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The biggest problem for me are distractions that slow down my progress. Too often instead of pushing the main task forward I switch to the other task/check my email/etc. It doesn't mean I'm procrastinating (though sometimes I do). It's more like I multitask too much.

I'm trying to use the pomodoro technique for this, which I really like so far. It turns out it's not a big problem for to focus on a single task for 25 minutes. But doing so I realized an important source of my distractions: wait times. I'm a software engineer and sometimes (some days its often) I need to wait for several minutes for some processes to finish (e.g. compiling code, deploying to production, etc.) While I'm trying hard to eliminate those, I don't think I can completely do that.

These wait periods are usually when I switch to another task because I don't like spending time doing nothing. What do you think I should do during these moments? Should I stare blankly at my monitor? Any ideas?

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Completely legitimate: xkcd.com/303 –  silvermaple Jan 17 '12 at 20:42
    
yeah, I know. And this is precisely what I'm fighting in myself. –  mikea Jan 17 '12 at 21:41
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7 Answers 7

The bottom line is to prepare some sort of simple task for those wait times that is complementary to your "in the zone" work.

Lately I've found it good to have a set of such tasks:

  • Main task that requires deep thought
  • Secondary task that can be done a few minutes at a time. That could be the things suggested above:
  • Commenting Code
  • Reading Facebook or queued up articles. NOTE (critical) : anytime I see something else that I'd want to read I just add it to a queue (I use Pocket and save the page). Otherwise reading one thing can easily spawn 20 sub processes (links to 20 other articles to read).
  • Processing Email (so the old GTD method: either Do it (if <3min), flag it as ToDo or file it. You should only look at each email TWICE (once to evaluate and once to do it).
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What about doing some readings or other related activities?

I always have a saved article that I want to read or some spare task I want to do but I never find some time.

So, while I have to wait for stuff, I just grab on of those and start doing them just while I wait. Just mind yourself, thought, that those activities can't be too much time demanding, unless you have a lot of time while you wait.

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Well, I open Stackexchange sites first thing in the morning. I open questions that look interesting in separate browser tabs. Then when I get one of those build-and-deploy wait times, I go read (and maybe answer) one question, close the tab, and go back to my code. :-)

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Here is simple solution : I have paper notebook and if I feel I cannot stop thinking about current task, I'm just writing my ideas and what I'm going to do next Or simply my plans for today in notebook.That was helpful for me. Also here is article about perfect pomodoro break .

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I find compile and deploy time a great opportunity to add comments into my code. They don't need to be there when I build so that down time is a perfect time to add them.

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This is actually a great advice. –  mikea Jan 18 '12 at 23:27
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Use this time you can dig into something you need/want to. Use that time block to work on long-term goals, getting documentation/paperwork done or even playing around with a language you would like to learn. The comic posted, while funny, is not exactly the way you would probably want your boss/shareholders to see you, and probably not what the person figuring out what you should be paid, or that hired you, had in mind. Surely there is something productive and engaging that you can dig into that will help yourself and the employer. If all else fails, you could spend time searching for and saving bookmarks to internet resources that will save you time or help you professionally.

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I don't think this is good idea. I'm trying to remove distractions, not to introduce ones. (BTW this is what I've been doing exactly and I don't like the outcome). –  mikea Jan 18 '12 at 23:27
    
You don't think the "If all else fails..." part is a good idea, or doing things to help with long-term goals part? –  Dallas Jan 19 '12 at 14:51
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stand up, stretch, etc - this will increase blood flow and your productivity.

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