Pomodoros for Programming

If you’ve never heard of the pomodoro method, go read this. I might have just saved your life. I’ve been using this neat little technique since college, and now work. Pomodoros for exam prep was easy – you sit in front of the book while the clock is ticking and you go for a walk when it isn’t. But using pomodoros for programming turned out to be slightly more complicated than that. Here’s what I found:

The Don’ts

  1. Do not use pomodoros for debugging. You cannot estimate when you will figure out what is causing that bug. It can take anything between 2 hours to 2 days.
  2. Do not use pomodoros to set up your dev environment. You can install visual studio and SQL server while wading through nonsense at /r/nonsense. Save up your pomodoros for tasks that actually require focus.
  3. Do not try to do 14 programming pomodoros a day. If you can do 8 a day, fantastic – you’ve done a lot of work. 6 Pomodoros, is good. I think anything more than 8 means you will be staying late in the office. That’s okay too. The thing is, manage to tick away more than 6 solid pomodoros despite all the email-replying and chit-chat and gazing-into-the-infinity then it is not a wasted day.
  4. Do not freak out when your pomodoros are interrupted. Instead of losing your shit when people interrupt your pomodoros, avoid interruptions in the first place by setting clear expectations around your maker’s schedule and manager’s schedule

The Dos

  1. Set aside pomodoros for designing systems. This is a good way to force yourself to think hard about a problem before jumping into execution.
  2. Reply to emails on pomodoro breaks. If there are no emails to reply to, take a walk.
  3. It’s okay to extend your 5 minute break by another 2 minutes. When it comes to personal productivity, it is about following the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law.
  4. I’ve never been able to do those 4 pomodoros in a row and take the bigger 15 minutes break. But do not let that stop you from trying things out until you figure out what works for you.
  5. The real reward of using pomodoros is not (just) that you do more work per day, but that you can now measure how much work you do. If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.
  6. kanbanflow is a pretty good tool with a built-in timer. Arguably better than pen and paper. But ticking off pomodoros on a big whiteboard is more satisfying.
Estimated 4 pomodoros and did it in 2. What a wonderful day!

Update

After further experimentation with the technique, I have decided that pomodoros for programming are not my cup of tea. There’s nothing wrong with the technique itself – a good friend and co-worker of mine has been using pomodoros (for programming) for almost a year now and he’s happy with it. It’s just that I am not very productive when there’s the threat of a forced break looming on the horizon.

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