The inspiration for this article comes from a very insightful video I was watching over on YouTube the other day, called “How The Economic Machine Works by Ray Dalio”. If you haven’t watched it already, I highly recommend you to do so, as it managed to answer all of my biggest questions on fundamental economics in an enjoyable and engaging way and might do the same for you! (If you have nothing better to do in your free time than learn economics like me)
But what I found most interesting was when Ray Dalio concluded the video by saying,
“Do all that it takes to raise your productivity, because, in the long run, that’s what matters most.”
Who knew that at the heart of a healthy and growing economy was such a simplistic, and I might even say – a highly controllable factor?
So in the spirit of growing our countries’ economies and making our bosses happy while making more money doing it, I want to share how I was able to increase my productivity as a software engineer using a simple, yet effective technique called the Pomodoro Technique.
What is the Pomodoro Technique anyway?
At its core, the Pomodoro Technique is a time-management method, named after the Italian word for tomato called “pomodoro“, from the tomato-shaped kitchen timer used in the technique. It works by attacking individual work tasks by working in small intervals (called pomodori), traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by small short breaks, usually about 5 mins. After you’re done with 4 pomodori, you take a longer break, often 15 mins long. Fun fact – I’m using the Pomodoro Technique while writing this article right now!
But what is it working in this way that makes us so much more productive? It’s not like the work has fundamentally changed or been reduced but just organized in a manner which is more aligned with how our attention spans work which makes it so much more effective.
Why does it work?
Have you ever started to work without a set time limit in mind and just a task at hand, and found yourself completely lost in Wonderland about 30-45 mins in, having completely forgotten what you were doing in the first place? Happens to me all the time too.
Although there is no empirical evidence for it, it is said that a healthy adult has an attention span of about 10-20 mins before he or she needs to consciously re-focus his or attention, so working in shorters bursts while incorporating timely breaks, just like the Pomodoro Technique advocates, will make it less likely that you lose your focus and end up clicking on those clickbait-y ads or mindlessly scrolling through Facebook. (Because we’re all guilty of that.)
Some other reasons why it works so well are:
- It minimizes distractions by instilling a fear of urgency in us, by always having us on the clock. Instead of feeling you have the entire day to get something done, you now feel that you only have 25 mins to make as much progress on your task as possible before your break.
- Subconsciously, you also have a sense of relief as you know that you will get to take a break very soon, so you’re more likely to stay on track with your task. When you have to work an indeterminately long amount of time before your next break, you are highly susceptible to get distracted and waste precious time.
- By giving you regular breaks to get up and stretch, it prevents you from getting burnt-out at the end of your workday and instead replaces that feeling with one of accomplishment.
How to make it work
Although the above illustration sums up it up pretty well, here is a quick-start guide to the Pomodoro Technique:
- Create a list of tasks you would like to accomplish for the day and prioritize the list.
- Set the timer for 25 mins and work on the first task of the list.
- If a distraction or something else comes up when you are working, make sure to take a note of it and get back to it later and continue working.
- When the timer goes off, enjoy your break! Stretch out, take a quick walk, listen to some music or watch some cat videos! Whatever helps you get back to your next pomodoro with your full energy and focus.
- After you’re done with 4 pomodori, take a 20-30 mins break – you’ve earned it!
- Keep repeating 1-5 till you are done with all of your work or your workday is over.
I recommend using KanbanFlow as a task management system on your computer, as it comes integrated with a Pomodoro timer and enforces you to work according to its principles.
Just like your workouts at the gym, you can also progress your Pomodoro capabilities by slowly and incrementally increasing the duration of your pomodoro intervals in increments of 5 mins while maintaining unshakeable focus. This will give you continual productivity gains throughout your Pomodoro journey.
As a side note, it can be very helpful to break down your big work tasks into smaller, more achievable tasks, which will keep you motivated as you go through them.
My first experience with the Pomodoro Technique was when I was back in high school when I was prepping to write my final exams in my senior year. I’d procrastinated quite a bit and was quite short on time to prepare, so instead of actually sitting down and studying, I procrastinated some more and started looking all over the Internet for productivity techniques. (I know, I’m smart right?)
Luckily, something positive came out of my stupidity, and I discovered the Pomodoro Technique, which helped me very much in getting excellent results in the final exams. (Well, at least I was satisfied.) I’ve been using it to study and work ever since, and have been delivering consistent results, but most importantly, without spending exorbitant amounts of time studying.
The initial phase of learning the technique can be quite difficult to get used to because of its intense nature, very much like learning Test-Driven Development. You will find yourself awash with a wave of reluctance before beginning work, a feeling very similar to the one you might feel before going for a workout you know is going to be very intense. It is important to understand and acknowledge these feelings and push through them until you have built up a habit. After that initial learning curve, it is actually quite a smooth sailing and might I add, enjoyable experience. The positive feedback loop formed by noticing your increased productivity and having more times to devote towards the things you love will greatly help you along the way.
My next major experience with the Pomodoro Technique was during my internship with SeaLadder, where my manager Adam Pond taught me how it could be applied to development workflows and pair programming. Since I was already used to it, it came quite naturally to me and I was able to increase my productivity as an engineer exponentially in a very short span of time.
Other Interesting Applications
The Pomodoro technique also has a natural fit within Timeboxing and Agile software development techniques, which both rely on producing incremental deliverables until the entire project is completed, and incorporating the feedback from prior deliverables into subsequent deliverables.
Within pair programming practices, the Pomodoro Technique is extensively used to increase engagement and effectiveness. We practiced this at SeaLadder by having two developers assigned on a single task – one actively working on the task while the other carefully analyzes each line of code for bugs and correctness. After each pomodoro, both developers switch roles. We noticed that it greatly improved communication and morale between members of the team while simultaneously improving our code.
Let’s move away from your professional goals for a while, shall we? How about your personal tasks and goals? The Pomodoro technique is a great addition here as well, and you really are missing out if you haven’t incorporated it in your personal life. I also understand that life is not all about optimizing for productivity, so by all means, find a balance which suits you, your lifestyle and your goals.
If you haven’t already started using the Pomodoro Technique to achieve your goals, what are you waiting for? Hop on the productivity wagon and let’s get some stuff done! You have the power to shape the world’s economy, and according to my favourite childhood superhero movie, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”