I’m a big fan of Pomodoro time management technique, created by Francesco Cirillo in the 80’s. In this post I’ll describe what it is, how I use it (tools and their tweaks), and how it helps me to get through my day.
Interruptions are horrible. They are your productivity’s worst enemy. Jason Fried gave excellent talk(1) on that. In fact, the most important measurement of quality of your working environment (and working style) is how much uninterrupted time you can have per day.
There are external interruptions. A dozen of devices ring one after another. Notifications pop up on the screen. People come talk to us. It’s hard to get away even for 10 minutes.
And there’s also interruptions of our own. We become “tired” and “feel like we deserve a break”. We open up twitter and who knows if we come back for next 30 minutes. Or some idea just hits us in the middle of the working day, and we can’t help but think it over and over again, while, at the same time, trying to stay focused on current task.
The thing is, we can’t just shut off all notifications and don’t talk to anybody. At least not for a long time. We are team workers, and have to interact. And we can’t work without breaks all day long, but we want to control them, so a little trip to Facebook don’t become a time-wasting disaster. We don’t want our brilliant ideas to get lost, but we want to work on them on priority.
Pomodoro is here to help
So there’s a Pomodoro Technique(2). In short, it offers you to work for a fixed amount of time, and then have a fixed short break.
You set a timer to 25 minutes(canonical), and, during that time, you shut off all your notifications. Nothing and no one can interrupt you, even your lazy-self. You’re don’t let yourself to think of any extraneous thoughts. If something pops up to your mind, you write it down somewhere (if it’s worth it) to come back to it later.
After timer rings, you immediately stop what you’re doing, checking your email and other messages, you go get that co-worker who had a question. And, more importantly, you’re having a scheduled break for 5 minutes or so. It’s a good time to stand up, walk outside, get some water and fresh air, limber up(3), give your brain, eyes and whole body some rest.
This is just the right balance between work and rest. It gives ability to be interrupted and communicate only when you’re available and when you don’t mind. It also makes you more self-disciplined in general, as well as it’s a good will-power exercise.
But how ‘bout my Flow?
Yes, Flow(4). The thing with Flow is hard to get in and so easy to get out. Some of Pomodoro newbies complain that this forced break is a Flow-killer. But I don’t think it is. Well, Pomodoro helps you to get into the Flow at the first place. And, again, you don’t want to get lost for several hours for the team, draining all of your brain & body power, leaving yourself completely exhausted. Pomodoro helps to stay productive all day (days/weeks/months), not just a few Flow hours.
Yes, it is hard to go for a break when you’re in a middle of something. But it teaches you to respect your time and “protect Pomodoro at all cost”, so you can do more. Also, when it’s couple of minutes left on the timer, you should start writing down what you’re doing now, and what you’re going to do next (which is a good thing to do anyway). So, for me, that’s never been a problem to get back to the same point after a break.
But every workflow is different, and every mind is different. For example in ability to stay focused on a task for a long period of time. So, I can suggest to just try it out for a few days and see if it works for you.
Start it slow
A quick tip for Pomodoro beginners – start it slow. Maybe you would want to start with 10 minutes of high quality Pomodoro. Or even 5 minutes. And increase length over time. Because successful short Pomodoros are better than few #procastodoros.
There’s an app for that
In fact, that can be enough to use a kitchen timer (the one they’re offering(5) on the site) with just pen & paper. I know a bunch of developers who use pen & notebooks as a primary GTD tool and it works for them. And if it works for you – that’s fine. But there sure some apps. I’ll describe my favorites. Each one works best in certain circumstances.
The best way to try Pomodoro out. You don’t have to install anything. Just open new tab with this application, sign in with Github or Twitter (optionally), hit Space bar and see the timer going. It’ll ring when Pomodoro is over and send Chrome’s desktop notification. And there’s a nice daily, weekly, monthly stats and even Leaderboards. After all, it’s opensource, so you can suggest (or better develop) some new features.
This one is for team synchronization. You can’t stop and start Pomodoros, they’re just starting automatically and counter is the same for everybody. And nice and simple fullscreen view to put on external monitor/device.
Swipe to set a timer to desired time. It ticks in the background. It rings in the end. Nice design. It is always in your pocket or desk. Well, mostly. I was happy with it at first. But there’s no way to disable iOS notifications and keep the screen unlocked. So you basically set a timer and enable airplane mode or lock the screen. Still useful sometimes.
The most advanced OSX Pomodoro I’ve seen. You can configure everything. Pomodoro length, break length, automatic restarts, sounds, Growl notifications, Twitter integration, Calendar intergration and, finally, execute applescripts on Pomodoro start/end/reset/interrupt/resume. And this opens endless possibilities, like disabling all possible notifications on your Mac & Devices when Pomodoro starts, and automatically re-enable them when Pomodoro ends. And, for instance, send message to Campfire. Check out my set of pomodoro-scripts.
This is not exactly a Pomodoro. It’s just locks your screen after specified amount of time, so you are forced to take a break. Sometimes I use it standalone, or accompanied with other tools. Can execute applescripts.
And, finally, the terminal solution. Which have nice progressbar, Tmux integration, and can also execute applescripts (via osascript) or any other terminal commands.
That’s it. Be productive, respect your time, and happy Pomodoring!