Two terms in the title that needs clarification. Pomodoro is a technique for managing a task completion, or simply time. Yak shaving is a situation that everyone finds himself every now and than when we are trying to solve a problem in a wrong way. Usually it happens when we create a chain of tasks that will lead to a solution and we keep on repeating it until we get somewhere. Eventually we could end up with a very crazy solution after a long period of time.
An example of Yak shaving I found myself in not too long ago.
I found myself doing a Ruby on Rails development on a Mac box. As I used older version of MacOS I had an older version of Ruby compiler. To use latest version of Rails I had to get newer version of Ruby. To get that I needed to install that via Mac Ports or something similar. While trying to install Mac Ports I found myself missing some of the development files that stopped Mac Ports from installation. It turned out that those files where in XCode. I had to find XCode that is going to work on my machine. Turned out that older version is available on Apple Dev website, all I need is to sign-in. I had an account, but forgot the password. Then I tried to retrieve a password and that didn’t work. After some battles I finally got a XCode on my box. It was still Mac Ports impossible to install Mac Ports thought. That took me along time. Eventually I ended up installing VM image of Ubuntu and developing on Linux VM.
I think that being developer, the Yak Shaving problem is very irritating and could lead into a lot of wasted hours. When working in a pair, the Yak issue will not appear that often. There is always a second pair of eyes to validate the sanity of the task in progress. It doesn’t eliminate the Yak entirely as I found out with some peers
When working alone that is entirely different story. Because there is no one to run you ideas by, sometime I make a decisions that lead me into “the shaving“. I found myself wasting hours before realizing that it doesn’t make sense and taking step back.
Pomodoro, mmm, delicious
Not to long ago on a project I was working on, we used Pomodoro to keep us focus for a period of time. This simple technique combines 25 minutes of un-distractable time of work and a 5 minutes break. After 4 successful Pomodoros (25 minutes + 5 minutes break) we had a little longer break. While working in a pairs, Pomodoro was keeping us focus and safe from emails, phone calls and coffee breaks. The 5 minutes break gave us a lot of time to discuss the issues around the task/problem.
When working alone the 5 minutes break could be the excellent opportunity to talk with someone else about the problem or just take a step back and reflect on a solution. This eventually could lead into new ideas and most importantly into STOP shaving a Yak.
There is more to Pomodoro technique than just a sanity check from a yak shaving. There is a free PDF book that can be downloaded for free http://www.pomodorotechnique.com/resources/cirillo/ThePomodoroTechnique_v1-3.pdf and some other resources on the Pomodoro Technique web site.