I sometimes have periods when I find it very hard to concentrate. When I was working in an office, this was made worse if there were many conversations going on around me. With the popularity of open offices, even if two people are talking 20 meters away, you can still hear them pretty well. But sometimes it happens even now that I am working from home, where I have my own office, with minimal distractions.

Sometimes the lack of focus happens because the task at hand is particularly boring or frustrating, with long wait times, such as configuring a build pipeline in Azure Pipelines, where you have to make a separate commit to test anything out and the documentation is not always clear. Sometimes the task I'm working on is unclear and I'm not sure how to proceed or I don't know how to solve the problem. At other times, my head is just so full of ideas that I constantly just from one thing to another and I can't get anything done. And of course, sometimes I'm just too tempted by Hacker News/Reddit/Facebook/Twitter/RSS feeds.

One thing that I have found to help in cases like these is to use a timer for 20 minutes of work and then a 5 minute break. There's plenty of apps for all platforms to help you schedule these timers. The rule is simple: during the work time, I either do something directly related to my task (usually coding) or I stare blankly out the window. When the timer rings, I can browse whatever I want, chat, watch YouTube videos. But during work time, I either do some useful, or I do nothing.

This part of doing nothing "guilt free" is important. If I do spend a full 20 minutes doing nothing, it means something is wrong with the task I'm working on and maybe I need to redefine it or get some clarifications. Or maybe it's something that I really don't think should be done. But most of the time I don't spend all the time looking into space and I get something done and this makes it easy to get into a more productive mood and get working. Sometimes after I do 2-3 rounds of these Pomodoro's[1], I even stop the timer, because I don't need it anymore.

What are your favorite productivity tips?

I’m publishing this as part of 100 Days To Offload - Day 7.


  1. The name comes from Italian, where it means tomato, because the guy who invented it used a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato. ↩︎