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Ask HN: Does anybody follow the Pomodoro Technique religiously?
44 points by nanospeck on Mar 30, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 25 comments
I happened to watch the video on Productivity by Robert C Martin (author of Clean Code). He recommends following Pomodoro technique everyday to estimate our avareage number of tomatoes/day on the long run and also achieve the benefits of high productivity. Has anyone followed this? If yes, what are your estimates and have you reaped the benefits?

I used the Pomodoro Technique to transition from the "Lazy-SOB" side to the "Deep Flow" side. It's a regulative tool, generalized for the average person, so depending where you are on the spectrum, you'll have different results.

For myself, the consistency was awesome. I applied it to work, leisure, studying, socializing - everything. Before this, I would binge. Go out for hours at a time, play games for hours at a time...I didn't track/measure anything.

I started having more time to accomplish my goals (because I was deliberately making time to do so) and I also got my hobbies/leisure activities under control.

But about a year ago, I would get frustrated when I would be getting into my state of flow just about when the timer went off. I decided I wanted more time in my flow state, so I decided to not follow the technique when I was doing work-related things.

Now, I only use it when I know I'm going to do something leisurely - mostly video games. It now serves as a way for me to avoid getting into the "flow" for things that I really should be cognizant of, while freeing up time to be in the flow of things I'm passionate about.

I've used the Pomodoro technique religiously for the last year. Some interesting conclusions that I drew from my yearly review:

1) I have a maximum sustainable rate of about 8 pomodoros (4 hours) high focus work per day. This can be temporarily overridden, but I work much less the following days.

2) Bimodal days seem to work best for me. One big block in the morning, followed by a long-ish lunch, and then another big block in the afternoon. Similar to PG's essay on maker vs. manager schedule.

3) Having many small unrelated tasks is inversely correlated with number of pomodoros completed. Usually I get the most pomodoros in when I have 2 big tasks for the day.

I dislike the rigidity of the original pomodoro technique, so I made a flexible one without the fixed time slots. You only have a minimum working duration, work for however long you like. I found that way it doesn't break my flow.


I use the Pomodoro technique at work, except my pomodors are 50 minutes (I use the Focus app for Mac, and you can customize the pomodoro length and name your pomodoro).

On a productive day, I can get about five 50-min pomodoros.

The technique helps me A LOT psychologically. Once that timer starts, I do not do anything else from what I have named my pomodoro. It helps me focus my attention and keeps me from drifting off to HN or reddit or whatever.

That said, the standard pomodoro time of 20 minutes is WAY too short for programming tasks. The technique itself is solid though.

Similar to apps like Focus and Awareness, there's a piece of hardware called Saent [1] that serves the same purpose as well as indicating to others when you're working deeply and shouldn't be interrupted. I haven't bought one myself yet but have heard good things and considered it.

[1]: https://www.saent.com/

I've used "strict" Pomodoro technique at times. At its simplest, the structured rhythm of timeboxing and breaks is a useful tool for keeping focused on work that benefits from high focus, e.g. plowing through some "heavy implementation" work, coding, debugging, grinding away in CAD, etc. On the other hand, I've found that it can be a detriment to other kinds of work, more creative or high-level design oriented work. Some days, it's just better to be a bit more relaxed and free-form, even get out and take a walk and let ideas percolate.

I've always found the estimation bit to be tricky, because its viability depends hugely on 1) the kind of work you're doing and 2) whether you're running an ongoing planning deficit or not. To point 1, the less well-defined your work is, the harder pom-level estimation is. For example, consider a task that boils down to "learn how to apply, new, complex set of APIs to solve problem X", but might just be written as "implement wireflow 2a". At some point, despite planning effort, you end up with tasks that are indivisible atoms with high variability. I don't necessarily feel it's worth putting a huge amount of time learning to precisely estimate those, if it's even possible. (I'd love to hear counter-examples from folks, tho.) My personal approach is really to try to bubble up overall variability/uncertainty to a higher-level than counting-the-poms, then mostly use poms to maintain focus/velocity.

As to point 2, part of the Pomodoro Technique is supposed to be doing a planning pom at the start of the day, and that's really the minimum. Sometimes that's not sufficient (e.g. you have higher-level planning/workflow problems), or sometimes your planning skills just need work. If you're at least doing your planning pom, that gives you time to reflect upon and begin to address these higher level issues.

I have tried, but its hard to keep with it.

I have lots of fires to put out at a moments notice. I think it would work well for people that are able to focus on one project at a time.

Not religiously, but I have a pomodoro app which I keep installed for work I'm struggling with. If I'm lacking motivation to start or finish something I'll stick it on and get going.

It's incredibly easy to procrastinate when we have Facebook, HN, WhatsApp, email - whatever, but I know if I start a pomodoro it's only ever 25, 22, 17, 9, 3 minutes until I can take 'reward' myself with the aforementioned for a few minutes. It's easy to push through knowing I only _have_ to do (at most) 25 minutes more work. And once I'm rolling, it's a lot easier to continue.

I use Harvest throughout the day to check how much _actual_ work I'm getting done. This helps me make better estimates of times and costs (as well as see the days I'm most and least productive).

> I'm lacking motivation to start or finish something I'll stick it on and get going.

This. I find that if I am not sure where to start, or not in the mood, using the technique helps me get started and keep focused. If I know what I'm going to be working and what do next, I can just jump into it.

Which app do you use for it?

I've had success with a slacker version of my own creation, somewhat like the "magic dots" technique. I have a liquid toy that takes about eight minutes for the blue syrup to run from top to bottom. I start a work period by turning it over, and just work. Occasionally I look at the toy, and if it looks done more or less, I connect two of my dots (of which there are four per group, so six connections fills the group). I do this on a post-it note, and paste the note into a notebook at the end of the day.

That's basically it. I'm counting the number of reasonably solid starts into "flow" I make each day. That seems to be enough to make me a lot more productive.

In my opinion the principle of having dedicated focused work sessions and counting up how many you have each day is timeless.

Aside from that, I don't follow anything about Pomodoro specifically.

One issue with Pomodoro is taking 1 session, then 1 break. In my opinion, one should flex this "rule" in flow. It's more valuable to do, eg 3x uninterrupted sessions followed by a break of 1-3x your normal break length than 3 * (work, break).

I also prefer 15-minute blocks.

B.F. Skinner, the esteemed psychologist known for his work in behaviorism, reinforcement, and conditioning is known for using a similar approach.

Plenty of people use the Pomodoro technique without a session end timer. They can take their 2-3 minute rest when they're out of focus and it has been > 25 minutes.

Why so many people are talking about "apps" and other websites to help doing your pomororo ? (Pomodoro's creator encourages a low-tech approach, using a mechanical timer, paper and pencil.)

I love the snoozing when I do pomodoros in caffes. I always imagine people around as being puzzled : "Wtf is this guy having a cooking timer by his computer ??"

Wouldn't you love hearing timers snoozing at random times in open office areas ??

I have used it for years, not religiously but often enough. I guess that with time you start tweaking it to your particular needs. When I was studying 25 minutes was the perfect length of interval while research and write a paper. At work, doing creative work (development/design/UX/...) I found that 25 mins. was too short and it would actually break my focus, thus I changed it to 60/10 min.

Nowadays I use an app called Forest, it provides an element of encouragement of how many trees have I planted and how can I get other trees :-D

I am always interested in reading about it because it has never made sense to me since it appears to be designed to interrupt you just when you've finally achieved 'flow'

If you can achieve flow that easily, then you likely don't need the Pomodoro technique. It's for those who have a hard time focusing to begin with.

Thank you, now I understand

How do you deal with a pomodoro whom task isn't finish ? Do you just continue the task ? Or you just stop, and plan the end of the task for the next pomodoro ?

That is exactly what you do. While on first sight this seems like it'd impede flow, having everything in small chunks makes it much much easier to get back into the flow.

Yes, my experience is similar. A typical task will take at least 3 or 4 pomodoro.

There are few important aspects that contribute to being able to continue easily: - you know the Pomodoro ends at a specific time, so you can properly close, make notes, etc. - because you stop 'in the middle' you actually feel eager to get back to it. (contrary to normal breaks where you probably stopped because you didn't feel like working anymore)

In general I believe it works because you rely less on flow. Flow is great, but it also comes and goes. If you can easily get into your flow and stay there for hours, you probably don't need this, but for those weeks when it doesn't come naturally, this can really work.

The point is that stopping breaks the "flow". So it'd be better to finish the task. However, by doing that, you train your brain into thinking that it's "OK to take longer to complete a task, so no need to try to do it faster/in an efficient way".

I've actually been actually working at this for the past few weeks. First, the caveat that I haven't implemented a good tracking system beyond casually jotting down Xs next to my task list to count the # of strict Pomodoros I allocated to each one. I'm also not strict about this and definitely don't compute statistics expect useful metrics. I'm much more interested in day-to-day rhythym improvements, interruption control, and focus training. For higher level scheduling, I've experimented following Cal Newport's recommendation to schedule every minute of my day (http://calnewport.com/blog/2013/12/21/deep-habits-the-import...). On days it works, it goes great, but I'm still working to integrate this method with the need for reactive changes of plans. With that, a few observations and outstanding questions about the Pomodoro side of things:

- Interruptions definitely affect my feeling of accomplishment and may affect my results. I find even the smallest external interruption or moment of weakness triggers my internal critic, resulting in an arguably more detrimental cascade of self-criticism. An avalanche of blog posts argue that these minor interruptions dramatically impact my productivity for other reasons. I totally buy this anecdotally but won't attempt to justify it since I suspect most people here agree anyway.

- Sometimes 25 minutes just doesn't cut it. I especially chafe at the forced 5 minute break during my 1.5 hour period pre-standup where I haven't eaten at all and am caffeinated. I know the creator of the technique and blog authors like Martin claim that I should be able to slice all of my tasks such that I don't need longer than 25 minutes, but I disagree. While I enjoy holding the state of a program in my head and occasionally finding the zone, I'm willing to acknowledge Martin's overstated but partly true point that the zone can induce tunnel vision and the downsides that go along with that. However, I've also observed that 3 break-interleaved chunks of work can zap my energy more one large block of work would have.

- How do people deal with waiting for things that take longer than a minute? I've recently been working with jobs that take multiple hours to run. It's difficult to both schedule my Pomodoros such that I have a free one to check the result of this job. Even worse, the validation of the job can take between a minute if it succeeded and hours if it failed. This makes budgeting hard.

- Should I budget Pomodoros for checking email and Slack or include that in my breaks? Ideally, I'd use breaks to recharge and not context-switch between communication platforms. But, while I'm not an always on, 10-minute to respond to any email guy, a consistent multiple hour time-to-respond to any communication is a recipe for face-to-face interruptions in the age of the open office.

- Should I include lower level planning in my break or 25-minute chunk? I often find going from high-level task statement to knowing exactly what I need to do requires a few minutes to orient myself. I'd be fine including this in my Pomodoros except this orienting can involve firing off a quick question to a colleague or searching through my emails / Slack messages. Maybe I just need to get better at gathering requirements beforehand...

To be clear, I'm not putting down the technique. I suspect any time management strategy would reveal the issues I described above and that we simply don't hear about the pains of actually implementing a system beyond a week of casual usage (see any blog post with a just-so title like "I Adopted <> and It Changed My Productivity Forever" as an example).

As I look back at my bullets, I've realized I'm mostly looking for wisdom from some seasoned Pomodoro veterans. I see one or two people on this thread who fit this description, but overall I'm disappointed with the ratio of people who want to sell the technique or have tried it to people who have used it consistently for months or years. This seems to be a common problem among productivity techniques.

Meta-comment: I recognize this comment could be condensed, and "if I had time I would have written a shorter letter" (http://quoteinvestigator.com/2012/04/28/shorter-letter/).

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