Increase your programming productivity

Have your ever been working on a task when you see your mail icon flash or you come to think of updating Facebook or your realise that you need to buy milk on the way home.

All those distractions, reading a mail, updating Facebook or thinking of what to buy when you are in the store stops your productivity. Working for five minutes and then spending the next five minutes doing something unproductive is not an effective way of using your time. First of all it takes a few minutes to get your brain back to the task at hand and second, your brain can’t focus on the same task for too long without getting less efficient. According to a study made by Matt Killingsworth “Forty-seven percent of the time, people are thinking about something other than what they’re currently doing.”

Image of a half and a whole tomato

Bright red tomato and cross section02” by Taken byfir0002 | 20D + Sigma 150mm f/2.8 – Own work. Licensed under GFDL 1.2 via Wikimedia Commons.

One tool to use that can increase your productivity greatly is the Pomodoro Technique. Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato and is used in this case as a reference to a kitchen timer looking like a tomato. The Pomodoro Technique is the brainchild of Francesco Cirillo.

The trick

What you want to do is to plan, track, record, process and visualize your work.

When you use the Pomodoro Technique you decide on a task to do and set a timer for 25 minutes, a Pomodoro. After 25 minutes has past, put a checkmark on a paper and take a 3-5 minute break. After four Pomodori(the plural) you take a longer break for 15-30 minutes.

It’s as simple as that! By reading the few lines above you’ve pretty much learned the basics of the technique. In order to use the technique efficiently though, there are a few objectives to aim for. You should try to start with the topmost until you feel that you grasp it sufficiently and then continue downwards.

Objective 1: Effort

Tomato plants seven days after planting

Germinating tomatos” by Dennis BrownOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

You need to learn how much effort it takes to complete a specific task, this is typically done by timing how long you need to finish them using the Pomodoro Technique. When you have finished your task you write down how many Pomodori it took, as a reference for future work.

Objective 2: Protect your tomatoes from thieves

A Pomodoro is indivisible, once you have started it, you have to finish it or you are not allowed to score it as a Pomodoro. This of course is something that is hard to do in a workplace where things crave our attention constantly; emails arrive, phones are ringing and colleagues come by to chat or ask questions.

What you need to solve this is discipline. Turn off your phone and email and if any thoughts other than the task at hand pops up in your head, write them down on a paper for later consideration and return to the task at hand. If someone disturbs you during the Pomodoro politely tell them when you’ll  get back to them, which ideally is after you have finished four Pomodori.

If something do happen that needs your immediate attention you’ll just have to cancel your Pomodoro and start a new when the other task has been taken care of.

If you find that you are done before the time is out don’t stop working. Review your work and overlearn if possible.

Objective 3: Estimation

People are notoriously bad at estimating time. Those 30 minutes of proof reading a report ends up taking an hour. The five hour training session you were supposed to hold was done after only three. This is why you should practise estimating how many Pomodori it will take for you to finish a specific task. Being able to estimate tasks is a great way to get more things done. If you get better at estimation you will be able to plan your day better and properly schedule tasks in your calendar. This will leave you with less time not doing anything useful, reduce overall stress from not meeting deadlines and accomplish more.

A single task should take no more than four Pomodori, if you think it will take more it’s too complex and you should break it down. Remember the golden rule of divide and conquer.

Objective 4: Recap and review

I’m using a very good app on my Android phone that gives a heads up when there is only one minute left of the Pomodoro. During that minute I review how I did.  Did something take longer than I thought? Did I manage to put away my interrupting thoughts?

When the break time is nearly over, my app again signals me when there is a minute left. This is the time for me to recap what I should do. If I found that I didn’t do quite as well on the previous round in my review I can resolve to improve that weakness. This way I’m completely ready to start working on the task I’ve set myself.

Objective 5: Guilt free free time

If you start managing your work weeks by writing down what you would like to do, day by day in a timetable and you fill it up with Pomodori, you’ll find that you get the things done without having to put in overtime. This also means that when you have finished your work day you can stop thinking about work, enjoy yourself and not have to worry about being stressed out about things you have left to do during the week because you know it’s all in your plan and everything is divided up into neat little Pomodori that you know you can handle.

Objective 6: Life improvements

A cluster of red tomatoes

Tomato je” by SofteisOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Now that you have mastered the five earlier objectives you are the master of your own time and it’s time to set your own personal objective. Can you use the technique to improve some other part of your life? What would you like to do less of or more of? Would you like to go home earlier this Friday? Maybe you would like to write reports faster or become even better at one of the earlier objectives. Anything that helps improve your life or a skill are valid objectives to set.

Would you like to know more?

If you would like to learn more about how to work with the Pomodoro Technique I recommend that you check out Pomodoro Technique Illustrated. If you have any questions, feel free to ask I’m happy to answer in the comments below.

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