I was recently attending a talk about planning stuff, and one of the aspects of it was an introduction to time management method called The Pomodoro Technique. I’ve decide to try it myself and share some insights here.
The idea is simple and involves a timer and some discipline.
- Decide what should be done.
- Set the timer to 25 minutes, the interval is called a Pomodoro.
- Work on the task until the timer rings. If you get distracted, just write it down, but get back to the task at hand immediately. Try to shield yourself from any possible distractions as much as possible.
- Take a short break (3-5 minutes), stand up, walk, get something to drink, do a quick exercise. Anything that is not related to the task and will help you clear your mind. Go to next Pomodoro. Repeat.
- If you complete four cycles, take a longer break (15-30 min) instead short one. Repeat.
It requires some time to get used to. Especially if you find it difficult to focus on one task and constantly think about dozens different interesting things to do, like me. Before I stumbled upon the Pomodoro, I tried to work in 45-minute focus and 10 min break cycles. Like in school, more or less. However, it actually seems that 25/5 cycle is better for me. I’ve noticed that after longer cycles, I tend to drift away much more, especially towards the end. Also, school is over.
Besides timing, there is an issue of shielding from distractions. I’m trying to shut down email, social media, phone and all that stuff, put headphones on. What to do if someone comes to your desk in the middle of Pomodoro? Well, it’s up to you.
As a tool, I’m using tomato-timer. It’s simple and got all that’s needed. There are plenty other pages and a lot of mobile apps, some with fancy statistics, but I didn’t research them. It’s just a damn timer. When I get up from my desk I usually leave my phone, and I haven’t used a wristwatch since high school, so I usually mess the break timing. Before I leave though, I start the break timer on my computer. If it’s still on when I come back, I just mindlessly browse cats or something in the internet or play with radio controlled Lego excavator I keep on my desk. If I come back too late, well… I just hop onto another Pomodoro (shame… shame… shame…).
Using timer has also an additional advantage. You don’t have to check the time periodically and think about whether you should take a break or not, asses your mental fatigue level, decide if you are in a good place to pause and all that stuff. When you hear the Pomodoro rings, just finish your current thought, line of code, sentence, or whatever you got there, set a break timer and get up. Or just leave everything and get up immediately if it works for you.
In typical office conditions it might be difficult to sustain perfect cycles. There are irregular meetings, there are people that want to ask something in person, there are delivery guys that won’t show up at exact hours. There is The Flow. There are fuckups on production… Just don’t try too hard, remember it’s a tool to help you, not to restrain you.
Some mentally old people might have objections that the Labor Code (at least in Poland) states that you should work 55 min and then you got 5 min break. Yeah, that might apply to a factory, not to software development. If your manager would make you fuss about that, tell him he should manage factory workers not programmers. Any smart company would understand that it’s just a number on a paper that HR has to keep signed in a binder, and we are here to get the shit done efficiently, not to sit at the desk for a given number of minutes a day. And, remind me, why would you want to work for a dumb company?
Pomodoro works for me. Perhaps, to some extent, it’s a placebo to help you focus. You might think somewhere around “Damn I’m using a legitimate time management technique that has a name, so I should ignore this Facebook notification and keep working until the timer tells me to stop”. Intervals? People are different, some can focus for more than 40 minutes, but most probably can’t. Where is the efficiency threshold? I guess it requires some experimenting and might be difficult to measure. 25 minutes seems fine. Go ahead, try the Pomodoro. It’s healthy.