Why pomodoro does not “take off” from developers and how to deal with it?

The system of managing your time using the kitchen “tomato” timer is promoted by everyone who is not lazy. It doesn’t help everyone. But I see that frustrated experimenters are stepping on the same rake. Let’s talk about how to get around them.

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Below I have summarized my personal experience and the stories that my colleagues told me in six sections. Of course, everything is not limited to them. Organization of working time is a huge topic that can be talked about endlessly. But I suggest starting with moments that are quite easy to handle.

Reason 1. Lack of understanding of the meaning – counteracting the imaginary lack of freedom with a timer, although the essence of pomodoro is to turn off external stimuli

The “Tomato Method” is a 25-minute work interval with breaks of 5 minutes, which are measured by the kitchen timer. After the fourth interval – a long break for 15-30 minutes.
I was faced with the fact that people who are not familiar with the pomodoro system do not understand how you can “work by the clock”. The analogy with the prison immediately pops up: they say, the main advantage of the udalenka is that you can do some things at any time or get distracted by going to the beach. Why force yourself to switch to a tighter schedule than in the office?

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However, in general, the system is not about using a kitchen timer and schedule, but about managing distraction. About the fact that during the session you turn off all notifications, including requests from households, if you work at home. During the “tomato” you need not only not to answer, but also not to see notifications.
For this to work, you must:

  • check that for the time of the next “tomato” nothing is planned in the calendar;
  • read all notifications already received;
  • to close the latch of the office, if possible, or to put on headphones to indicate that you should not be distracted;
  • disable all pop-up notifications;
  • disconnect the phone.

If you do not do this, you will hear the sound of the message that arrived and instead of focusing on the task, you will think maybe something important is there? Maybe there is a new urgent task?

Maxim Dorofeev, describing procrastination, at one time introduced the concept of “internal monkey”, which loves all these short tasks, like videos on YouTube and social networks. If the monkey cannot get distracted by something outside, it will look for its little tasks in work: it will pull back to each message, try to make it quickly try a new tool that is completely unnecessary now, etc. But the monkey spends brain-fueling, and at the end of the day perfectly sweeps tracks. You’ve been doing something all day, tired, but it seems you haven’t done anything. This is the structure of human psychology.
To avoid this, the rule is provided in the pomodoro system: you must decide what you will do in this “tomato”, write it down and abstract as much as possible from all distracting factors, putting them off for the rest time after the working period of time. If it doesn’t work out, it is necessary to mark all “distractions” with a tick. So at the end of the day it is always clear what the forces went into.

To automate the tomato, I use a script. It is enough to type in the terminal:

> tomat 25 'M3DF-233 задача авторизации'

and the tomato starts up. At the beginning of the “tomato”: turns on the music, turns off notifications, blocks all distracting sites, says “Let’s go!”. Previously, he even knew how to set the status in slack: “I am working on task M3DF-233. You can write while, I’ll answer from 12:52. “

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During the “tomato”, the script shows the progress of the bar, and after its completion turns on notifications, turns off the music, writes to the file! Done.txt the duration and name of the task to be performed and praises me for the successful completion of the voice.

Github script

All received messages can be answered at the beginning of the scheduled break. After this, there is quite enough time to rest before the start of the next “tomato”.

By the way, if the nature of the work does not allow you to completely abstract from the world, you need to come up with some kind of conditional signals. For example, modern phones allow you to reject the first call. But if the same person calls back again, the notification passes even if the phone is in night mode.

Reason 2. “Tomato” in 25 minutes – not enough to develop

Classic pomodoro – 25 minutes of work.
The problem is that in 25 minutes it’s very difficult for a developer to do something meaningful. In our work, the most difficult thing is to find where and what code to write. It is necessary to read the terms of reference, to build a “crystal lock” in the head. And only after its detailed analysis the “lock” can be transferred to the code. Being distracted ahead of time due to the end of the “tomato”, you ruin everything even before the code is corrected, i.e. You’re wasting time building a castle.

To adapt the system to the tasks of development, mathematics helps. The pattern described above is equivalent to 52-minute intervals with identical breaks of 17 minutes. Such intervals are applicable for developers who are distracted relatively infrequently, so they may well live 52 minutes without viewing notifications.
By the way, I am a team leader, and it’s more convenient for me to work just for 25 minutes. So I can communicate more often with colleagues, but during the “tomato” not be distracted by their messages. At the end of the interval, I answer all at once.

I note an important point: in order to really have time to do something in a short “tomato” (be it 25 or 52 minutes), it is necessary to prepare all the tools in advance. It’s like building a house: a hammer, screwdriver, etc. should be at hand – in the box. If you go to the barn for some kind of welding mask, then you may not come back, being stuck on finishing the shelves inside the barn. Also, during the “tomato”, it may turn out that to start the task you need working environments that are not yet running, or tools that are not yet available. As a result, you will spend time on preparation, but you will not advance in the task.

Reason 3. Trying to use “tomatoes” for other purposes

Each “tomato” must solve the problem for which you started it – not in vain this task is even written explicitly. And the timer cannot be stopped, it must ring. This is a couple of basic rules of the system.
Real work does not obey strict rules. There are always some exceptions for which one cannot do everything unambiguously. But instead of scolding the system, you need to think about why this happens and how to “handle” such “exceptions”. I will analyze the situation using the example of a new task.

Suppose you did not turn off all notifications and one of your colleagues sent a new urgent (and, at first glance, fast) task. For example, I asked to check if the stand was assembled.
If you switch to this “quick” business, you may not return to the task. The new monkey is much more interesting to the inner monkey than the old ones, that’s why people don’t like to complete large projects – in the end it seems that there are no more forces for the old tasks covered with dust. Although in fact, finishing the current business is most often more important.

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Reason 4. Frustrated by the fact that the valuable state of the stream is crumbling with a timer call

It takes a lot of energy to build a “crystal lock” in the head, and switching from one such “lock” to a fundamentally different context turns the brain and takes power. Therefore, developers love the state of the flow when you do something concentrated for a long time, without interruption.
People aspire to a state of flow in different ways. Someone specially arrives at the office early in the morning, while there is no one there, so that there are no distracting conversations. Others use music or order in the workplace – in general, this is a topic for a separate discussion.
The pomodoro system at first is disappointing with the fact that it is not possible to remain in a stream state for a very long time. The bell ends the timer throws into the real world and this causes a negative to the system as a whole. But everything is not as scary as it seems at first glance. Firstly, 5-10 minutes of rest do not always destroy the castle to the ground. And secondly, in a state of “streaming” frenzy, developers often do too much. And in these 5 minutes there is a chance to evaluate whether I do it at all? Or maybe the conceived optimization is premature and the next “tomato” can simplify everything?
Such a view from the outside helps to spend working time more efficiently, although distracting.

Reason 5. Negative assessment and abandonment of the system before the habit

Often people try the system – start the timer a couple of times in one day – and see that it does not help them. But pomodoro only works after a habit has been developed. And this process needs more than one day.
Ideally, you need to use some kind of wall calendar where you can mark how many “tomatoes” you managed to make correctly in the next day (correctly, that is, without being distracted during the “tomato” and not continuing after it was over).
The same method works here as with any other habits – going to fitness, push-ups, etc. Having made at least one “tomato” per day, you connect the days with lines. As soon as a day appears where you have not noted a single “tomato”, the line is interrupted, and this day will be looming before your eyes as a reminder. He becomes a motivation not to interrupt the use of the system in the future (“Is today really such a special day so that it falls out of the calendar? It seems not! Let’s do at least one“ tomato ”…)).

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I urge you to use just a simple wall calendar to avoid the transition to instrumental procrastination. IT employees like to look for a program in which it will be convenient to enter “tomatoes” so that it synchronizes with all devices, etc. But it takes time and does not bring the expected benefits.
I use an ordinary mechanical timer and a paper notebook where I write what I’m going to do in the next “tomato”. This system cannot break. If a company’s working hours are running out, in the evening you can manually transfer data from a notebook to a common time-sheet – no worries about integration. The maximum inconvenience is to be away without your notebook. Then the data on the “tomatoes” can be entered on any other piece of paper.
In short, you don’t have to start a trip to the fitness room with a super-expensive sweatshirt, super-sneakers and special bottles for drinking. You can start practicing in regular training. Well, such a trifle: even if you are currently relaxed and missed your own rules, do not blame yourself, since procrastination is most often accompanied by a guilt complex (about it separately).

Reason 6. Guilty of not following the rules

To prevent the system from being associated with negativity, one must learn not to feel guilty because of it. I forgot to start a timer, continued to work after it rang, made a few “tomatoes” – do not scold yourself.
It would seem that in the context of the above, this is illogical. But without guilt, you work more efficiently. And in general, because of the guilt complex, it is more difficult to continue using the system, as well as returning to the system when you missed a day or even a whole week.
Forgive your mistakes. Give yourself time to fix it. Pomodoro helps pack up and switch to work. You start a timer for yourself, for example, for 15 minutes, and allow you to watch YouTube or read an extraneous article strictly before the call. So in the end you realize what you have been doing so much time, and do not lose it imperceptibly.
Plus, a timer for “tomato” creates a working atmosphere – like Pavlov’s dog. If a habit of the system is developed, then when the wound-up timer stops, the reflex will work. True, instead of using the timer sound, I use a working playlist with the same set of music, under which I forbade myself to try to load YouTube into the brain or read something. To this music I only work. For me it’s like a ritual of entering a stream.

Overall pomodoro is a pretty interesting system. And do not think that it is for those who want to work more. On the contrary, it is for those who want to work less, spending their time more efficiently. Studying concentration, you create added value to your working time and over time you can safely turn off the computer at 6 p.m. and go wherever you want (instead of catching up on work tasks due to the fact that you went all day for some reason). In general, this system is in order not to take credit from his working time, and then from his family to work out this time.

And how do you manage your work time? Have you experimented with this and other techniques?

Posted by Eugene Wetzel (@imater)

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