Because we all get distracted and need a hand focusing, sometimes

Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed a severe degrade in my ability to focus. More so, I’ve found myself struggling to complete tasks if they didn’t have a burning interest deep within me. ADHD? Perhaps, but as I found out over the pandemic, inconclusive. So, without having that to blame, I opted to explore various techniques to see where I could improve my throughput and focus. For this article, I wanted to share my experience with the Pomodoro Technique. Why? Because as of recent I’ve found myself lacking discipline when it comes to prioritising and focus. Wikipedia explains the Pomodoro Technique as,

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s.[1] It uses a kitchen timer to break work into intervals, typically 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. Each interval is known as a pomodoro, from the Italian word for tomato, after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer Cirillo used as a university student.

Most resources point to the time intervals as:

  • 25 Minute pomodoros
  • 5 Minute short break
  • 30 Minute long break

After each completed pomodoro, a short break is rewarded and, only after completing four, is a long break rewarded. For my experiment, I’ve been using the technique through my weekdays during working hours primarily, since June was a busy month without side projects.

25 Minute Pomodoros

I’ve heard the scepticism before that 25 minutes is not enough time to do meaningful work -a thought which has been shared by enough that an alternative time management paradigm called the 52/17 rule was created. Yet, as of right now, perhaps due to the small pieces that I work on at a time, I found 25 minute sessions not to be too short for progress to be made. Quite often, I found myself checking my phone’s timer to see how much time was left quite often while waiting on builds and tests to run. Where I did find the limited time spans useful was for researching a topic, and then allowing myself 5 minutes to let the brain dwell onto other topics before returning back. With the timer always readily in my peripheral vision, it’s easy to coordinate note-taking in the last few minutes if I’m worried about losing context.

5 Minute Short Breaks

Everyone likes a little break, a little reward here and there; and that’s exactly what this short break is. A moment to disengage, to explore distractions and to catch up on non-important notifications and interests. At first, I thought this was too short of time to catch up on other interests, and it was. That is, until I started to prioritise what I wanted to catch up on and look into for that break. You can’t keep your focus spread out so far in so little time, so why bother when instead you can focus on a slight few? I find myself checking out a domains such as music production, Linux, programming, technology and health & fitness. In five minutes, I can easily go through some of the subreddits, blogs, and news sites for a domain or two at the most, but it’s nice dip into the waters. And, for when I’m not feeling like keeping the brain activated, Twitter (I’ll never call it anything but), YouTube and Reddit are always welcoming.

30 Minute Long Break

The long break serves really as the rewarding you made it! notion that’s granted only after completing two hours of work. I find that in these times, I still follow a similar pattern to my short breaks in how I shift focus, just for longer. Sometimes, depending on weather and location, I’ll opt to go for a walk around.

Opinion & Conclusion

Regarding the 25 minute sessions, I can see this being more cumbersome could if you were deeply focused into a domain and having the timer after disconnect you from the roll you’re on. Furthermore, in deep coding sessions where there’s no meetings and distractions on the calendar where 25 minutes isn’t enough time for a working session.

While drafting this post over the weekend, I decided to try Pomodoro in other domains including: decluttering, doing chores, blogpost writing, reading and note taking. Super interesting weekend, sure, but that was all just in one day -the other day was spent hiking with the partner and her dog, Mochi. For chores, depending on how you timebox, I found this to be a no-brainer! Grouping what I can fit into 25 minute periods allowed me to focus on the task on hand while listening to YouTube, Podcasts and music leisurely knowing that I’ll have a couple minutes to switch it up and even just lounge around every 25 minutes.

For decluttering, a activity I do quite often to little effect, I found the timeboxing to have a very specific outcome: improvement. By limiting my decluttering to timeboxed moments in a particular area, and then trying to impose the rule that after that pomodoro session that I’ll move onto another area to declutter, I am forced to actually declutter without hesitating or contemplating the future of random items. I’m on constant arena-clear based quests which are timed, so like any good role playing game I’m going to try to do as much damage as I can.

For writing, similar to work, I found the timeboxing reminiscent to how I did my pomodoro sessions. I could dive deep into writing for a bit, then take a quick break before returning. Do I need the break? Depending on the task, not at all. I am curious though to see if it reduces mental fatigue down the road, or if it’s a concept which so many have employed and misunderstood in the process as nothing more than a tomato timer. I’ll continue to try to use it, and report back perhaps in a months time or so.