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Pomodoro Technique for Software Developers

With distractions coming from our phones, watches, email, Slack, Facebook, Twitter, and a plethora of other sources, it’s a miracle we get any work done at all.

I’ve recently been able to jumpstart my productivity by using a system called the Pomodoro Technique.  Pomodoro is Italian for tomato.  I have no idea why it’s named after a fruit; or is tomato a vegetable?

What is the Pomodoro Technique?

In short, it’s a system of breaking up your day into time-boxed periods of work separated by short breaks.  Each work period is a Pomodoro.

The work/break interval times can be modified to whatever works for you.  Twenty-five minutes is the recommended default pomodoro but that doesn’t work for us devs.  That takes us out of the zone far too often.   After reading about this study by Draugiem Group, I’ve adopted longer intervals of 60/15 and find it’s working well.

A major principle of the Pomodoro Technique is that you don’t let anything interrupt your work periods.  This time is sacred.  You must stay ultra-focused.  Turn your notifications off, close your email client.

Just as important as avoiding interruption, is forcing yourself to take breaks.  I know it’s hard to break away when you’re on a roll, but you must.  The rare exception would be if you’re engineering a complex algorithm or your 5 levels deep into someone else’s code, you should probably just continue until you reach a natural stopping point.

I get frustrated when I feel I’m not accomplishing as much as I should be.  Pushing through it only leads to more frustration, stress and less productivity.  Take the damn breaks!  You’ll feel much better when you get back.

Getting Started

Get an app

You can use a general purpose interval timer app or one specifically made for the Pomodoro Technique.  I use Focus which syncs well across my Mac, iPhone and Apple Watch.  Here’s a quick list of popular Pomodoro apps for different platforms:

Focus: My personal choice for timers. Buggy but feature-rich.

Plan your Breaks

By creating a list of things to do during your breaks, you avoid taking too long of a break or skipping it entirely.  Here’s some break activity suggestions:

  • Go for a walk.  I tend to listen to non-work related audio books on my walks.
  • Stretching / Yoga
  • Play with pets or kids
  • Read fiction. The Atlantis Gene is a-freaking-mazing!
  • Meditation.  Search “guided meditation” on YouTube or Spotify.
  • Stay away from the TV!

Now go my fellow devs. Be productive with your fruit, err vegetables. ?

I hope you find this article helpful. If so, please share!  Have a suggestion to make this article better?  Let me know in a comment below.

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