Boy holding a pencil

Sometimes you need some focus.

Whether you are working alone or in a collaborative office, finding a way to focus is important. I am currently experimenting with The Pomodoro Technique® as a tool to generate an environment where focusing is possible. In my experimentation, I have begun to hybridize Pomodoro to ensure I am working on the highest value activities in the right order and then to identify process improvements. I have added Kanban as a work entry technique and daily retrospectives to Pomodoro.

Work entry

I use a form of personal Kanban to maintain a backlog and to act as a platform for prioritization. I’m sure the readers of this blog would agree, randomly working on activities is not an effective means of getting anything done. Goals act as the big picture to support selecting activities. For example, I typically select a set of topics to be tackled for the blog and podcast every month. Some of the topics require research or polling, mind-mapping, writing, review, and editing and finally publishing. Developing either a podcast or an essay requires a number of steps; one step generally follows another. As ideas and tasks are identified, I capture and categorize them in Evernote (or sometimes in a notebook, and then transcribe them to Evernote. Perhaps someday I will discuss my experiment with handwriting notes on the tablet.) One note, if a task can be completed in five minutes or less, I generally take care of them during breaks rather than adding them to a list and prioritizing them. I have several categories (classes of service) ranging from personal projects and activities to client projects and activities. In a typical workday, client tasks get the majority of the Pomodoro’s; however, other activities, such as writing and podcasting, get three or four separate time slices. On a weekly basis, I groom and prioritize each of the categories so that I can take the next most important item from the list when I begin a Pomodoro.

Daily Retrospectives

I have borrowed the concept of a retrospective from Scrum and practice it on a daily basis (originally described in Getting Stuff Done: Daily Retrospectives) to ensure that I am tuning my daily set of time and task activities. Over time, I have modified my basic daily retrospective to include the following tasks.

  1. Reflect on the accomplishments of the day (write down at least 2)
  2. Identify any activities that did not go as well as planned
  3. Identify one improvement opportunity for the next day
  4. Groom and prioritize any activities added to the backlog during the day
  5. Identify Most Important Task (MIT) for the next day
  6. Ensure next day’s schedule includes time for running, podcast, writing, etc.

Steps five and six were added based on Kevin Kruse’s new book 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management.  Identifying the MIT for the next day allows me to hit the ground both focused and running (no pun intended) as soon as I a ready to work. Secondly, ensuring the that I have time scheduled for daily tasks like running is important to make sure things actually happen and in some cases that I keep some sort of work-life balance. I still try to keep the process to approximately five minutes in length.

The combination of a backlog using a Kanban approach, The Pomodoro Technique to facilitate focus and to enforce a work in process limit and a retrospective is an effective approach to time and task management for me. Will this be the last experiment with time and task management I perform? History suggests no, and my goal in sharing what I do is to solicit your process and ideas for further tuning and hybridization.

Programming note: Thursday will address the problems I have had with this process. I also intend to include a list of books I have been reading on the topic recently.