The 33⅓ RPM Vinyl Album Technique

Do you ever listen to music while you work? Does it sometimes distract you from getting things done? Here’s a way that can make music help you to focus, instead of being a distraction.

The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique, is a system for “getting things done”, that was devised in the late 80’s by an Italian called Francesco Cirillo, to help him with his university studies.

In The Pomodoro Technique, at its most simple, you plan, prioritize, and estimate the things you want to get done, using an old fashioned pencil and paper. “Pomodoro” is Italian for “tomato”, after the simple fruit shaped kitchen timer used to time 25 minute long time boxes.

At the end of each Pomodoro, you have a 5 minute break, and after 3-4 Pomodoros (Pomodori?), you have a longer break. It helps to prevent fatigue, and it can help you avoid distractions, or at least contain them. By tracking and visualising your Pomodoros, you can set up the conditions for self improvement, for example reducing the number of distractions recorded, or increasing the number of Pomodoros completed in a day.

It can be an effective way to help you focus, improve flow, and get through a bunch of stuff you want to do. Some people start to combine this technique with their personal kanban techniques. A tool like KanbanFlow (review), incorporates a timer for Pomodoro timing. Another timer tool is Focus Booster .

The Vinyl Album Technique

Portable turntable

I have an extension to The Pomodoro Technique, that I call The 33⅓ RPM Vinyl Album Technique™ or The Album Technique for short.

For The Album Technique, I have another way to define work intervals. Instead of the ticking timer sound of a kitchen timer, or a timer like Focus Builder. I use the much more pleasant sounding vinyl LP.

The stereo in the next room, has a Cambridge Audio amplifier, a pair of Wharfedale speakers, and a Sherwood turntable, which put out a decent sound. A standard 33⅓ RPM, 12″ vinyl album lasts for 18-28 minutes per side…around about the duration of a Pomodoro; just perfect. You can add the challenge of trying to finish a sub-task or task before the end of a track, or the end of a whole album.

At the end of Side 1, I get the benefit of getting up, having a stretch, walking to the next room, returning the tone arm of the turntable, flipping the LP over and starting side 2. At the end of side 2, I do the same, and spend a few moments choosing another LP. At the end of 2 whole LPs, I indulge in a longer break, perhaps for a beverage, or a quick look at

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Change and improvement

This podcast episode of the architecture and design show 99% Invisible from radio KALW in San Francisco appeared in my Twitter stream today via @kjscotland (Karl Scotland).

99% Invisible-30- The Blue Yarn by Roman Mars

I probably don’t have to tell you that the lean concept in software development is adapted from the automobile manufacturing industry. In this podcast episode, a really interesting case study is shown where continuous improvement by reducing “waste” was achieved at a cancer centre in Seattle by adapting the Toyota Production System to healthcare.

Here were some salient points that I thought were notable in this:

Change is hard

“When Dr Kaplan told his staff they were changing the whole way they operate…the response was not pretty…There was a lot of anger…led by the doctors of course”

Change is hard. The improvement at The Virginia Mason hospital was a multi-year project. The driver of all the improvements was the needs of the cancer patients (as well as the need to save money). However this butted against the desires of some of the doctors e.g taking away offices with good views. Changing from a doctor driven experience to more patient driven experience is hard.

A different angle

“We couldn’t conceive of it intellectually until we saw it visually”.

People think they are dealing with an issue intellectually but until they see the situation represented in a different way…using a blue ball of string and a map of the hospital in this example, they might not be able to see where improvements can be made.

Using a different approach identified that waste existed in the form of patients having to wait a lot but until a different approach was…no one identified this. It was just the way things had always been done.

Sometimes people need a kick start. In general, people don’t really like being told what to do, although IMO there are times when this needs to happen but that’s the subject of another post. Helping see issues for themselves allows them to then work with you and their colleagues to solve them.


“If you’re anything like me when you hear the phrase ‘management system’ part of your brain begins to shut down. Another part of your brain prepares itself for hearing either a load of complete nonsense or common sense tarted up with unnecessary jargon”

In many walks of life, issues can be over complicated by the use of  jargon. Speaking in plain language is preferable; be careful about introducing terms like “sensei” or “Scrum Master” for example. Providing some terms as a framework can be useful but you have to be careful about them getting in the way.

Effort = Results

Putting in the effort to change yields results, despite the difficulties. In this example, it saved money by making the hospital safer and by eliminating waste and (presumably) helped the cancer sufferers themselves, improving the clinical experience by considering their needs as a priority. User Experience design for healthcare.

Further reading

There is a book about the Virginia Mason experience called Transforming Health Care: Virginia Mason Medical Center’s Pursuit of the Perfect Patient Experience

Amazon page

Publisher page

Here is a review of the first 3 chapters over at The Lean Blog

Lean Blog review

I haven’t read the book but it’s definitely on my “To Read” list.

The 99% Invisible podcast seems pretty good. I’ve subscribed on iTunes and it’s also available on Soundcloud.

Geek nights and user groups

Georgia? (LOC)

Networking = yawn-fest?

I used to think that “networking” was some type of dreary activity that only terminal bores went to. However, increasingly I can see that getting together with like-minded people to share experiences can have benefits.

Geeks in the night

I live in Oxford, which along with its Dreaming Spires, also has a healthy geek scene. A foremost example of this is Oxford Geek Night,  ably organised by JP who also works at Torchbox, an Oxfordshire web agency. The basic gist is that there are a variety of technology related talks (keynotes and shorter “microslots”) with healthy gaps in-between to discuss the issues with geek-minded folks. It is held every couple of months and is generally a good night, although the PA system sometimes lets it down. Most of the talks are archived on the OGN site and are worth a look.

I also sometimes stop in on the Oxford Internet Professionals meetup, which meets monthly with no particular agenda (i.e. talks), just some chats over a couple of beverages. I’ve met some fine folks such as Rob Jones, the organiser and head honcho at Surefire Digital and David Langer, a co-honcho at the fast-rising startup, Group Spaces.

In my previous job, I was in London 2-3 days a week, so another group that I often attended was the London Scrum User Group, which is held monthly.  The format of this user group is a bit different to the OGN in that it often used the Open Spaces concept, although that might have changed.

Agile Oxford

As far as I know, there is no equivalent group that meets to discuss agile development/Scrum/Kanban and so on, in Oxford. There used to be an agile book group, The Oxtremists, however that seems to be undergoing a hiatus.

With that in mind, tonight I met up with James, a developer and quite freshly minted Scrum master, who was keen to discuss setting up an agile user group in Oxford. The basic idea for the first event, is to have a guest speaker  as an icebreaker, then have some time for groups to form to discuss issues relating to agile development. We could also thrash out future directions for the group, adapting the format in an…agile…manner.

Some possible areas of discussion:

  • We just started “doing agile”…what now?
  • Help! I need advice on insert problem here.
  • How do you do continuous integration/source control/pair programming/automated testing/behaviour driven development/agile UX etc.

We’re looking to start some time in October November probably at the East Oxford offices of my employer, White October. I would be very keen to hear from anyone interested in this idea, so GET IN TOUCH!. You are also welcome to comment, as per the usual weblog etiquette.

The photo at the top of the post is from The Library of Congress on the Flickr Commons.