The Pomodoro technique
The Pomodoro technique is a simple system that potentially helps you to focus during your workday. It is a time management system that chunks the work into 25 minute focused periods followed by 5 minute breaks.
I've tried it several times in the past, but only lately I could make it stick. Now I think it's one of the great yet simple systems that, in my experience, works best.
Why should you care?
First, it breaks your workday into a few chunks. Minutes and hours are hard to count effectively, but you have only so many half-hours in a day. It helps with estimations. Instead of saying 1-2 hours, you start thinking in pomodoros and say 3-4 half-hours. The breaks then force you to reevaluate the progress and the estimation. Initially, I was surprised how much longer it took to finish some tasks.
The core part of Pomodoro is focused work. In this state, you are not allowed to distract yourself in any ways. No Facebook, no email checking, no talking with fellow co-workers. It sounds strict, but 25 minutes is quite bearable. And you'll also adapt to it after a few days.
Apart from forcing me to take regular breaks, the biggest advantage is that it brings awareness into how I work. The cycles force me to step back from time to time from what I'm working on and look at it from a distance.
When I'm stuck with a difficult problem, this is usually all I need to break the never-ending struggle to find a solution. When I get back to work 5 minutes later, I try a different approach. Instead of wasting several hours on a single problem, I find a solution faster.
In a nutshell, when you interrupt a task instead of finishing it, you are more likely to continue working. The Pomodoro timer interrupts the workflow. And while it seems like a downside, it is a good thing in this case. I often find myself staring at the timer, waiting for it to reach 0 so that I can resume.
What made Pomodoro stick this time?
In short: software. Software is transformative only if it's seamlessly integrated into the workflow. When I first tried, I set a timer on my phone. It was tedious, even with an app, it's still a different device. And it didn't force me to stop working, so I tended to ignore it just to finish the task.
But then I found an excellent extension to Gnome Shell (I'm using Ubuntu with Gnome 3, by the way). It perfectly integrates into my workflow. Usually, I'm coding away, then suddenly the screen dims, and a countdown timer forces me to take a break. That is the type of prodding I need to implement Pomodoro effectively.
The Pomodoro technique is a great way to structure your workday. But don't just take my word for it. It may or may not work for you.
The important thing is to be aware of it and learn from the mistakes of others. And then you can try it yourself, and see whether it fits your personal workflow or not.
Try out new things to improve what you are doing. And the Pomodoro technique is a great candidate.