Solarian Programmer

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Increase your productivity with the Pomodoro technique

Posted on August 14, 2014 by Paul

A few years have past since I’ve started to work from home, during this time I’ve had my up and downs in productivity. In the beginning, there were more downs than ups, it was simply too tempting to lose an entire day reading various blogs, and articles and since nobody was there to ask me how I spent my day it was easy to lose track of time. Despite the popular beliefs, good and bad habits are built in similar amounts of time.

After a few weeks of working hard to achieve my Master Procrastinator diploma, I’ve realized that I was basically stilling my own time and slowly burning through my savings. It become clear to me that this path will end with me, again, working for someone else instead of working for me and on my own terms. Did I mentioned that I hate working for someone else ?

I always knew that in order to finish something you need to work on it every day, for a few hours, until it is done. The key here is to be completely focused on the task and to not exhaust yourself. I was always good at working full time, from 8 AM to 10 PM, for a few days. The problem with this approach was that after a few days of intense work I was burn out for the same number of days, or even more. When I feel dried out I tend to procrastinate by reading random stuff on forums like Hacker News or Reddit. I don’t remember exactly the context, but in one of my recovering sessions I read about the Pomodoro method as a way of slowly building discipline and improving focus by following a simple recipe:

  • work for 25 minutes;
  • take a short, 5 minutes, break;
  • repeat.

Of course, there is more to this than the above three step recipe, the method also presents a way to keep track of your achievements daily and in the long run.

After four to five weeks of practicing Pomodoro, I become an order of magnitude more productive than in the time I was working wild hours. An added bonus was that, as long as I followed my schedule, I never felt burned out.

To get started with the Pomodoro technique take two pieces of paper, one should be named Activity Inventory and the other To Do Today. Start with the first one, the Activity Inventory and write, in no specific order, what you intend to do in the next week, or next month if you like planning ahead. Now, take the To Do Today paper and write on this what you want, or need, to do today. Don’t copy on this everything you have on the Activity Inventory, write only what you honestly think you will be able to achieve today. Select the first thing you need to finish today and start your clock. Work for 25 minutes, after the clock rings, stop your work. Take a deep breath and take a 5 minutes break. You are not allowed to work during the 5 minutes break, ideally you will not even think at your work at all, better yet take a short walk.

After a 25 minutes work session mark an X, next to the task you’ve worked on the To Do Today list. If the task is not finished, you are supposed to work another 25 minutes (after the break) on this, and so on. As a rule of thumb, if you notice that a certain task takes more than 5 or 7 Pomodori you should break this into smaller tasks. In time, you will become better at defining your tasks.

When you start practicing Pomodoro, you won’t be able to accurately appreciate how long a task will take, so don’t do it, for the first weeks of practice. After practicing the above technique for 3 - 4 weeks, you should start allocating working units, Pomodori, to every task. If you decide that a certain task should take 4 Pomodori, simply draw 4 squares next to the task. Every Pomodori you’ve finalized working on the task should be marked with an X in one of the above squares. If you need more Pomodori than you’ve estimated to finish your task, you can add more, but keep in mind that a task that takes more than 7 Pomodori to finish should be divided in subtasks.

Each working session, should be an indivisible unit if possible, you are not supposed to take a TV break, check your email or chat with a friend during a working session. Your mind should center only on the task at hand.

For successfully applying the Pomodoro technique, you should create a routine that will put you in the zone, like winding a kitchen clock, starting a digital clock, or reading a summary of what you have to do in the next Pomodori.

For some people the act of winding a mechanical clock is a better trigger than using a software. In time, this simple act of starting your clock, will help you clear your mind of everything else that has nothing to do with your task. Our brains are trained to follow the same path again and again, if you learn how to use this to your advantage, you will become a highly productive person.

Initially, I’ve used a cheap, egg-shaped, kitchen clock until the spring failed. When I wrote the first version of this article I spent some time searching for a free Pomodoro software and I ended up writing my own version, in Python, as a simple console application. The code uses OSX specific shell functions, so it needs to be adapted if you use Linux or Windows. Anyway, for the OSX readers:

 1 # - Simple Pomodoro timer
 2 # Usage: python [number_of_pomodori]
 4 from time import sleep
 5 from subprocess import call
 6 import sys
 8 def pomodoro_task(work_duration, pause_duration, pomodori):
 9   sleep(work_duration)
10   call(["say", "Break time"])
12   print(pomodori, "Pomodori")
14   sleep(pause_duration)
15   call(["say", "Work time"])
17 # The duration is measured in seconds
18 work_duration = 25 * 60
19 pause_duration = 5 * 60
21 # Default number of pomodori
22 default_pomodori = 1
24 # If the user didn't specified the number of pomodori use the default value
25 if len(sys.argv) == 2:
26   try:
27     pomodori = int(sys.argv[1])
28   except:
29     pomodori = default_pomodori
31 for i in range(0, pomodori):
32   pomodoro_task(work_duration, pause_duration, i + 1)
34 call(["say", "Program finished"])

The Pomodoro technique will not magically motivate you to work or change your life overnight. As his name suggests, this is only a technique to help you achieve a purpose. The motivation to do something is a prerequisite for the successful application of the Pomodoro technique. An added bonus of the Pomodoro technique is what it gives you an objective measure of the way you work.

If you want to read more about the Pomodoro technique, I would recommend reading Pomodoro Technique Illustrated by Staffan Noteberg:

The creator of the Pomodoro technique, Franceso Cirillo also wrote a book about this subject:

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