Increase your concentration using the Pomodoro Technique

real-world-pomodoro-timerThere are times when you would want to sit down and work on a task, but lack the determination & concentration to sit through it and finish it completely. Add colleagues or family members who constantly disturb you for petty things and you have got the perfect recipe for a huge list of tasks that are half-complete and you don’t even know where your entire day had gone.

After trying lot of techniques for handling my time and task lists better, I finally found the Pomodoro Technique which is quite easy to stick to and also leads to much higher productivity. Pomodoro technique divides your entire work hours into 25 minutes intervals with 5 minutes break in between. There are also times when you can take a longer break. But the 25 minutes (called a pomodoro) is purely spent only for work with no distractions (there are ways to handle interruptions too)

Starting on the Pomodoro Technique is quite easy. All you need is a piece of paper, a simple countdown timer and some tasks which you must get done. You can read the official book which does a good job of explaining in detail how to start using the technique. But here is a very quick version that you can read now. Once you see how effective it is, it is hard to not use it when you want to be productive.

Step 1: List out all the tasks you want to be completed today. Order them by the highest priority first.

Step 2: Pick the first task, start your countdown timer for 25 minutes and work on the task at hand.

Step 3: When 25 minutes has passed and you hear your alarm, stop working, mark an “X” against the task and take a break for 5 minutes. If you are programmer, get out of the desk and go drink water and look out the window.

Step 4: If the task you picked is completed, strike out the task and pick the next task. Else continue working on the same task. Now start your next pomodoro (25 minute counter) and repeat until all tasks you listed are completed. At the end of the day, the task sheet you have will show you how productive you were and how many tasks you got completed by the day.

Note: After every 4 pomodoros, take a longer break of 15-30 minutes. You could do anything during this break like checking email/facebook, having lunch, drinking coffee, etc. So you get a big break every 2 hours.

This is the very short version of the technique and is enough to get you started. But do read the book (you can complete it in 1 or 2 pomodoros) and it explains in details on how to handle interruptions (both internal and external). It also explains how to do time estimation and lot of other tips that may be useful for advanced users.

There are various apps for smartphones, for the pomodoro timers. Even though I have a physical timer (the pomodoro shaped one) I got from Chile, I use the Mac app Pomodoro Desktop which also has a free open source version for download. The good thing about it is the ticking sound which when you hear on a earphone, will drive you to push yourself harder to complete as much of the task possible before the current pomodoro completes and I love this for just that.

8 Ideas to keep you motivated when working from home

When I say I work from home, my friends and relatives imagine me lying down lazily on the couch and watching TV, with one hand on the laptop and another hand in a bag of chips. No boss to breathe down your neck or micromanage you. You’ve got all the time in the world and can even take a quick nap if you are feeling sleepy.

Actually, working all alone in a room without any direct interaction with your team members is slightly depressing sometimes and can take a hit on your productivity. Sometimes you would miss that micromanaging boss who sits near your desk with a list of tasks to complete – printed out on paper from your bug tracker.

Here are 8 ideas for you to work smartly and be productive working alone from home.

1. Have a routine and stick to it

clockWorking from home gives your the joy of 0 minute commutes. But that doesn’t mean you can wake up any time you want to and sit down to work in your pajamas with your breakfast in one hand.

Start your work just like you would do if you had to go to an office. Wake up, go to gym or a jog and have your breakfast before you step into your home-office (yeah, refer it as Home-Office next time you talk to friends). For some people they feel productive and in the zone only if they dress up, just like in an office. Try doing it and find what suits you.

Find the right time for yourself. Few of us are a morning person while some are night owls. I personally prefer working late at night and get into the zone only after midnight. You can try talking to your boss if you can shift the time a bit based on what kind of a person you are. But do make sure you have at least a few hours of overlapping time zones between team members.

2. Have a separate work area and time

You know how working from home means, you can lie down on your bed with your laptop and your boss wouldn’t even know. Or how about catching up on the shows on TV while you lean back on the couch. You could never get things done that way.

Always have a place at home where you can draw an imaginary border separating your home from your office. Most of the times, a simple desk with a good chair in a separate room would suffice.

Make sure the place is well lit and the temperature is set to the optimum as too hot or too cold can be a real irritant and can cause a huge drop in productivity. And also keep the desk clear of all clutter. Close the doors and tell your family that during your work hours, you are not to be disturbed unless your house is on fire.

The border should work both ways. Whenever you are in the work area during the work time, do only work related activities. And once you step outside the work area, spend your time with your family. This means having your lunch/dinner away from the desk.

It may be tempting to have your lunch at the desk. DON’T DO IT. Step away and spend your lunch time with family/friends if you can. Lunch can also be a nice time to meet some mentors and network with them asking for advice.

3. Have a prioritised task list

task-listStart every day by creating a list of tasks that need to be completed today (better if you could do it the night before) and make sure you specify how much time it would take to complete. Sort it based on priority or whatever magic number your team uses. Manually ticking off each task as you complete is a small treat to your brain.

Its OK even if you miss the time estimations initially. Unless your task list has a deadline, it would never get completed. Having the set of milestones to complete will really make you forget about those little distractions you might have every day.

I use Trello for tracking the tasks and it works great when you have a team working on various parts of the project. If you are working on a simple project as a solo developer, something as simple as a pen and paper would work great.

4. Take regular breaks

Working continuously for long hours can have problems to your health and also affect the quality of your work. Everyone can work for long hours without a break, but pretty soon the body will break down and you would have to take a longer break than the occasional 5-10 minutes break you should’ve taken in the first place.

Sitting for long hours in the desk is very damaging to your body and make sure you take a very short 5 minutes break every 25 minutes. You can use the pomodoro technique for this and it is very effective.

5. Talk to your team – either through IM or Skype

skypeSometimes it could be lonely working in your room with no one to talk to. If you have a team which is also working remotely, always communicate with them – either through instant message or call them up using Skype. All it takes a couple of minutes of discussion with another person to spark off the solution to the hard problem.

If you are a single developer working on your own startup, call up some friends or mentors and have a quality discussion for 5-10 minutes.

When you call your friends, you don’t have to always talk about your work. If you do, pretty soon you will be reaching only the voicemail. Instead ask about their day and suggest something that might help them. Remember everyone has problems and just like you, they are also looking for a place to express their emotions.

6. Block Social Networking Sites

The constant checking of updates on social networking sites is the most distracting thing you can do while at work. Block them completely during the work hours or use the “separate social networking device” method I talked about earlier. Also make sure you measure your productivity and identify key areas where you can improve.

And social networks also include your personal email or GTalk account. Remember to do your personal work on your personal time and not while you work.

Of course this rule doesn’t apply if your job is dependent on the constant access to these sites.

7. Work from a cafe/library at least once a week

Working from the same place could become boring after a while and soon you would be irritated at even the tiny things on your desk (thats why you should clear up your desk regularly). When that happens, just throw your laptop into your bag and head off to the nearest cafe or library and sit down for couple of hours and work.

If there is no internet connection, means no distractions – even better. Going offline for a few hours isn’t that life threatening as you would think. The two hours of concentrated work in the cafe will be more productive than 8 hours of monotonous work in your desk.

8. If everything fails, work from a coworking place

This is seriously the best option for some of us who could never get things done sitting alone. In a coworking place, you have the company of like-minded people in a proper office setting. Sometimes this is all the motivation you need for working. So try working from some coworking place in your city for a month and see if it helps.

Sometimes there might even be casual coworking events called Jellies where people gather in a place and work together. Search for a Jelly in your city. If there isn’t one, host one for others in your house.

The new faces you meet in such places are refreshing and help in the creative brainstorming. If you are interested, you could also try collaborating with them on their projects in your free time.

Try these 8 tips above and drive out the boredom of working alone. Have you got any more ideas to stay motivated working at home? Leave your tips in the comments section below.