Sync Pomodoro

We’ve recently written a bit about the pomodorotechnique. The principle thing that we want to achieve with this is to improve our levels of concentration and therefore our productivity. Will it help with an XP team?

I’ve also found that it helps with

  • general wellbeing when you stand up, re-focus your eyes frequently, stretch a bit
  • tiredness because I feel I have more energy after a day’s work when I used this

The first little thing that helps is workrave. We’ve configured it to pop up every 25 minutes and persistently interrupt us. The temptation is there to ignore it (push it aside / “skip” the pomodoro), but what works best is to just jump up at that moment and take the 5 minute break. Don’t delay the break. You’ve done 25 minutes of focused work now; just do it.

Now in a team where we are programming in pairs, we find too many disruptions troublesome. Apart from people regularly jumping up (and breaking my pomodoro just because it’s their turn for a break), customers and other people freely interrupt because nobody knows when there is a suitable time to do so. Don’t get me wrong, I think we should be interrupted if the need is there, but if it can wait for a few minutes (to coincide with a break, perhaps), that will be great.

My first attempt is to put up a really grumpy and unfriendly face to discourage anyone from interrupting me 🙂 That doesn’t work, for many reasons. Do you need details here?

What about a traffic light connected to each computer? We sync the workrave app with it (or put a timer on it). Red = don’t interrupt me (us for a pair). Green = I’m in a break. Or something like that.

We are trying the idea of syncing pomodoros. This means that all pairs start one at the same time. It implies that we all jump up at the same time.

The rules currently are

  1. swap drivers consciously on pomodoros
  2. swap pairs after 3 pomodoros
  3. take a longer break after 6

So far, I’m ecstatic (really) about the outcome. Time truly flies. We really get stuff done. Pairs check each other and enforces the break, when it pops up. Lively discussion ensue in the break time. Swapping pairs frequently just makes work more exiting. People can enter and exit the process in mid flight. Wow.

Challenge is to keep it up, to pull in the odd-ball in the team and to get it implemented in an environment (big company, open plan, …) that doesn’t really support the thinking.


  1. Oct 21, 2010
    4:43 pm


    Like to hear the others' opinion – that are part of the experiment

  2. Mar 3, 2011
    8:40 am


    I would like to try the syncing of the pomodoro. Its always difficult for me, not being part of the development team, to know when I can interrupt. I get at someone’s desk wait a few seconds and see they are busy, then go back to my desk, get busy with stuff and then when I see, the pair has already taken their break and started again! Then I just interrupt and I can see that the focus is not at what I’m asking.
    So even for the “non” developers it would be great to have a synced workrave.

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