I've had a history of a bad back and neck, ever since I was a kid. I've seen a chiropractor countless times about my issues. Sitting all day at a desk in my adult years, doesn't help at all to that.
Researching in help for this, besides ergonomics of the workstation, I stumbled upon the Pomodoro method. A small addition to the day, but a big pay off in my health.
What is a Pomodoro Clock?
The idea is about sectioning work into timed intervals, typically 25 minutes. After completing an interval of work, you take a 5 minute break. After 4 intervals of work, you take a longer, 15-30 minute break.
Your brain needs a break, but also your body. As a programmer, you're desk locked most of the time. You need time to decompress, stretch, and realign yourself from time to time.
Sticking to the Pomodoro method, you'll get in a rhythm of doing your work, then having your break, allowing you to get up out of your desk. This can prevent back issues, neck issues, soreness, and burnouts.
Pomodoro & Programming
Programmers hate interruptions. A major interruption to a programmer can on-average, take 10-15 minutes to "recover" back into the mindset of the task at hand.
The thing about programming is you're mentally managing connections between systems, files, methods, etc. An interruption can sever those connections instantly and require you to rebuild it before starting work.
Its as if you had 5 books open on a table and you're reading different paragraphs in each book which all relate. You're in the zone connecting all these similar paragraphs of information for research... when suddenly - someone asks you where you bought your backpack. Oops, there goes your train of thought, and you'll sit there looking at those 5 books and no longer have an idea of where you we're.
Its hard to turn tasks of programming work into sections of 25 minutes due to this. When the timer is up, you're supposed to take a 5 minute break, but if you're deep into a task, it could seem like an interruption and distraction. Its really hard.
Overcoming & Adapting
I was skeptical the method would work for me, the thought of stopping when the timer is done just kept a message playing in my head, "this is a bad idea, this is a bad idea," because I felt this would cause me to lose track of what I was doing and actually hinder my day, not improve it.
But, due to my past and current back/neck issues, I decided to give it a go - rip the bandaid off.
The first few days was hard. Several times the timer would go off and I would say, "one more minute I'll be good," "one more minute, I'll have the task done," and guess what... it was never a minute. I got into that deep vibe and before I knew it, hours past and I was sore and my eyes we're tired.
I realized this and decided I have to be more proactive on it. Adapt.
When that timer would go off, I'd take a mental note of my current status and just drop it all, stand up, and walk around... get a coffee... decompress for 5 minutes.
Yes, coming back to the work after the break, it took a few minutes to realign, which was frustrating at first, but I knew it was worth it for my health.
Over time (currently a month doing this), realigning surprisingly got easier and easier, I somehow trained myself better coming back to a task.
Its amazing. 5 minute breaks after every task seems small. But the posture of my body, pain, soreness, and mental state, have all been improved by doing these little breaks and timed workloads.
I have time to stand up, walk, stretch, and let my eyes adjust to something besides a glaring LCD panel.
Its a hard adjustment but just try it, commit to it, and try it for a week. It helped me.
There's phone apps, web apps, desktop apps. You can even buy a physical timer to slap on your desk. Some are bare, some are rich in features.
Personally, I just needed a timer for the work (25 minutes), break (5 minutes), and a long break (15-30 minutes). An addon for my Firefox fit the bill perfect, called Tomoto Clock which is under active development. It supports the 3 types of timers, with a visual/sound notification, it also keeps stats of your daily usage for tasks and breaks. Its super simple to use.
Cover image credit: Vince Lee