Mark Needham

Thoughts on Software Development

Playing around with pomodoros

with 2 comments

Over the last 3/4 months I’ve been playing around with the idea of using pomodoros to track all coding/software related stuff that I do outside of work.

I originally started using this technique while I was doing the programming assignments for ml-class because I wanted to know how much time I was spending on it each week and make sure I didn’t run down rabbit holes too often.

One interesting observation that I noticed from keeping the data of these pomodoros was that while during the early programming assignments it would take me 7 or 8 pomodoros to finish, by the end it was down to around 4.

I think this was due to the difficulty of the assignments decreasing as time went on, I didn’t improve that dramatically!

As I mentioned a few weeks ago I’ve also been using pomodoros in combination with a yak stack to make sure I don’t go off track and it’s been interesting applying the technique while trying to solve a problem I’m having with using the Jersey client on Android.

It’s such a fiddly problem and splitting my time into 25 minute slots has forced me to create a plan for what I’m going to try and do in that pomodoro, whether it be ruling out an approach or trying to understand the underlying code that isn’t working.

I haven’t been successful in solving my problem but I’m pretty sure that I’ve spent much less time trying to solve it than I would have otherwise. I can certainly imagine spending hours aimlessly trying things that have no chance of working.

One thing I’ve been experimenting with is reducing the length of the pomodoro to 15 minutes when I know there’s something specific that I want to investigate and I’m fairly sure it won’t take a full length pomodoro.

Previously I would end up just killing time for 10 minutes or just resetting the pomodoro because I didn’t have anything else to do.

I generally enjoy coding much more by applying this time constraint and I think the reason for that is explained by The Progress Principle, which I’m currently reading:

If people are in an excellent mood at the end of the day, it’s a good bet that they have made some progress in their work. If they are in a terrible mood, it’s a good bet that they have had a setback.

To a great extent, inner work life rises and falls with progress and setbacks in the work. This is the progress principle

Using a pomodoro seems to reduce the amount of time that is spent dealing with setbacks and it creates frequent opportunities to discard an approach you’re taking if it’s clear that it’s not going anywhere.

A disadvantage that I’ve sometimes felt when working on the Jersey/Android problem is that I really don’t want to spend 25 minutes working on it because I’ve been getting absolutely nowhere with it for about 6/7 pomodoros now.

I’d rather delude myself that I’m going to magically fix it just by fiddling around with the code for an indeterminate period of time!

In a way constraining coding in this way does take some of the fun out of it as well because it’s now more structured and you tend to have fun when you’re just randomly doing stuff and lose track of time.

On the other hand I probably end up doing a lot more of the stuff I want to do when I constrain it in this way!

Decisions, decisions…

Written by Mark Needham

January 22nd, 2012 at 9:25 pm

Posted in Software Development

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  • Peter

    Hi Mark

    Interesting that you use Pomodoros to track time, and not just to focus and reduce interruptions.

    Would you say:
    Progress in work -> Excellent mood ->More Motivated

    Great post
    .peter.gfader.

  • http://www.markhneedham.com/blog Mark Needham

    Yeh pretty much – I suppose there is some aspect of not getting distracted as well but that’s not the main reason I use them.

    What you say about progress in work is what the research the authors of the progress principle suggests yeh. I think it seems reasonably true from my experience.