Psychological effect of tracking time and the Pomodoro

I have tracked my time over many years. Yet I could never clearly explain the reason for doing that other than being a pedantic nerd. More recently, however, I stumbled upon an interesting observation.  Every time I start OfficeTime I am forced to do the task at hand (‘the clock is ticking!’). I don’t get distracted as easily. If someone calls me or if I itch to do something else I ask myself ‘shall I stop the clock?‘. The answer is often: ‘no, it’s not worth it!” so I keep working. A few months ago I discovered the Pomodoro, a great Mac app (also available for iPhone/iPod) which takes this psychological trick to a new level.Pomodoro app is based on the Pomodoro technique of productivity. It suggests to work in 25-minute ‘dashes’ (or ‘pomodori’) with 5-min breaks between them. No interruptions (email, calls, web-surfing) are allowed while you are ‘in a Pomodoro’, but you can do whatever you want during the breaks. To help you with that, the Pomodoro app rings a bell at the start and the end of your ‘dashes’ and can be configured to block Skype and other interruptions while you are working and turn them back on during the breaks.  May be there are other nuances to the Pomodoro technique (I’ve never read the manual) but it works for me even in its simplest form.

In a good day I can do up to 8-10 pomodori of concentrated work, but of course there are days when there are only 1 or 2 (usually originating in my writing time). The Pomodoro app can help you to keep daily statistics or display the earned pomodori on your Calendar or automatically send it to OfficeTime (through OfficeTime-iCal integration). I prefer to do OfficeTime tracking in parallel to Pomodoros (e.g. I can time 3 hours of writing but have only 4 pomodori within this period).

The final observation is that Pomodoro works best for long and difficult or boring work which requires a lot of concentration (writing, marking papers, preparing for presentations). Activities that are easier (e.g. answering email) usually do not need this technique. The Pomodoro technique is used by real profs such as Bob “Dr.Mac” LeVitus as he recently described on MacPowerUsers. Try it for yourself!

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About Aleh Cherp

Aleh Cherp is a professor at Central European University and Lund University. He also coordinates MESPOM, a Masters course operated by six Universities.
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5 Responses to Psychological effect of tracking time and the Pomodoro

  1. Csaba says:

    Thanks for a “glimpse behind the scenes”. One can be wishful to luckily catch you in between two pomodoros. ;) I find it difficult to work against a timer. I tend to have thoughts in bursts and sometimes I get so excited after a valuable “thought achievement” that my concentration breaks, I have to stand up and walk a bit.


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