Kanned Tomatoes: A Kanban / Pomodoro Way of Getting Things Done

Pomodoro Kanban

I’ve been a big fan of personal kanban for a while now. I even have a couple articles about my journeys in kanban land. Kanban gives me a great way of seeing what I’m doing, what is waiting for feedback from others, and what I need to do. However, lately I’ve been getting rather scattered in actually accomplishing my various tasks. To remedy this, I decided to try out a little something I read about a while back, the Pomodoro Technique.

The basic idea behind Pomodoro is to break down your work into focused bursts, called “Pomodoros” (which is Italian for “tomato”, which rolls into how the entire system started). You work on a single task for 25 minutes, and then take a 5 minute break. After you work 4 or 5 Pomodoros, take a 20 minute break or so. Taking this approach allows you to break down your work into very simple, and focused tasks. Ideally, it shouldn’t take you longer than 3 or 4 Pomodoros to accomplish a task. If it does, you should break down your task into substeps. For example, the “Add new feature X” type task can be broken down into “Create DB columns for feature X”, “Add view/read code for feature X”, “Add edit/delete code for feature X”, etc. This helps you avoid the distractions of the other steps that sometimes slow down your overall productivity. After each Pomodoro is completed, you mark whether or not it was successful, or if there were interruptions during the period. These interruptions can be external (so and so called and I had to discuss a bug fix) or internal (I wound up browsing Facebook for a while). Ideally, when you complete a task, or even a project, you can analyze the pomodoro sessions and look for ways to improve your focus. Having the short breaks frequently gives you the necessary gaps to check Facebook, and also serves as a motivator for when you jump into your next session to stay focused.

How has the Pomodoro Technique worked for me? So far I like it, but I’ve been highly unsuccessful. Maybe it is my own focus issues, maybe it’s the shifts that have occurred a lot lately in project priorities, but I haven’t had too many “successful” Pomodoros. That’s not to say I’m not getting work done, I still am doing that, but I’m far from a “pure” Pomodorist yet (I wonder if that’s a word). And then there are times where working from home has it’s own interruptions as well. I’m still breaking myself of my old habits as well. I think for myself one of my big hangups is the “switchy” problem of slinging some code, going to check a download, checking a status update, typing part of a blog, etc. I think as I continue to use the Pomodoro technique that this will improve even more, I’ve only been using this for a couple of weeks and even then I have to remind myself to setup a task and start the timer. On the whole I think Pomodoro fits well with the whole agile methodology mindset. Work is broken down into small, manageable tasks, which helps in a very simplistic “get things done” type mindset. It also helps break thinks down into units that could be handled by other people as well. It also helps you if you need to change gears. Let’s say you do get that e-mail about having to update something on the other project. Instead of dropping everything right there, losing valuable dev time and mental energy used on the project, finish off your Pomodoro and then get to work on that task. You’ll be able to shift gears without having the other project nagging in the back of your head, and I’m sure if you told your boss you’ll be getting a jump on that within the hour, they won’t complain. Measuring Pomodoros can also help you estimate future work to be done.

So what tools am I using for my Pomodoro use? The original way was to use a simple piece of paper and a pencil. Outline which tasks you were to do for the day, then pick one, start your timer, and go. You’d mark down successful or interrupted pomodoros as you went. However, doing work on my computer all day, having some digital resources at your fingertips works best for me. Ideally I would LOVE to have a combined Kanban/Pomodoro tool to get my work done. As it turns out, there is one, it’s called Kanban Flow. Kanban Flow is a nicely developed Kanban board that has the option to track Pomodoros as well:

Kanban Flow Screenshot

However, at this point I don’t think the Pomodoro aspect of the appliation is a first class citizen. I keep popping back and forth into the app to try things out, but one major thing for me are the audio cues and some kind of alarm that goes off at the end of the Pomodoro. That would be a huge help. The app is still in beta, so I’m sure I’ll be looking at them again soon.

An honorable mentions go out to Orkanizer, which is still in beta and shows some promise as well. However, it was just a little bit “too beta” for me to be effective. Sometimes notifications would work, sometimes they wouldn’t.

Eventually I stumbled upon Pomodoro Crate. This is a fully featured Pomodoro App that runs on in the browser. It allows me to organize my activities into projects (very helpful) it gives you a nice large timer that also gives you audio cues at various minute marks in the Pomodoro. It also has a quick button to do your short and long breaks. I haven’t started looking into the analysis tools yet, but with Crate, I was able to get up and running in minutes AND be able to functionally accomplish some Pomodoros at the same time.

Pomodoro Crate Screenshot

Sure there’s no Kanban integration with Crate, but that’s okay. Between Trello and Pomodoro Crate, I have a HIGHLY functional task tracking and work management environment that goes wherever I am working. I’ll admit I’m still fine tuning my pomodoro life, but I think it will be quite beneficial to me moving forward. And I’m sure I’ll figure out how to write a widget or plugin that will create Trello cards as Pomodoro Tasks for me as well 8^D

Any Pomodoro users out there? I’m still looking for any tips or tricks, and I’m still in the hunt for tools and would love any insights you have. If you’re just starting out with Pomodoro like me, drop me a line too, I’d love to see how it’s going for you.

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13 thoughts on “Kanned Tomatoes: A Kanban / Pomodoro Way of Getting Things Done

  1. Nice post!
    Regarding KanbanFlow, we have recently improved the notifications for the Pomodoro timer in a couple of ways including alarm sound (not in IE8 or below though). Please try it out and come with feedback!

  2. Really nice entry. I’ve had a lot of success with the Pomodoro technique at home, especially with my writing, but at work I’ve had a lot of trouble getting my twenty odd minutes in without interruptions. I do find it better to use a physical timer, rather than a digital one, and I like to write my Pomodoros on paper, rather than on the computer. Since I’m usually using the computer to work, having a separate Pomodoro system helps me focus.

    I have not looked at personal Kanban, but will at your suggestion.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post Bill. I might have to try the “physical route” for my Pomodoro. i’ve gotten too digital nowadays that sometimes the simple things like a pencil, paper, and a timer do a lot of good.

      I think you’ll find the Kanban will line up with work quite well. I don’t know how crazy things get with your tasks, but for me it can get out of hand easily. Kanban helps me organize that all out, and gives me a little leverage when I need to tell my boss “I can’t do that right now unless we drop something, because here’s the 4 tasks I’m currently working on”.

      As a sidenote, I recently tried out the KanbanFlow app again and it is really nice. There is still more of a Kanban lean on it, but the easy way you can kick up a Pomodoro timer, assign it to a task, and track your pomodoros is really nice.

  3. Hi,

    Thanks for the feedback on Pomodoro Crate – I’m glad you liked it. I’ve also read Personal Kanban (and a few other resources about kanban in general) and a few months ago I was actually thinking about adding a kanban “view” for managing the activities. I dropped it as I didn’t stick to kanban, but if you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them – and if we can come up with something worth adding, I’ll love to build it in.

    Cheers,
    Adrian

  4. setu says:

    Sean, great article. I have been using trello since some time where i break each task (the one’s in to-do or doing) into check-boxes that can be completed in 1 to 3 pomodoros so that i can see my movement in the boards. And then i go and set the pomodoros manually. But I’m still struggling with interruptions and how to deal with them. Looking forward to give pomodorocrate (rhapsodyapp) a try. Was wondering you could “…figure out how to write a widget or plugin that will create Trello cards as Pomodoro Tasks..” since that would be a legendary hack and would save a lot of my time.

  5. Good post Sean. I didn’t know about Pomodoro Crate, looks nice, but unfortunately, it seems like their site isn’t up any longer. Hmm.

    Currently I’m using Pivotal Tracker, but would really like some Pomodoro integration, so I’m scouting the landscape for alternatives.

    • Thanks Oliver! I’ll have to look around again myself. It’s a new year and the projects are already piling up, so balancing the time is essential. I believe Pomodoro can help with that, I just need to get disciplined 8^D

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