I started my career as a management consulting analyst. That might not ring a bell, so I’ll spell it out for you: I was tasked with crunching huge data and churning out slideware while a senior colleague was breathing down my neck. Management consulting is a take-it-or-leave-it business. On the average day, the clock is ticking, the stress is mounting, your tie is tight against your collar and there is noone to blow sunshine.. erm.. on your desk.
So I was known as a hard working and productive individual.
The shock came when I switched over from high-intensity corporate work to indie work: I found that I just was not that a hard-working guy. If there was no stress or deadline involved, for example in my master’s program where really no one cared if I was successful or not, I did have a tendency to procrastinate limitlessly.
This contradicted head-on why I had switched over: I wanted to be independent and work on stuff I love. Instead, I found out that I could Facebook for astounding periods of time.
I had been reading Getting Things Done type of literature for some time trying to discipline myself into working smart. I just couldn’t do it. I can’t live with myself if I have a spreadsheet of how many minutes I spent on what. I admire the people who do it, but it feels a bit freaky when I try it out.
There was also the solution of installing tracking software on my computer and datamining my way out of the problem. I did get a lot of insight out of it, for example the tool tracked that I was procrastinating on the tool itself for at least half an hour every day… It was good for monitoring, but no real solution. And it slowed down my computer (which meant I worked slower anyway).
My solution, I found, had to be simple and reliable. So I gave “pomodoro” a try.
A pomodoro (plu. pomodori) is a tomato in Italian. I guess some Italian guy was working on his thesis when he found that he worked much more productively when he set the tomato-shaped timer in his kitchen to 25 minutes, and worked in 25-min sprints. The technique involves doing three pomodori back to back with 2 minute breaks, and then taking a long break (15 minutes).
During a pomodoro, you’re not allowed to touch anything but your work. A pomodoro is only for one type of work. You don’t stand up, you don’t switch screens, you don’t look up, answer your phone or anything. If you do, the pomodoro is wasted, you start from the beginning.
Then you can just tally-mark how many pomodori you did for the day. The results, I assure you, will blow your mind. How many hours do you think you really work in a week? My experience in Turkey, not more than 20!
Granted, pomodoro way of working is for creative work usually done in front of the computer with little chance of interruption. Management consulting applies, but more so: software development, writing, reading and desktop research. If you’re in a similar line of work, give pomodoro a try while I write the second part of this post: my takeaways on how to apply pomodoro.