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Imagine I have started a pomodoro and in the middle of it I realize I forgot to take a kettle off the stove. It would only take me like 10 seconds - quicker than to take a note of the interruption - to simply turn the stove off.

Is this a violation of a pomodoro? Should I void it and start a new one for the sake of engraving in my brain the importance of prudent preparation for each pomodoro?

As a side note, GTD instructs to deal with all the tasks on the spot assuming the task takes under 2 minutes to complete. PT, by contrast, officially doesn't allow to deal with any (unrelated) task, however short, only allowing to take a note of it.

So might this difference between the two have some deep roots somehow?

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I usually stick to the core rule that you should deal with it if it takes under 2 minutes. Sometimes not going to the bathroom disrupts concentration. – Muz Nov 27 '12 at 7:43
Well, I genuinely don't know who's more correct - Dennis or Gabber in their answers, so I'll let the community to vote :-) Besides, I cannot vote myself. – Alexander Shcheblikin Nov 28 '12 at 20:01

Don't overthink this. If you forgot to take a kettle off the stove, you should go and take the kettle off the stove. No productivity technique is worth letting your house burn down. The purpose of pomodoro is to keep you from being distracted by mundane things like phone calls and emails, and not to make you ignore dangerous situations like a fire or an earthquake.

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As a user of both pomodoro technique and GTD, I think there isn't a definitive answer that will work for all people in all cases. My advice is that if you decide to let moving the kettle distract you from the current pomodoro, you should void the pomodoro and start over. As you note, that will help you plan better to control your working environment.

On the other hand, if you can deal with the kettle without breaking from your current pomodoro's work (maybe you're in the midst of thinking, which can be done walking around as well as sitting) then just ignore it from the perspective of pomodoro tracking.

As an example of how I use this approach regularly, I often have someone stop at my desk to ask a question. I'll say "20 minutes?" (or however long to the end of the pomodoro) before they finish, if they say OK and leave I don't count that as an interruption. And then I go deal with their question either during break or as the next pomodoro, depending on how complex it is. But if they need an immediate answer, or take long enough deciding to wait until later that I lose my concentration, I void the pomodoro and start over.

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I'm doing such "kettle" things automatically, virtually not breaking the flow of my task. So I like your approach not even taking a note of such happening. Still the question remains about where's the line between just taking a note of an interruption while keeping at the task and voiding a pomodoro altogether? – Alexander Shcheblikin Nov 28 '12 at 19:46
@Alexander There is no formal rule. Pomodoro is just a technique for you to get at your goals. You are the one who decides in the moment if it voids the pomodoro or not. Just try to continue. You'll notice if your concentration is gone or not. If it's gone, void the pomodoro. – Jan Doggen May 13 '14 at 7:07

To stick with the traditional pomodoro technique this is considered an interruption. Pomodoro technique is made so that you shouldn't be thinking about the kettle on the stove at all! Tracking down internal interruptions is an inverse way to track your progress in not triggering interruption yourself. Zero internal interruptions => you are completely focused on what you are doing and you achieved one of the goals of the technique.

If you want to get the iron-hard focusing capability that the technique promises, you should stop the pomodoro right there and handle that or write it down on a piece of paper and handle it later. On a less strict interpretation, of course you can handle your problem immediately, it depends on what you want to achieve using this technique.


The downvote made me think... What is wrong in what I said? Now I understand an important thing that I forgot to mention about my appilcation of the pomodoro technique. In the startup phase I usually make my environment comfortable before starting to work. That means also removing any kettle that would be on the stove before starting, and, more generally, removing all possible interruption-generators I can find.

Of course you can implement the technique the way you want, but I suggest you to look for the implementation that makes you reach the best results! This is the crucial point of this technique: continuous improvement. Look for the behaviour that suites more your concentration, either setting up your environment or focusing on your task and handling possible interruptions during pomodoros.

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Speaking of internal interruptions - do the "non-action" interruptions count? (Like having a fleeting thought, unrelated to the task at hand) Sometimes such things may be even more distracting. – Alexander Shcheblikin Nov 28 '12 at 19:57
Internal interruptions are the non action interruptions. The author is very strict about that in the book. When you have such an interruption you mark it as an interruption and go on. When you stop doing what you were doing because of your internal interruption you void the pomodoro – Gabber Nov 28 '12 at 20:16
IMHO You're over-formalizing. "and you achieved one of the goals of the technique" The technique does not have a goal. You have a goal, and you use a technique. – Jan Doggen May 13 '14 at 7:05
Yep, you might be correct, but I'm sure the message arrived to the point. Writing "the goals proposed to you by the technique" wouldn't add anything – Gabber May 14 '14 at 9:52

IMHO: To best take advantage of the Pomodoro technique, the uninterrupted block must be--well--uninterrupted. But as the ideal isn't always possible, I suggest that even these small interruptions should result in restarting the session.

The time that it takes to deal with an interruption doesn't necessarily equate to the actual amount of time lost...there is a cognitive load associated with task switching no matter how small the task.

And the repetition of the exact time of the session(s) is also something you are internally adapting to, which makes the habitual approach more effective.

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Yes, but then, being a perfectionist it'd be quite difficult to accrue even a single "clean" pomodoro in a day, wouldn't it? – Alexander Shcheblikin Nov 28 '12 at 19:39
Difficult, yes. Impossible, no. Otherwise the question could be rephrased as "How do I have uninterrupted Pomodoro sessions if I must allow myself to be interrupted?" :) – Chris Nov 28 '12 at 21:28

Inspired by your question I've just read original paper by Francesco Cirillo. The whole idea of the technique is that you can resist both a internal and an external interruption. Obviously it is better to take off the kettle than burn the house but in most cases it will be just trying to escape from the task you should do. It would be violation and your pomodoro should be void.

I think you should more think why you have this feeling that you have to do it or why you forgot about it on your break in the first place. Maybe it is just the attitude towards your task and it is matter of reorganising your tasks list. Maybe it is matter of your breaks and they are really to short for your mind. Maybe it is stress or difficulty of your task.

I don't want to over-think the problem but if you want to organise your time and work and want to use pomodoro, probably until you master dealing with interruption, the kettle problem would be somehow escaping from your tasks and moving backwards with mastering the technique.

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You should, as always, track such an interruption with an apostrophe. However, you should not void the pomodoro. After all, since taking the kettle off the stove takes only a few seconds, doing so can be reasonably considered "dealing with the interruption." And if so, there is no need to void the pomodoro. This, I would argue, is implied by the following excerpt from the official Pomodoro manual:

If Mark gets a sudden craving for a pizza 10 minutes later, he’ll mark down another apostrophe but this time he’ll note this activity on the To Do Today Sheet under Unplanned & Urgent (fig. 2.13). Then Mark continues with his Pomodoro.

Up to this point, the Pomodoro hasn’t been interrupted. It’s kept on ticking and Mark has continued working, dealing with interruptions. Clearly, as little time as possible should be spent dealing with interruptions, a few seconds at most. Otherwise the Pomodoro has to be considered interrupted, or void. Finally the Pomodoro rings. Mark records it with an “X” and takes a quick break (fig. 2.14)

from, pages 10-11. In the new, printed edition, this excerpt is on pages 23-24.

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