Tomato-driven development? Pomodoro!

Tomatoes and software development?! You’re probably wondering what on earth one has to do with the other. Before I get to that, however, I’d like to tell you a bit about the zombies that live in our heads.

 

Procrastination

 

Has this ever happened to you? You’re working on some boring project or task that just drags on forever, and you open your favorite news or social site once again just to realize that… nothing has changed in the world since your last visit.

This phenomenon is called “procrastination” and works like that: the moment you need to get down to work, the pain centers in your brain are triggered and begin to look for instant gratification in order to ease the pain. Over time, procrastination may turn into a bad habit. And this is where the zombies spring into action, because a habit is nothing more than an automatic execution of an action in response to a stimulus. The zombies in our heads feed on funny videos on YouTube and pictures of cats. They react to anything that distracts our attention from the task at hand. All it takes is the sound of a new comment notification from Facebook, and seconds later, we are browsing our friends’ posts and wasting minute after minute. But can this horde be trained to work for us? Of course it can! Fortunately, not all habits are bad. We just need to turn our zombies’ attention to something that captures their interest. Let’s start by muting the alerts that trigger the chain of bad habits, such as incoming e-mail or Facebook post notifications. Once we’ve done that, we can now build our own chain of “cue-routine-reward”. And this is where tomatoes come to the rescue. Come again?! You mean that the zombies will feed on tomatoes instead of the cats in the pictures? Absolutely!

 

Pomodoro

 

Pomodoro is a technique that helps you focus on your work and enjoy being productive. The name comes from the tomato-shaped kitchen timer, which is in fact the only thing you need to achieve the goal. The idea is to set the timer (e.g. the Pomodoro Tracker) and focus on a single specific task for 25 minutes. During that time, you need to limit anything that can distract you: put on your headphones so that your colleagues don’t talk to you without reason and activate an application that blocks access to your favorite websites. When the time is up, give yourself a 5-minute reward in the form of a webcomic, a game of foosball or a delicious latte with frothed milk. After just a few such tomatoes, you’ll notice that you’re more eager to do your work as you subconsciously know that there’s a reward behind every tomato. Once this style of work becomes a habit, the zombies will gladly feed on tomatoes, knowing that a delicious dessert (panna cotta?) is about to follow. This technique is particularly helpful if you have trouble focusing because the task at hand is not enough of an intellectual challenge, or if you need to write tedious documentation. The desired state can be achieved thanks to one of the neurotransmitters in the brain called dopamine. Every time you feel rewarded, the dopamine level in your brain increases, causing you to experience a sense of gratification. If your subconsciousness associates the focus on work with the reward, the work will become pure pleasure. What’s more, you can become addicted to such a productive work style. In fact, stimulation of dopamine receptors by drugs or alcohol is one of the reasons why people become addicted.

 

To-do

 

In addition to increasing your productivity, the use of Pomodoro can help improve the quality of your code, this time for a different reason. Before you start with a tomato, you should make a list of tasks to be completed and prioritize them as appropriate. Next, you need to divide the tasks into small parts so that each task fits into as few tomatoes as possible. Just by making the list, you can free some space in your brain’s working memory. That memory can only hold four “lumps” of information, so there is no point wasting it on something you can write down. Once you complete a task, tick it off the list. This will affect the level of another neurotransmitter called serotonin, which is responsible for your mood. If you say “done!” after each Pomodoro session, an appropriate dose of serotonin will be released in your brain, allowing you to relax and prepare your body for more work. In addition, if you – as a developer – commit changes to a repository after each tomato, your colleagues will be grateful because they won’t have to review a thousand lines of code at once.

 

A helping hand

 

There are many techniques which can support a person in achieving their goals, but in my case, it is Pomodoro that most often extends its helping hand when I’m drowning in the quicksand of nonproductivity. A 10-minute tomato before my morning press review and coffee gives me the assurance that, at the end of the day, I’m going to come back home with a sense of fulfillment and a job well done. So, if you have a timer at hand and a bit of self-confidence, I recommend that you try it. The dopamine and serotonin will do the rest for you.

*This article was written using the Pomodoro technique.

By Paweł Młynarczyk – developer working tirelessly with Java for more than 10 years. He codes, does DevOps and helps his younger colleagues grow as professionals. From time to time, he can be heard at IT conferences, and he uses every available opportunity to learn. In his private life, he is a dad and a lover of comics and Czech cinema.

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