Day1: In the beginning of the book, you find yourself focusing on books more while taking a bus than anywhere else. How did this discovery enlighten you on the Pomodoro Technique? You know, everyone encounters problems, but not everyone can solve them.
Staffan: Everyone would be happy to produce more results from the time spent on an activity. I normally solve problems in a scientific way: analyze the current state, create a theory how to change into a better state, perform an experiment, and if it's successful then standardize.
However, in this case I just observed that when I read during my 25 minute bus ride in the morning I was able to focus. I thought about it and realized that the most frequent interruption source is to let your mind slip away from focus mode, into overview mode – i.e. to evaluate if you should stop doing this and instead do something else.
Overview mode and focus mode are mutually exclusive. That's why overview mode starves your focus. To avoid slipping, you must trust your plan to do the current activity. I knew that I couldn't do anything but reading in the bus, so in this particular case it was easy for me to trust the plan to read.
In addition, I believe that a limited session length – here 25 minutes – automatically helps your mind to not question your plan. The timeboxing and the automatic end-of-time signal – I was going to the final bus station – also makes protects you from the recurring question of whether your done with the activity or not. Finally, the repeated iteration size makes it a habit and after a while your mind will adhere to this rhythm.
Day2: Can you talk about the influence of the Pomodoro Technique on yourself?
Staffan: The ideas and practices in Pomodoro technique isn't new. What Pomodoro adds to the time management (or attention management, as I prefer to call it) community is a simplicity and execution.
I've tried Getting Things Done (GTD), Franklin-Covey, and other methods. Like many others I've adapted them and picked what was most suitable for my particular circumstances. These methods are very ambitious and advice you, not only how to focus, but also how to prioritize your long term projects. In worst case, they are too complicated and get in your way.
It's much easier for me to talk about and share my experience on Pomodoro technique. Like most people, I struggle with completing what I know I have to complete today. Pomodoro helps me to get started, it helps me keep a sustainable pace, and it helps me to get a decision juncture every half an hour.
Day3: You always discuss some philosophy of psychological or social studies to help readers understand anything, from why use Pomodoro Technique to its practice. How did you know so much knowledge? And how did you combine them with the Pomodoro Technique?
Staffan: People who haven't read the book sometimes ask me how it's possible to write a whole book about something as simple as Pomodoro technique. My answer is that the book is about attention management in general, and that Pomodoro technique is just the application I use.
As a knowledge worker (computer programmer), I've been interested in time management for a long time. I've read many books that teach well known processes. Usually these books describe how, when, and what to do – but not why you do it.
Books and magazines on popular science can be a starting point to gain the knowledge about 'why'. I like the magazine American Scientific Mind. Their articles have references where you can read more about the basic research. I've also read many books about the brain.
While preparing the book, I gave many speeches about Pomodoro technique. I made them interactive in order to understand what people grasped. Some questions I got from attendees where very interesting, and I tried to find scientific motivations or at least explanations. E.g. is it true that it's easier to make conclusions after a night's sleep, and why is that?
My goal was to make these stories reachable to virtually everyone. Some people say that time management might help other people, but not them. Before you make such a statement, you need to both understand the ideas and apply them. If my book is successful, it can be the link between their experience and scientific theories.
Day4: The Pomodoro Technique can help people adjust from “must complete” to “take a small step forward”. But for newcomers, prioritizing and breaking down tasks is always the difficulty at the beginning. For example, if I want to learn a new programming language by reading a technical book, how should I make a plan with the Pomodoro Technique?
Staffan: It's important to distinguish between short-term and long-term goals. Short-term goals should be fine grained to give a clear understanding of what to do in order to achieve them. It's a waste to break down long-term goals. Before you're done, the world has changed so much anyway.
If you estimate that you will spend more than half a day on a short-term goal, then it's to course-grained. Some people claim that their activities are atomic and they just start and then the magic happens. My experience is that in most cases you can ask yourself: while completing this activity, what would I do first? When you read a book, the first task might be to briefly read the table of contents. And the second activity is to read the first chapter. The third activity might be to do the exercises in the end of the first chapter. To complete the whole book is a long-term goal.
There's also a difference between recurring activities and only-once activities. If you read books every day, not only this book, then you can see it as a recurring activity. I mention this in Pomodoro Technique Illustrated in a chapter called Administrative Pomodoro. Mark Forster's Autofocus has some ideas about cycling between new, old, recurring and unfinished activities. I think his method need some trimming, but it's an interesting idea and I think Mark's onto something.
I use metrics when I'm in doubt about estimates. I make a burn-down chart (Scrum) on the inside of the book cover. The X-axis is the number of pages not read yet and the Y-axis is the calendar days. Sometimes I put the number of completed 25 minute iterations, i.e. Pomodori, on the Y-axis. In the first case I can extrapolate what day I'll be done with this book. In the second case I can see how much time I have to spend to complete the book.
Day5: Thinking about work and handling important phone calls and Emails is forbidden during the Pomodoro rest time. So that means you are supposed to focus too, but on relaxing this time. However, we are faced with so many temptations and disruptions. How do you control yourself? Besides, you mentioned in the book, Polyphasic sleep can be used to get yourself into the state of deep relaxation in a short time, so that a five-minute rest works like a ten-minute one. Did you try that yourself? How did it work?
Staffan: There's a guest story from Renzo Borgatti in Pomodoro Technique Illustrated, where he describes polyphasic sleep. It looks interesting, but I haven't tried it myself. To deliberately rest and recharge your brain can be effective.
Personally I try to stick to goal-free-play. When the break starts, I always leave my office chair. Then I might look out of the window, get a cup of coffee or just take a one minute walk around the office. The activity should be something completely different from what I do during the iterations – i.e. using my brain to solve problems.
The best way to stay away from the temptation to start with something you haven’t prioritized yet, is to just write it down in your Unplanned & Urgent list. I think the sense of urgency partly comes from the fear that if you don't do it immediately, then you'll forget it.
Day6: There are many funny scenes in the book. For example, you like to use fictitious imaginations to switch your state, putting on a clown hat to rest, a lion hat to hunt antelopes, a crown to look at the big picture and make plans. I laughed until I cried while imaging the picture. There are many other humors in the book. I am wondering if you are a born humorous person. Can humor be learned?
Staffan: In the late 90's, three Israeli researchers sent 101 female teachers to a 20-hour humor training program. Colleagues experienced that the teachers improved their comicalness compared to before the program as well as compared to a control group. And there are certainly tricks that you can learn.
However, I believe that every person has a sense of humor – but it's not the same humor. If I think someone can't be funny, then it's because I don't share that person's humor. Some people have a subtle humor that isn't even noted by everyone. My thesis is supported by the fact that even the most successful comedians in the world are not appreciated by everyone.
Day7: Speaking of the daily review in the Pomodoro Technique, you are actually keeping a diary with a mind map. You drew illustrations for each page. How do you regard recording and elaborating ideas with illustrations?
Staffan: This subject interests me more than anything. I'm currently writing a book on visual problem solving. The work title for this new book is "Squared A6". In my opinion, drawing diagrams and icons is the most underrated tool for logical thinking as well as for creative thinking as well as for communicating ideas. Many people believe they lack the proficiency to visualize with paper and pencil. In my opinion this kind of engineering is mistaken for native artistry. I hope my next book will help many people to benefit from visual problem solving. Given the fantastic reception of Pomodoro Technique Illustrated, it would make me very happy if "Squared A6" will be published by Turing Book or any other Chinese publisher.
Day8: Children’s education is a big issue to all parents. You said you taught your kids the Pomodoro Technique. Do you mind sharing your lessons gained from the experience and matters needing attention?
Staffan: I've used "give it a try for five minutes -- I'll start the kitchen timer now" with children in several situations where I expect that their major impediment is to get started. I've tried it with their home work, when they need to tidy up their room and generally in situations they find boring. The result is interesting.
Children can often go on for ages with any activity, as long as they get started. They used to procrastinate for hours instead of just completing the small homework. Now, when they wind up the clock they are almost unstoppable. I've tried it with my children ranging from four years old to twelve.
I want to make clear that it must be optional for children to participate in this kind of process. It relies on mutual respect -- adult and child. If they don't want to, they don't have to.
Day9: I heard that you are translating The Agile Samurai by Jonathan Rasmusson to Swedish. TuringBook Company happens to have someone translate it into Chinese. What do you think of the book?
图灵社区： 听说您正在翻译Jonathan Rasmusson的《敏捷武士》到瑞典文版，正巧图灵也正在翻译这本书的中文版，能不能谈谈你对这本书的体会呢？
Staffan: Yes, I translated The Agile Samurai for a Swedish publisher. I think the book is outstanding. It can be used by managers or project leaders to get an introduction to Agile. But that's not all. There are many tips and insights that are valuable to experienced Agile practitioners and coaches. It even goes beyond the normal Agile area with a project chartering method called "The Agile Inception Deck". I highly recommend this book.
Day10: Last, you are Swedish while Francesco Cirillo, the inventor of the Pomodoro Technique, is Italian. The pace of work and life varies greatly from country to country. In China, many people are working under long-term time pressure. We enjoy reading your books, because you explore time problems in an interesting way, which is relaxing. But we feel stressed again when we go back to work. A friend even says he is too busy to learn the Pomodoro Technique. Would you like to talk about what an efficient person is like and what is a worthwhile life?
Staffan: People differ. Projects differ. Company cultures differ. And of course, there are regional differences. However, the latter is decreasing with globalization and Internet. I have much more in common with people in China today, compared to what people in Sweden and China had in common 100 years ago.
Time management ideas are universal, applicable to any office work around the world. It's even most valuable to people who feel stressed, who have upcoming deadlines, and who sometimes work in an unstructured way. We are all afraid of making mistakes, to not be done in time or to be criticized. A transparent system with clear prioritizing and where we're aware of what's interrupting us will help us to have a sustainable pace and to slow down the heart beat frequency.
In English there's difference between efficiency and effectiveness. An efficient person performs with the least waste of time and effort. An effective person is able to produce a desired effect. Time management might not help you to be more efficient, but it helps you to do the most important activity -- i.e. to be effective. If you work really hard and produce plenty, but no one needs your result -- then it's waste. We can all learn to be more effective by continuously studying, trying and self-reflecting on time management techniques. It's an investment that pays high interest.