Pomodoro for Programmers

Unless you’ve been living under a productivity rock, you probably have heard of the Pomodoro Technique, where you use a timer to do 25 minutes of focused work, and then take a five minute break.

I used to use this technique a lot, up until I started doing computer programming.

You see, with computer programming, I get into this mysterious flow that consumes me, and I keep blazing passed the 25 minute interval, and the buzz of the Pomodoro merely distracts me and derails my work.

However, it’s still important to re-focus, even as a programmer. So I’ve tentatively settled on the following: 45 minutes of intense work followed by 15 minutes of intense break, using this custom timer made in a snap. (Inspired by the idea of “tocks”, attributed to the co-founders of Beeminder, though I can’t seem to find a canonical post explaining it. Update: a canonical post was just written, seemingly by coincidence.)

You probably know what happens in the period of intense work — uninterrupted work in a distraction-free environment where I code like a mad man. If anything bubbles up in my mind that’s not a task, I write it down to address later.

But the intense break is important.

Here’s my routine:

1.) A bit of rest. Look away from the computer. Let loose. Focus.

2.) Ask myself — am I comfortable? Do I need to do anything to rearrange my working environment? Am I sufficiently free from distractions? Do I need to do anything to address past distractions? Do I need to refill my water bottle? Do I need to get more food?

3.) What did I do over the past 45 minutes? Did I do it right? Does it need revision?

4.) What did I miss over the past 45 minutes? Do I have any important emails that need to be processed right away? Did anyone send me messages over HipChat? Any FB notifications? I disconnect from these services while during my work sprint, but the urgency of work communication requires me to reconnect every once in awhile. I try to put off responding to messages until the end of the day if they don’t require an urgent response, though.

5.) What should I do during the next 45 minute interval? Am I on track to accomplish my goals? Will my next 45 minute interval be distraction-free? Do I need to do anything to address future distractions?

6.) Are there any quick tasks I can accomplish? Any emails I need to send? Any notes I need to take? Did anything bubble up that I should address now?

The breaks are just as important as the work, and it emphasizes self-care, which is important and often neglected. I find that each 15 minute break propels my next 45 minute block to be better than if I had spent the entire 60 minutes working nonstop.