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Pomodoro Technique and time

 
Jeanne Boyarsky
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There was a thread on this earlier in the year. I'm starting a new one for a different approach. My coworker (not a developer) recently started using the Pomodoro technique. This is where you try to work for 25 minute uninterrupted spurts and take a break. I've never used it, but he seems happy with it. My concerns:

  • My peak development efficiency is more than 25 minutes. The Pomodoro timer going off would be a distraction from being in the zone.
  • My job involves interacting with/mentoring/answer questions/helping others in addition to indvidual tasks. Can't plan when others need help.
  • They recommend telling a coworker that you are in the middle of a Pomodoro and will get back to them in 25 minutes. However, this IS the interruption. By talking to someone to tell them you can't talk to them, you are already out of the programming zone. (Incidentally, I have a "do not disturb" sign for this purpose. The idea being to prevent people from even talking to me on those occasions it is really needed.)
  • Why should I optimize my time at the expense of others? If I return all phone calls at the end of 25 minutes, it is a bad time for others, no? What if everyone use Pomodoro on different schedules. (Not that I never carve out time. I do. Did I mention I have a do not disturb sign?)


  • There are time management techniques I like in Pomodoro. Like seeing how much uninterrupted time you have in a day and tracking interruptions. I've done both over time to better plan/manage my own time. I do consider myself good at time management and do carve out chunks of time for coding. I wonder whether my concerns sound like justifications or valid.
     
    David Newton
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    I use 45 minute chunks (neuroscience has found that to be an optimal time). Telling someone to come back in n minutes isn't enough to get me out of my zone; YMMV. I don't see an issue with returning calls at the end of my time: if the caller isn't available then, they're not available then: schedule something.

    I also only use it for part of my day; my responsibilities preclude it use all the time.
     
    Ilja Preuss
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    Hi Jeanne,

    in my old job (today is my first day as an Agile Coach! Yeah!), we used Pomodoro for Pair Programming. We tried 25 minutes for a while, but my colleagues found that to be too short. We switched to 55 minutes, and used that for months, happily.

    Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:
    My peak development efficiency is more than 25 minutes. The Pomodoro timer going off would be a distraction from being in the zone.


    Have you tried what happens?

    I've found that having a break after 25 minutes can be quite rewarding. Yes, it will bring you out of "the zone" - and thereby allow you to reflect on what you are doing. Often enough, getting out of the zone has helped me to see that I was missing an opportunity to do something much simpler, or that I was working on something low priority, while there were other more important tasks waiting for me, anyway.


  • My job involves interacting with/mentoring/answer questions/helping others in addition to indvidual tasks. Can't plan when others need help.


  • I'm sure you can find a way to adjust the practice so that it would work for you. Here are some ideas:

    - how often could people wait until the end of the current pomodoro, so that you can spend the next one helping them?
    - what would happen if you simply canceled the current pomodoro, and spent the next one helping that person?
    - what if for very small favors, you would just do them, as you probably do now?


    They recommend telling a coworker that you are in the middle of a Pomodoro and will get back to them in 25 minutes. However, this IS the interruption. By talking to someone to tell them you can't talk to them, you are already out of the programming zone. (Incidentally, I have a "do not disturb" sign for this purpose. The idea being to prevent people from even talking to me on those occasions it is really needed.)


    as far as I can tell,

    - it is not as big an interruption as actually having to answer the coworker,
    - people will learn how and when to ask you,
    - you already seem to have found a good solution, wo why not continue use it?


    Why should I optimize my time at the expense of others? If I return all phone calls at the end of 25 minutes, it is a bad time for others, no? What if everyone use Pomodoro on different schedules. (Not that I never carve out time. I do. Did I mention I have a do not disturb sign?)


    For what it's worth, I don't think you should optimize your time at the expense of others. On the other hand, as you've already found out, always allowing all kinds of interruptions isn't optimal, either. I'd think that the Pomodoro technique can be used to experiment with finding a good balance.

    I wonder whether my concerns sound like justifications or valid.


    I'd suggest that it doesn't matter what they sound like. I'd suggest that it matters whether Pomodoro can help you use your time better or not. I'd suggest that a good way to find out wether it does might be to stop wondering and start trying. ;)
     
    Jeanne Boyarsky
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    Ilja,
    Congrats on the new job as an agile coach! You must be so excited!

    55 minutes sounds more realistic. I did try it for a JavaRanch thing (where I control my time and there aren't external interruptions) and found 25 minutes annoying. I natural break at between 45 and 60 anyway because I'm not so big on sitting still and I think when I move around. I like that it happens organically and am not a fan of the timer.

    I think my answer is that this isn't for me .

    I'm sure you can find a way to adjust the practice so that it would work for you.

    Or take the parts that seem valuable and incorporate them into my own process.

    - how often could people wait until the end of the current pomodoro, so that you can spend the next one helping them?

    Almost always. After all, they wait just fine when I am in meetings or helping someone else. It's only the day before a vacation that I have an actual queue of people.

    - what would happen if you simply canceled the current pomodoro, and spent the next one helping that person?

    I don't follow how that helps me.

    - it is not as big an interruption as actually having to answer the coworker,

    Close enough for me. If I have to look away from my computer, it is. If I'm just typing e-mail, I actually finish as I am telling the person I will be right with them. People say it is odd that I am touchtyping while looking at them.

    - people will learn how and when to ask you,
    - you already seem to have found a good solution, wo why not continue use it?

    This is they key. I've already trained people how to communicate with me. I plan to continue with my system. At the same time, it can always be made better and I look for time management processes as sources of inspiration.

    I'd suggest that it doesn't matter what they sound like. I'd suggest that it matters whether Pomodoro can help you use your time better or not. I'd suggest that a good way to find out wether it does might be to stop wondering and start trying. ;)

    Fair enough!
     
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