Mind like Tomatoes

After an interesting exchange with a fellow blogger I feel the need to map out a bit more thoroughly than last time the pragmatic mashup of GTD and The Pomodoro Technique that is the method of my current madness. This is then a post about methods...aargh  and I am (strange to say) not much of a method wonk. No really. It is all too common to see productivity methods and the tools that go with them (generally software) become precisely the kind of mental tar-baby that we were trying to avoid by adopting them : goofing around with new software is probably less mentally challenging than dealing with you piles and files. The thing that has always endeared and adhered GTD to me is just that it works for me. Other methods, Covey et al, bounced off my polished procrastination, leaving me feeling guilty. GTD allows me to do things that would otherwise not happen. It sticks with me despite my ability to go haring off after any gaily apparelled concept that trots past. It is just fierce enough to make me do the thinking I need to do but not so grim that I despair of satisfying its constraints : hence the affection and enthusiasm.

GTD evolved out of the kind of busy commercial middle and executive management environment Peter Drucker wrote for. Its bones and brains were honed against a deluge of inputs and interrupts, lack of clarity, moving targets and the pressing need to remain sane while keeping an ever increasing number of plates safely spinning. It is indeed about "getting things done" and the unsaid follow-up is "despite your screw-ball environment". The assumption is that the (for me unsung) rigourous process of defining a Next Action will automatically chunk things into a size you can focus long enough to handle. That is mostly true, but not always.

I have a set of documents I prepare once a week which takes a serious amount of time and concentration. The action is perfectly clear to me. The doing is sometimes challenging.

The Pomodoro Technique on the other hand evolved from Francisco Cirillio's wish to improve his ability to study. It is armoured against distraction, lack of focus and loss of the ability to absorb information: it is a way of staying the course, buckling down. The assumption here is that your task may well be large, but it is pretty well defined: it is a book to read attentively, learn from, perhaps a programme to write.The "atom of time" GTD thinks about  is two minutes. Pomodoro's take 25 minutes: some things need the one focus, some need the other. It is also worth noting that in most GTD forums there is  a lively discussion of procrastination, which suggests to me that GTD needs a little help in the doing area. Also very powerful in the Pomodoro technique is the emphasis on learning, keeping records so that you can see patterns and improve over time: very Kaizen.

There is no wrong here. E-mails patter into my PC at about 40-60 a day right now. The need to be handled and transformed into action and it needs to be done with rigour. It needs a process that makes sense of them quickly and prevents overwhelm. Some of my stuff is just too small and volatile for Pomodoros - I hate mashing disparate tasks into one 25 minute slot. On the other hand, I also have those big-chunk documents to deal with - those work out to about six Pomodoros on a Tuesday.

I also collect vigorously, always have a notebook, take a tear-off pad to every meeting and process my notes afterwards. I need both a toothbrush and a hairbrush, tap-shoes and wellingtons (rubber boots for you US people) even the rapier and sledgehammer on some days. My wisdom here is this: use what works for you, GTD, Pomodoro or both.


  1. tim says:

    I have to thank you for encouraging me to define my practice a little. I am a pragmatist rather than a system devotee, but I live in the kind of corporate office environment that GTD was designed for.

    I have never touched a tickler file, too little utility for me, too much administrative overhead and too static: I change desks a lot.

    Good Hunting!

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