Timer de Cozinha em forma de Tomate

As a freelance writer working from home, I face (at least) a couple of key challenges on a daily basis. First, I don’t get paid unless I actually work. Contrast this to a job where you are paid an hourly wage regardless of your relative level of productivity. Second, there is no one hovering over my shoulder, encouraging me to stay productive. I am my own supervisor and manager. Given these challenges, the onus falls completely on my shoulders to complete the task at hand in a timely fashion.

For the most part, I have been successful in this regard. I have always been able to deliver on time and on budget. However, the way that I go about doing my work has been mostly organic and spontaneous in nature. The freedom of both location and schedule has provided a great deal of flexibility at the expense of structure. Thus, more recently, I’ve started to think about standardizing my approach to work.

Applying the Factor of Time to Kanban

Last week, I wrote about the concept of using kanban boards as a means of improving productivity, organizing projects, and tracking tasks. The idea is that you move items from a “to do” column to one for tasks “in progress” and finally to one for “done.” The problem is that the steps taken along the way aren’t integrated with a particular schedule. They aren’t timed.

In alleviating that concern, I came across what is known as the Pomodoro Technique. It’s named after the Italian term for a tomato, since it is fundamentally based on the tomato-shaped kitchen timer (like the one above). At its core, the Pomodoro Technique encourages you to take breaks in between more focused work sessions. This is meant to bolster overall productivity and facilitate “mental agility.”

Employing the Pomodoro Cycle

While there are countless variations to the paradigm, the Pomodoro Technique typically utilizes focused work sessions of about 25 minutes. For that 25-minute period, you focus on just one task. When the time is up, you take a short break of about five minutes before diving back into the task. After about four pomodori (the plural of pomodoro), you can take a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes. Eventually, the task is completed and you move on to the next one.

Part of the reason why the Pomodoro Technique works is that it provides a structure to your productivity. The other reason is that it forces a certain level of self-monitoring, which should help to discourage procrastination. If you get distracted with social media or a YouTube video, you must tell yourself to pause that Pomodoro timer… or, you know, don’t allow yourself to get sidetracked in the first place.

Tomato, Tomato… Does It Work?

Over the course of the next few weeks, I intend on combining the principles of Kanban boards with the principles of the Pomodoro Technique. I’ve said very early on in my freelance career that taking the time to monitor your exact work habits, tracking exactly how much you’re working (rather than how much time you’re spending “at work”), can be incredibly insightful and useful.

That being said, with the infinite distractions of a baby in the next room, I’m not sure how many full Pomodoro sessions I’ll be able to accomplish each day. And that is precisely why this experiment is worth exploring. Wish me luck!