- In a direct, classic way, to get rid of distractions like emails, Facebook, IM, the temptation to look for an unrelated information, but also interruptions from people... when I'm reading or writing (I'm a PhD student in physics).
- In an indirect way, to "cure" myself, to stop taking this nasty habit of switching from an idea to another, unrelated one, all the time, not only at the computer but in every type of task. I was sure this habit came from my heavy use of Internet, and using the Pomodoro technique at the computer was supposed to kill this general multitasking behaviour at the source.
I say it is "drastic" because it was my initial impression. Indeed, a 25 minutes working interval feels SHORT at first. You feel like staying in front of the computer instead of taking a break. But I got used to it very quickly though (and I will talk about the advantages of all the little breaks shortly). During a pomodoro, the way I use it at least, you simply can't drift away from your task, it is forbidden. I had to resist emails, text messages... and above all, conversations! Conversation is the most difficult interruption to avoid. At one point I just needed earphones, for 3 reasons: I could tell people that they can't speak to me when I have them on, unless it's really important, or unless they're my boss :) ; I'm not tempted to join a conversation when working; and it blocks noise. Oh, and by the way, music is a bad idea... I think
With all this setup, I'm now able to *really* concentrate, like I was able to concentrate alone in my room in front of a book, years ago. I read more of the stuff I'm supposed to read, I write more of the stuff I'm supposed to write. It's even been so effective that I read and write a little too much instead of carrying out my experiments. It is also a nice way to keep track of what I'm doing and to organize a planning, since I know approximately what I did and can do in 1 pomodoro. In addition, I'm using my time in a more efficient way. I know I can do something productive in just 1 pomodoro, I know it counts. When it doesn't make sense to divide a task in small subtasks, the pomodoro feels like a real, material step. So 25 minutes, when it could seem like a very short time to start or carry on a task, is now in my head a full pomodoro during which I can really contribute to the task. It helps me to work when I really don't feel like it, including at home - something I didn't really do before.
The pauses are useful. I take breaks of 5 minutes (minimum) after every pomodoro, and a 20 minute pause (minimum) after my 4th pomodoro. I say "minimum" since I want to stay a bit flexible with pauses sometimes. My rule is that I have to get away from my desk during pauses. I usually take a walk in the lab, talk to people who wanted something from me during a pomodoro, or simply chat. The frequent pauses really help to focus on a task for a long time.
To implement all this, I use Emacs with Org-mode, org-pomodoro, and todochiku (to talk to Growl for Windows and display messages). I also use the very good Tomighty, especially when working on a task which is not in my org tasklist.
However I didn't really feel an improvement of my "multitasking syndrome" outside my working sessions on the computer. I guess it will need more time to disappear, since I still aimlessly browse Internet a bit too much. To be continued!