Tweaking Pomodoro

What is known as the pomodoro technique is a common time management method. Set your (kitchen) timer to 25 minutes, and work until time is up. Take a short break and repeat. There is no particular reason for setting the time to 25 minutes, though, except that the person popularizing this particular variant used 25 minutes. I have recently discussed this with a friend, mentioning that I often use this with much shorter periods, like 10 minutes. I do this, when I need to get started — the first 2 minutes of writing tend to be the hardest one. On the other hand, once I get into the flow, I find any solution with popups or audible sounds (i.e. almost all of those I know) quite distracting. Perhaps I’m calling for a timer that starts with 10 minutes and then automatically sets itself to 20 or 40 minutes to motivate me to keep going?

Image credit: CC-BY Lenore Edman.

Pomodoro Breaks My Flow: Disable Notifications

What goes by the name of the Pomodoro technique these days can be useful to get work done when procrastination lures. It’s a simple technique: set a timer for 25 minutes, and work until the time is up. Then take a break, and repeat. To resist the urge to do something else, there is a simple solution: have a pen and paper ready (e.g. next to the computer mouse). When these e-mails “need urgent checking”, draw a little dot on that paper instead, and get back to work.

There is one problem with the Pomodoro technique, though: it can break flow. So it happens that I start writing, and at a moment when the world outside has temporarily ceased to exist, the timer goes off. That’s a nuisance. I could set the timer to a longer period of time, but then sometimes 25 minutes are quite long already. Here’s a simple solution: disable the notifications altogether. I use a simple timer that changes its icon from white to yellow when the time is up. If I’m in a flow, that (white) icon has temporarily ceased to exist, so I don’t care if it changes colour. If I struggle to keep going, the change of colour comes as a relief.

The Thing About Pomodoros

I have written before about how holding back the writing stage can actually make writing easier. Still, even a well-organized and well-planned paper needs to be written in the end. Here’s one thing that can help in that final stage: setting a timer. Popularized as the Pomodoro technique, the idea is to set a fixed time during which you write, say 20 minutes. The trick is to write exactly 20 minutes, and then stop. During these 20 minutes you do nothing else. The intuition is that because the task is limited, it’s easier to fend off these procrastinating thoughts like checking e-mails. It’s also important to stop after 20 minutes (or whatever time you decide) to keep the momentum. Actually, it’s probably better to start with a relatively short time and increase it gradually than jumping in with a number found somewhere (25 seems to be one such number). It always baffled me why a tomato-shaped kitchen timer should be preferred by so many when any timer or clock does the work.

Such boost of focused work can also be used for other tasks. I sometimes use a timer set to 10 minutes to get started with some tasks, for other kinds I use longer periods.