1am and only done 3 pomodoros which leaves an impressive 3 1/2 hours of Facebook, twitter, gmail time.

I did try the StayFocusd application for a few weeks but it becomes really annoying when you do legitimately want to chill out!

Things need to be deleted from the ‘to-do’ list

The first to-do list I created had around 10 things on it initially and I added every new thing I wanted to do to it until I had around 25 things on the list and yet had only completed 3 of the original 10 things.

My rough rule of thumb is that if I re-write the ‘to-do’ list twice and the same item is still there then it gets deleted because I clearly don’t have the motivation to do it!

I thought I’d find it frustrating to delete things from the list but it’s actually more relaxing to know there’s a shorter list of things I’m actually interested in doing.

Once I get into something I spend ages doing it

I’ve been tracking how many pomodoros I spent on individual tasks and when sorted I’ve spent 12 pomodoros on average on the tasks in positions 2-7.

The item in position 1 is me playing around with football data which I’ve written about previously and has taken up 36 pomodoros or 18 hours of time in the last couple of weeks.

I generally try to spend my spare time learning new things but in this case most of it has been spent cleaning up/manipulating data into a format that I can do something useful with.

It’s now clear when I’m giving up without really trying

One of the habits I’ve been trying to shake is that I often give up learning something if I’m not able to grasp the basics reasonably quickly.

Timing things on a pomodoro has made it visible how quickly I tend to reach that state and when I see that I’ve only been trying to understand the topic for 1 hour it does make me realise how ridiculous I’m being.

It does seem to motivate me to try for at least a few hours and varying the approach before deciding that a topic maybe isn’t for me at least for now!

I last wrote about pomodoros about a year ago and it’s interesting to see that I’ve covered almost completely different things than I did last time!

I’m not sure exactly what that means but I’d recommend them as a tool for fighting procrastination at the very least!

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Written by Mark Needham

February 25th, 2013 at 11:33 pm

  • Wow – you are more organised than me (but we knew that right).

    I don’t actually like to have task lists for ‘worky stuff’ – by that I mean fun things like learning stats, messing around with football data, working on open sauce projects, writing blog posts. I like to see if I can just work on the ‘most important’ thing I think of to work on. I keep reading lists on instapaper and video lists on a trello wall but that’s about it. It works OK-ish but I find I need to just focus on one or two projects at a time and not get distracted. Trying to do two coursera courses in parallell pretty much messed it up for me last month!

    The only part where I use task lists is for everything else: anything that I don’t do for fun. Shopping, tax returns, replying to emails, booking things, housework. It all goes into rememberthemilk. Capturing the boring stuff in here helps to gamify it (marking a task as done!) and lets me get stuff out the way so I can concentrate on the fun stuff.

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