To say the least, there are several major differences between the Pomodoro and GTD techniques of productivity.  In some situations, these differences allow them to play well together, while in others they may even hamper each other. Today’s post will center on some of these areas.

A Cross-Product of Space and Time – Pomodoro as Context

Pomodoros are like hitting the run-key in a video game. The stamina bar steadily moves down until it hits zero followed by a needed relaxation period. They offer sustained energy for distinct periods of time and are best used, perhaps, in certain situations.

Contexts in GTD are mostly considered places. Time and space are generally separated. Pomodoros, or any set intention of time, focus on time as a resource. Every thing, every project, every task, takes up a space and time be they abstract or otherwise. In fact, a task can often be considered as taking up time more so than space. For example, a telephone call takes up an amount of time, but the space is more of a location than a volume. While the location as a context is certainly important, one risks ignoring the time taken for the task.

Part of GTD’s utility is found in breaking down Projects into the most readily workable tasks whenever possible. This allows us to do at least some things when we have little energy – for example when we have a terrible cold and can barely function.  In this way, some tasks that only take moments can still be done between larger tasks.  At other times, we have a lot of energy and feel ready to take on larger tasks requiring sustained effort.  GTD works with any and all of these various energy levels.

The pomodoro is only for specific times. It may even best be considered as a context in itself.  It is better suited towards dedicating oneself to a task where we are willing to and looking towards supporting a sustained focused concentration over a course of time during which breaks can be useful.

Differences between the techniques creating potential conflict:

  • The Pomodoro Technique begins with a list of “to-dos” while GTD shuns generic lists and rather encourages a much more context centered approach to doing work. (To be addressed in part IV)
  • GTD can be done at any energy level. Pomodoros generally work best when we have energy to concentrate, but can aid one’s focus, too.
  • The pomodoro includes inherent breaks in work flow while GTD makes no such limitations.

Differences creating potential support:

  • Both are about getting things off of your mind so that you can focus on the present moment but do so in different ways. GTD does so by addressing all projects, tasks, and open loops. Pomodoros create islands of time.
  • A pomodoro provides a time and concentration dimension to contexts.
  • GTD creates a map of projects. Pomodoros give a sense of the distance and fuel required to travel the projects.
  • The Pomodoro Technique is a simple use of a timer while GTD is a robust system built around reminders whether in a tickler file, context lists, or reviews.
  • GTD is about reminding ourselves of a task precisely when it is needed. Pomodoros are about reminding ourselves of the task we are doing at the moment.

In the next post, we’ll take a look at translating between GTDs and Pomodoros and more of the practice of combining the two.