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Ask HN: Is pomodoro technique effective for programmers?
9 points by virtualmic on Aug 30, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 17 comments
I tried using pomodoro technique for my software development activities a couple of times in the past, but have failed.

Before trying it for the third time, this time with much more determination to continue it alteast for 30 days, wanted to get some opinion if you have found it useful/ not useful for software development. Also, if there are some tips to share to make this work, they would be very helpful.

Thank you.

Yes, it's effective - at least for some of us.

You may find the common 20 or 25 minute sprint lengths too short to get into flow. But on a day when you're having trouble getting started at all, they're a good way to get your butt in gear. If you're focused, nothing forces you to stop at the end of the sprint.

When I'm ready to buckle down on a big chunk of work, I'll more often set myself a 50-min sprint, though. And if you do work through the "break" period and into another sprint, just make sure you take a nice long brain break once you hit a stopping point. Part of the purpose of those breaks is to keep you refreshed so you can continue to concentrate.

Best tip I have is to buy an actual hourglass that measures 30 minutes. There is something about actually flipping a physical thing over that puts me in a work mode. Even if I get just a couple of sessions in during a day I find that overall I accomplish more.

An unexpected benefit is sometimes I don't need to start a session. I can catch a glimpse of the hourglass out of the corner of my eye and immediately enter a productive zone.

Getting an actual hourglass sounds really tempting. :-)

Yes, if you're willing to stick to it - that's the hard part. There's nothing magical about it. You become better aware of your time and therefore use it better.

Fifty plus year's ago an economist,Cyril Northcote Parkinson, coined "Parkinson's law", it says, "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." In someways it seems obvious but the reality is that it's not so obvious since we don't recognize it until someone points it out.

Parkinson's law is what the Pomodoro technique is trying to manage for the individual as Agile is for project management. It does help but it's just hard to maintain over time.

The way to stick to it is to make it a habit. Start by making it a game such as how long can I last without failing. By the way you will fail. Track the time you lasted and then try to increase it for next time. Also note why you failed and find something to counter that so you're ready for the next time. Repeat until you no longer think about the process but it becomes part of your everyday.

One of the main ideas of Pomodoro that I see most people ignore is that you are supposed to keep track of your distractions. This should make you more mindful of what is interrupting your work.

I use it, not everyday, mainly only if I notice I'm not focusing or have a long task list to tackle that day.

I use an inexpensive mac app from the appstore that seems to help as you can look up and see how much time you have left. For the breaks I'll check email, news or play a quick round of a turned based game.


Or if I'm making progress on something I'll just keep going.

For being productive I've found knocking out a small task to get started in the morning or when starting back to begin a long stretch of development helps.

I also listen to upbeat music with minimal lyrics while I work.

And if you find a song that you're really productive listening to I'll even listen to it on repeat and that seems to help me stay in the zone.

Good luck.

Pomodoro technique is just a tool to force you to concentrate in your work. Personally I use both pomodoro and org-mode. Sometimes it works for me sometimes its not.

I would like to suggest another tool or option for you to try though this is not about pomodoro technique but if you wanted to be productive, you might want to read this book:

The Power of Concentration


There is a free audiobook in librivox:


Thanks. Yes, you are right; it's a tool for concentration. But tools assist a craftsman, right? :-)

Wanted an opinion if it is effective or not for experienced developers. Do the frequent breaks assist or hinder concentration and creativity?

Pomodoro technique is effective for me. Mostly I'd sprint for 2 pomodoros (50 mins.) then have 10 mins. break. During break, I just walk around the office or get something to drink then go back to work for another 2 pomodoros. I'm not sure if it will work for you because it really depends on your environment for example if your peers talk to you frequently then you'll always get distracted. Just tweak it for your own convenience[0] and don't forget to review daily, weekly, and monthly. See your progress and try to improve from there.

[0] - One of my favorite comment on HN: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1888971

How are you using org mode? Are you using any of the timing features?

I use org-mode (including time clocking) daily to organize my stuffs. I just follow this set-up[0] and tweak it eventually if there is a need. It's really a nice way to review your progress by using the report feature[1].

[0] - http://doc.norang.ca/org-mode.html#Clocking [1] - http://doc.norang.ca/org-mode.html#TimeReportingAndTracking

Off tangent, but the biggest improvement in my software development productivity happened when I read Edmond Lau's book "The Effective Engineer" and started asking myself before I started every task: is this task the one which is highest leverage?

Edmond's definition of leverage = Impact Produced/Time Invested

You can read the book for more on Edmond's definition of leverage, but this seemingly simple idea did absolute wonders for my productivity.

I realized the Pomodoro technique was most effective for me for the lower leverage tasks, and not so much for the higher leverage tasks. As a result, over time I sort of moved away from using it.

Yes, pomodoro is great for getting thru necessary but boring programming tasks. Tasks I have very low motivation to do, as they're maintenance oriented. Also, I have found it useful for time-boxing household chores as well, that I've been avoiding. I also use one pomodoro a day or a week to schedule long-term goals... i.e. learning spanish or working thru an algorithms book. Try it for a week, see if it works for you.

I've found this physical timer much more useful than a timer app: http://www.polder.com/shop/measuring-temperature/timers/digi...

I think it is effective in some ways.

Planning out what you are going to work on the night before is a huge help. I think getting good at knowing what you can fit into a 25 minute slot takes some practice.

Staying focused, not reading emails or posting on HN takes serious practice.

Good luck explaining that to your manager.

That's the good part. I don't have one.

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