Timing with Tomatoes

After attending some of the Personal Effectiveness talks at Goto; in Aarhus, I decided to have a go at using the Pomodoro technique. At a very basic level, using this technique means working for 25 minutes at a time before taking a 5 minute break, then repeating the pattern. After every four pomodoros, take a longer break.

Linda Rising in particular had talked about the need for regular breaks to ‘recharge’ our brains, and how this can actually make us more effective than working continuously without a break.

My pair agreed to give it a go with me, and in fact found an awesome Android app called Pomodroido, so we set off! We made an effort to get up and walk around during breaks, even if it was just a wander through the office.

Here’s some of my observations from the first couple of weeks we spent doing it.

  • Always knowing that you have a break coming up and how far off it is, makes it much easier to get through stuff – especially boring work, or things that you don’t want to do.
  • Knowing that you’ll be breaking from what you’re doing in 25 min made me focus harder on the work I was doing – as a consequence, by the end of the day, I was often pretty tired.
  • I was a bit skeptical about the longer break, but after four intense 25 minute sessions, I really needed it.
  • The greater focus also meant that I felt I was getting through more stuff than I would have otherwise, especially when I had a list of handover documents to write, which I might have dawdled over otherwise.
  • Getting up and walking around helped me stay alert, especially during the post-lunch afternoon slump.
  • Working with a pair helped both of us be more diligent about taking breaks, getting up and keeping going with the pomodoros.
  • It was useful to have an app – without that, sometimes it was harder to time the pomodoro, I often forgot to check the clock (although we sometimes forgot to start the app as well …!)
  • After finishing up on the project, I tried to carry on with the pomodoro technique while I was packing for my Australia trip, with mixed success – it’s less useful for running errands, for example! However, it’s definitely something I plan to try again on my next project, and for software development I think it has huge benefits.