Using the Pomodoro technique to control distractions

December 12, 2020 – Samuli Seppänen

We - like many others - have the problem that our work gets easily interrupted. Some interruptions come from the inside. For example, you remember "a thing you need to do" and without thinking start doing it immediately. Other interruptions are external, for example a colleague ask you for advise or a customer calls you asking for help. Almost always these things could wait a bit, but the person simply acted on an impulse.

If you work requires focus and concentration then interruptions will hurt your productivity a lot. You may notice that at the end of the day you did not manage to accomplish anything, though you felt busy all the time. You may have helped others accomplish something, but the cost for you was high.

In a perfect world we would close ourselves into a closet and work there with zero external interruptions. But then you hurt the work of others, or accidentally do something that was not agreed upon by your team. So, there has to be a balance between communication and coordination and focused work.

While we identified the above challenges years ago, only recently did we start using the Pomodoro Technique, or a rather variation of it, to solve the problem with interruptions. Basically for two hours each day (10-11 and 14-15) we "go into a Pomodoro" to do the work that requires focus. During that time we keep all instant messengers, email applications and mobile phones down or muted. We also resist the urge to do things not belonging to our goal. The work we do in the Pomodoro is valuable and we do not let others interrupt the flow.

Some of us also use Pomodoro in its "pure" form and it has worked well. The challenge there is synchronizing the Pomodoros so that everyone is on the same schedule and can actually have discussions in between them.

So far the results of using Pomodoro have been very positive. You can get a surprising amount of work done in one hour if you can focus. When Pomodoro is combined with Kanban you also get the satisfaction of moving cards to "Done" column and see that you're really making progress.

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