Archive for the 'Gestures' Category

Separate the Zebra from the Herd

From Zebra Herd To Kanban

From Zebra Herd To Kanban.

Suddenly it was crystal clear to me. The evolutionary story of the stripes of the zebra told me why I don’t have to fail. I had so many important tasks to carry out. I fought the in-box from dusk to dawn. I reacted to new ideas and added them to Work-In-Progress. And the most important tasks remained undone. They hid in the herd.

The zebra stripes confuses the lion. Each individual’s stripes blends in with the stripes of the herd fellows around this particular zebra. The lion has trouble picking out any one zebra and he’s got no plan for how to attack. He can’t even understand in which direction the zebra is moving. The predator doesn’t see a prey, it can only see a lot of stripes – hundreds or thousands – moving around in an unpredictable pattern.

Each zebra is an activity in our To-Do. We are the lion that needs to focus on one zebra at a time. Our Work-In-Progress mustn’t be the number of individuals in the zebra herd. Our effort to complete any task, depends on our success in separating a zebra from the herd. And even more: to complete the most important task – to be maximum effective – we must separate the right zebra from the herd.

Great news is that there are good practices that come to rescue. The Now List is mandatory, i.e. you must limit the work in progress. You must also understand that focus mode (completing tasks) and overview mode (classifying, sorting, and prioritizing tasks) are not compatible. You need to alternate frequently between these two modes — in a controlled way. And a third practice is to visualize all potential upcoming activities. The recipe goes: create the big picture, choose your target, and don’t constantly switch.

Pomodoro Technique Illustrated -- New book from The Pragmatic Programmers, LLC


Pivot – kanban token as a thought torn out of the thing

A sticky note on a kanban board is a pivot.

Sticky notes on a kanban board are pivots.

We can be incredibly efficient, but the users of the software we’re creating will only benefit from it if we are effective. Effectiveness is when our customers solve more problems and with higher quality – when they make better business. Implementing received specs is pushing paper. Pro-activeness is to make all aspects of software development to activities to develop our understanding of our client’s needs. Continues delivery is a great tool here and pivots can help us stuff these deliveries with the most effective content.

A pivot is an object used to function as another object in a play situation, like a sticky note with a user need written on it. The sticky functions as the work to write code that meets this need. Planning what to do right now is a play situation. The columns of our kanban board functions as time: future, present and past. (Actually, present seems to be near-future in most kanban implementations – nothing wrong with that.) Moving stickies across the board is a play situation.

Lev Vygotsky taught us that we need a pivot to tear the thought out of the thing. In order to reason about the priorities and the meaning of upcoming tasks, we need objects that represent these tasks. Vygotsky described a child that lets a stick function as a horse: “At that critical moment when a stick – i.e., an object – becomes a pivot for severing the meaning of horse from a real horse, one of the basic psychological structures determining the child’s relationship to reality is radically altered.”

In their book Personal Kanban (Modus Cooperandi Press, 2009), Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Berry elaborates further: “Personal Kanban is an information radiator for your work. With it, you understand the impacts and context of your work in real-time. This is where linear to-do lists fall short. Static and devoid of context, they remind us to do a certain number of tasks, but don’t show us valuable real-time information necessary for effective decision  making.” The pivot is an information radiator. Playing with it develops our idea of the object it represents: our work.

Lego Serieous Play is a is a process designed to enhance innovation and business performance. By using Lego bricks as pivots, teams conduct exploratory workshops on various subjects:

  • Strategy development and exploration: Examine and evaluate relations to external partners and clients.
  • Organizational development: For management, teams and individual employees.
  • Innovation and product development: Unleash creative thinking and transform ideas into concrete concepts.
  • Change management: Facilitate and implement structural changes and mergers.
Lego Serious Play in action. (photo by Ulrika Park)

Lego Serious Play in action. (photo by Ulrika Park)

There are many more examples of pivots used in business. In an ever-changing world, we have to understand new concepts every day. By using pivots in a play situation, we tear the idea out of the object and sharpen our understanding of what the object really is.

Pomodoro Technique Illustrated -- New book from The Pragmatic Programmers, LLC

Am I supposed to focus now?

Do you have trouble remembering if you’re in a Pomodoro or not? If you use a mechanical kitchen timer, the ticking sound will remind you. But what if you work in a no-sounds-allowed office?

This is actually a very common problem. Even if you can’t have the ticking sound and the mechanical timer, I do believe that gestures are important. They help your brain to make the transition from free time to focus time and back.

You may put your cell phone on the desk every time you start a Pomodoro and remove it when you end. Or even simpler: take a business card and color it green on the backside with a felt-tip pen. Put the card on your desk. Every time you start a Pomodoro, turn the green side up. Every time you end a Pomodoro, turn the green side down.

  • You can see the card/phone while you’re in a Pomodoro. It reminds you that it’s focus time.
  • The gestures of turning the card will—after a while—be associated with starting and ending a Pomodoro.

Pomodoro Technique Illustrated -- New book from The Pragmatic Programmers, LLC

The Inner Game of Tennis

The Inner Game of Tennis

The Inner Game of Tennis

You’ve always wanted to play tennis. The best way to learn is to enroll in a beginners course. To make it optimum effective you hire a private instructor. He stands next to you when you play and gives relevant instructions: bend your knees, hit the ball on the side, follow with the shot, move to the starting position, etc. If you just listen carefully and always do what he says, then you’ll soon be able to play the perfect game. Or maybe not?

In 1974 Tim Gallwey published the book The Inner Game of Tennis. He describes an unconventional way to learn new skills. Instead of constantly listening to detailed instructions, we must mentally step back and experience. Those detailed instructions that you want to get rid of don’t always come from a tennis instructor. Surprisingly, they often come from you. And they prevent your full potential.

Imagine that two persons live inside your mind. The first person continuously gives out orders and rates the outcome. Let’s call him Command-and-Control-Self, or C & C Self. The second person listens constantly and uncritically to C & C Self and tries to complete the orders. Everything he does is rated in a Good-to-Bad scale by C & C Self. We call the second person Obedient Self.

C & C Self’s chatter goes on and on and it prevents your natural feedback loop. You can’t focus while you constantly try to just follow orders. The first step is to disconnect this monologue; to get C & C Self to be quiet. The main trick in the Inner Game of Tennis is to get the mind to focus on something relevant and interesting, such as how the ball rotates, or how it flies. We step back and listen to the situation. How does it feel? What do we see? How does that sound? Then when we do act, we will let it just happen.

Without thinking about it, you have closed the feedback loop. You see, hear and feel what is going on and you let your body react to it. You have got rid of the concepts Good and Bad. Instead, you have built a trust in your body’s ability to self learn and carry out; without simultaneous involvement of the mind. You are listening to what is essential. You can only learn when you are aware of and feel your situation.


  1. Copy the flower in box Original to box #1. Try to make it look alike as much as possible.
  2. In step 1, you drew four petals. Regardless of the outcome, here are some questions: Did you try harder when the first petal wasn’t perfect? Did you criticize yourself when you were drawing the flower? Did you instruct your body when you drew the second, third and fourth petal (easy on the hand, pen to left now, etc.)? Take a look at one of the petals in box Original for 10-20 seconds. Close your eyes and then try to see it in your mind. Choose a proper color for it. Imagine how the petal sounds if it’s blowing in the wind. Then open your eyes and draw a large petal in box #2. Let the hand take control without the involvement of C & C Self.
  3. Now, copy the flower from the original box to box #3. Does it look better than the flower in box #1? You became the Inner Game superior in this exercise because you did not judge. Non-judgment approach to learning gives the best progress.


Bibliography from Pomodoro Technique Illustrated

There are many references in Pomodoro Technique Illustrated. Below is a list of the books in the bibliography linked to Amazon. In a future post I will also put links to the referred articles and web sites.

How many of these have you read? Do you have any recommended reading for me?

Pomodoro Technique Illustrated -- New book from The Pragmatic Programmers, LLC

The Now List

(This is an excerpt from the book Pomodoro Technique Illustrated)

In 1933 Hedwig von Restorff performed a set of memory experiments. Her conclusion was that an isolated item, in a list of otherwise similar items, would be better remembered. If I read a shopping list with one
item highlighted in azure blue, it’s more likely that I remember the highlighted item than any of the others. This is now identified as The
Von Restorff effect

The Now List is not another artifact in Pomodoro Technique® (created by Francesco Cirillo). It’s my name for a concept: what I give my attention to right now. The cardinality of my Now List is binary. Either I focus on 1 activity or 0 activities. It can
never be 2, 3, 4 or any other number of activities. Before I wind up the clock, I choose one single activity. My challenge during a 25 minute Pomodoro is to not give another activity attention for a minute or two.

The Von Restorff effect tells me that I can provoke my memory to store things that I highlight. I may use a highlighter felt-tip pen to mark the current activity on the To Do Today sheet. Or I can explicitly write the
activity title on a slip of paper and put it in front of me.

The Now List

The Now List

Pomodoro Technique Illustrated -- New book from The Pragmatic Programmers, LLC

Screen timer for Pomodoro Technique®

Personally, I prefer an analog kitchen timer for Pomodoro Technique® (created by Francesco Cirillo). As I wrote in my book Pomodoro Technique Illustrated it will support an established pattern of gestures and reflexes.

However, since both individuals and the environments we work in differ, there are also screen timers. Many are targeted for Mac OS X, such as Renzo Borgatti’s Pomodori and Guillaume Cerquant’s TimeBoxed. Viktor Nordling’s Pomodairo on the other hand, is developed in Flex in order to reach both Linux, Windows, and OS X with Adobe’s desktop application runtime AIR. In addition to these three there are many other screen timers.

Below is a wish list for a screen timer. Some of these features are already available in Renzo’s, Guillaume’s, and Viktor’s timers.

  • Countdown instead of counting up time
  • Default 25 minutes, but configurable length
  • Title of each Pomodoro is saved in a file for statistical analysis
  • Configurable ring signal and volume, or alternatively, the clock goes on top of the screen when the time runs out
  • Title of the interruption is saved in a file for statistical analysis
  • Activity Inventory where new titles can be added both during and after a Pomodoro
  • Void Pomodori without saving to a file
  • Automatic counting up of time during the break – without timebox or ringing
  • P2P communication between team members’ screen timers:
    • See the title of your friends present Pomodoro
    • Delayed messaging to friend – appears in the recipient’s timer when it rings

If you have a developed a screen timer, please tell us about it in the Pomodoro Technique google group or in a comment to this blog post.

Pomodoro Timer

Pomodoro Timer

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Pomodoro Technique Illustrated -- New book from The Pragmatic Programmers, LLC