The COVID based home office can be a hotbed of interruptions. Your kids and partner feel like you’re around, so they can just drop in real quick to ask you a question, or for a quick hand. And feeling like you’re chained to your desk for 8 hours everyday to ensure you’re available for your coworkers isn’t healthy for you. You need to get up, walk around, and stretch.
I was in a discussion with a member of my team on deep work, and the topic turned to Pomodoros as a potential technique to deal with the interruptions. We know the benefits of deep work are many, but getting a four hour block of time to write some code seemed unrealistic in this new world. I suggested he give Pomodoros a shot. But it seemed like it may be at odds with deep work. We figured it would be worth looking to see if there was anything indicating these two productivity ideas are at odds.
What is the Pomodoro Technique?
The Pomodoro technique is simply a tool for focused timeboxed work with planned breaks. It was created in the 1980’s by Francesco Cirillo. It means tomato, and was named for the shape of the timer he used as a college student. Roughly it looks like the following:
- Pick the work you’re going to tackle next
- Set the timer to 25 minutes
- Work until the timer rings
- Take a five-minute break
- Take longer breaks, 15 to 30 minutes, every four cycles
It's been a few years since I read Cal Newport's work on the topic, so I couldn't recall the specifics of if Pomodoros would be antithetical to deep work. The good news is his work seems to indicate that they aren't. In fact, he goes so far as to recommend them as a technique that's useful in facilitating deep work. He recommends 50 minutes of focus, with a 10 minute break.
His key takeaway is:
When it comes to deep work, you shouldn’t feel like you’re required to maintain peak concentration for hours on end.
This is great news for folks who need to work, or write code, as if deep work is impossible. But if you're able to get those uninterrupted stretches, take them and run with them.
Pomodoro Break Do's and Don'ts
- Take a walk.
- Get some water or coffee.
- Play with your kids for a bit.
- Complete a small household task.
- Jump into email or social media. (Or Slack during the shorter cycles.)
- Take a quick peek at your favorite websites.
- Work on another work related task.
- Take more than 10 minutes for your break.
The don't list is more important during the shorter (15-25 minute) Pomodoro cycles, where during the longer 50 minute ones you probably ought to take that time to check in with the team.
Obviously this isn't going to work 100% of the time with kids. They can have the tendency, like managers, to just kick down the door and request what they need. But it gives you strategic breakpoints where you can get up and walk around, which is important for your health, and check in on kids to hopefully help minimize the number of interruptions that they'd otherwise bring to you.
If you can make the Pomodoro timer visible to them as well, you may be able to convince them to wait until your next break point to kick down the door and ask for a Lunchable.
If you’ve got other strategies for creating deep work time from the impromptu home office, I’d love to hear about them. firstname.lastname@example.org