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I earmarked two Pomodoro to clear my inbox this morning, and when I got half way through the second I was done.

The Pomodoro Technique manual says that this presents an opportunity to 'over learn' - and continue working, thereby increasing the quality of whatever it is you are working on.

I can understand this if working on a document - which can obviously be checked for copy errors / grammar etc, but email is a different beast - emails have been dispatched and my inbox is clear. I'm unlikely to embark on clearing out deleted items for example when there is more pressing work to do. Just unclear how to categorize this in 'number of Pomodoro achieved' today etc!

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You have to fill the time. Strange, but those are the rules. As suggested, try cleaning something or organizing your desk area. –  DustinDavis Aug 8 '11 at 21:37
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3 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Four options:

  1. Actually 'over learn' your current task.

    For example, for e-mails you have the following options:

    • See how you can get to clear your e-mail in 1 Pomodoro, doing it in 25 rather than 40 minutes.

    • See how to more efficiently organize the information you receive through e-mail, like saving your attachments in the right place and extracting information from the e-mails to the right location in a note book. So that you end up with 50 minutes because you are being more organized.

    • Perhaps you shouldn't be processing e-mails for more than 1 Pomodoro at a time, consider swapping your second Pomodoro to later in the day so that your second Pomodoro also takes 25 minutes. Don't process home things at work and vice versa might be a good start...

  2. Take an extended pause.

    Obviously, this isn't a productive option and isn't acceptable at work, but it is acceptable at home.

  3. Do some small tasks that don't fit a full Pomodoro, but rather half a Pomodoro.

    Some examples:

    • Clean up / organize your workplace.

    • Fix something that bothers you in being productive.

    • Do some GTD processing.

    • Give the kids some attention, make them busy for the next hour (movie), ...

  4. Progress towards your next Pomodoro.

    The most productive option. Keep a 5 minute pause and start with your next Pomodoro.

    Two possible problems could occur:

    • You use the clock to determine when to do your Pomodoro. Unlearn that habbit, usa a timer.

    • At the end of your work day you have some minutes left. Use it for mails or extend a Pomodoro.

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I don't really understand your 1st bullet on #4. What do you mean by unlearn the habit of using the clock for the pomodoro? Isn't using a timer the whole point of the method? –  KennyPeanuts Aug 8 '11 at 14:22
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@DQdlM: Clock, not timer. Pomodoro + Pause is exactly 30 minutes as most work times also start and end on (half) hours. So if you work from 9 to 12 you get to do 6 Pomodoro. It's a cheaper way than having a timer with you that also works. But of course, using a timer is a better choice... –  Tom Wijsman Aug 8 '11 at 15:41
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Do some planning - revise your task list, see if anything is obsolete, add estimation for the tasks.

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Along the lines of @Tom Wijsman's #3, David Allen says "When in doubt, clean a drawer".

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+1 - that's excellent! :-) –  Martin Oct 11 '11 at 16:23
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