The Pomodoro Technique

It’s been a while since I’ve been a developer on a team. Many of my time-management techniques for squeezing uninterrupted hours out of my day have gotten rusty. And now that I’ve moved into a position where coding is the exception rather than the rule, finding that time and focus has gotten even harder.

A few days ago, Peter Bell got my attention with this tweet:

Ever do solo development? Want to figure out how to adapt lean/xp to do solo coding better? Join our new group:

One of the posts in the group was from the venerable Mark Drew about the Pomodoro Technique:

only one day using the 25 minute “full concentration” technique
and suddenly I have become a lot more focused

Something recommended by both Peter Bell and Mark Drew? This, I had to see.

I’m going to oversimplify a bit, but it turns out that the Pomodoro Technique is both dead simple, and all-too-familiar:

  1. Turn off, log out of, or otherwise disable anything that might break your concentration. Close your email, Twitter client, and anything that might pop up a notification. Turn off your cell and close your office door. It’s okay—you won’t be gone that long, and the world will still be there when you get back.

  2. Grab a timer and set it for 25 minutes.

  3. Focus on your work for that 25 minutes, not letting anything interrupt you. Whatever it is, it can wait.

  4. When the timer goes off, stop right there. Drop your pencil, take your hands off the keyboard, or whatever.

  5. Take a break—at least 5 minutes.

Here’s the funny thing: not only is that how you get coding done, but that’s also how you write a book. Trust Network was written in 15-, 30-, and 45-minute sprints. I followed the exact same procedure, and had the exact same phenomenal results.

Today, I got through five 25-minute sessions. It got to be a little ritual: log out of all my notification add-ons, close my email, etc, then work for 25 minutes before logging everything back in for a break. Most of my breaks were longer than 5 minutes, and weren’t so much breaks from working as they were breaks from working on that one project. But that’s okay! Those five sessions got more done on that project than I’ve been able to do for almost 3 months now!

I even set aside one of the sessions to write my own Pomodoro Timer AIR app. It’s nothing more than a big tomato with a countdown timer in 25- and 5-minute intervals, but it does exactly what it is supposed to do: let me focus on work without the tick-tick-tick of a clock.

There should be an embedded Flash AIR badge here.

As I see it, the key to the Pomodoro Technique is having the resolve to completely disconnect for that time. It’s a leap of faith that the building won’t catch fire around you, but you’ve got to be able to cut that cord.

If you’ve been finding your focus wandering or that you’re just not getting as much done in the same amount of time as you used to, I’d recommend that you give it a try.