I am sure everyone would agree, our time is precious. So over the years I have tried many tricks to improve my time in the studio. You may not believe it, but I hate tracking my time. Personally I would rather be a free spirit, dancing in the woods, living moment to moment. But in the real world, I need to focus or not much gets done. Combined together, there are two methods that work best for me… a Kanban board, and the Pomodoro Technique.
What is a Kanban Board?
A kanban board is a tool I borrowed from my experience with software development. The basic premise is to keep track of where you are in the process of getting your work done. For example, tasks could be categorized as “To Do”, “In Progress”, or “Done”. My board looks a little different (figure 1), but it really captures the same information. My work moves through 5 stages…
- Great Ideas – things I know need done sometime in the future.
- Ready to Start – items that could be completed when I have time.
- This Week – selected tasks that I hope to get done this week.
- Active Task – what I am doing this moment (see Pomodoro Technique below).
- Done – items completed this week.
Alone, the Kanban board does a great job of tracking my work. But one trap I often fall into is trying to work on too many items at the same time. This shows up on a standard Kanban board as having too many items “In Progress”. This will sound familiar to anyone who lives in the world of Lean Six Sigma where we often talk about the evils of work started but not completed, known as WIP (work in progress). Anyway… knowing myself, reducing the items in progress increases my chances of getting actual work done. That is where Pomodoros comes to my rescue.
The Pomodoro Technique helps us to focus on the task in front of us. The steps I follow include:
- Select a unit of time to represent a Pomodoro (for example, 25 minutes).
- Estimate how many Pomodoros it will take to complete your task. Record this number as circles at the bottom of your task.
- Set a kitchen timer for one Pomodoro and focus only on that task. Do your best not to get distracted (not always easy).
- After the kitchen timer goes off, check off one of your estimated circles and take a short break (5 min). It may not sound like much, but I find that short break is critical to keep my head clear and helps me focus when I return to my work.
That’s it. Just repeat steps 3 and 4 until the task is completed. Sounds simple, but it really has helped me to be more productive. At the end of the week, I count up how many Pomodoros I completed this week and record it on my whiteboard (figure 2). This gives me a chance to review what I accomplished, and think about ways to improve my process moving forward. I also set aside my completed items, and use them to help me improve future estimates (figure 3).
Here are some additional benefits of using these techniques:
- Having a set unit of time in mind (25 minutes) helps me quickly estimate how long it will take to complete any task.
- I can not stress enough the importance of taking a break after each Pomodoro. Spending long days in the studio taking breaks reminds me to stretch, and makes my body feel much happier.
- Counting Pomodoros provides a record of how long it really took to create my pottery. I am often surprised by this number.