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.