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I have recently been feeling very stressed and burnt out at work. The stress has begun to have physical manifestations, in terms of dizziness, headaches, fatigue, loss of focus and IBS. As a result, my productivity has taken a massive downturn. I try to work 100% 100% of the time, but it just isn't going well at all. I keep getting distracted and making stupid mistakes and missing deadlines.

So I thought I would try the Pomodoro technique, and take a 3-5 minute break every 25 minutes, and not take the longer breaks every 4 pomodoros. I told my boss that I was doing this, as they were also keen to improve my productivity.

The last week has been the most productive week here for months, but on Friday afternoon my boss asks me to make up time for all of the 'breaks' I have taken.

I'm unsure, but is one expected to 'make up time' for 'lost' time with the pomodoro technique? For example, if you have to work for 6 hours, do you work an extra hour and ten minutes longer to account for the time lost to breaks? Or are the breaks counted as part of your 'work time'?

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Definitely not! Everyone takes breaks; they just don't formalize them and account for them. The fact that your productivity went up means you are serving your company's interests.

Arguments for your boss:

  1. If I didn't tell you I was doing the Pomodoro technique, would you have known I took the breaks?
  2. My productivity is higher now, do you want me to go back to the old way where I get less done but "don't take breaks."
  3. Are my teammates expected to make up the time they spend going to the restroom, socializing, etc? Everyone takes breaks.
  4. If you aren't an hourly worker, "I am a professional and should be evaluated on the quality and quantity of my work rather than the number of hours my butt is in a chair."
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I agree with Jeanne Boyarsky. It should not be. The idea is to use the five-minute break as a reward for 25 minutes of uninterrupted work. Twenty-five minutes grade A work is better than 30 minutes of grade C work.

Without knowing what job you do, I can't really recommend any response. Some jobs do count total face-time, some don't. Some jobs are evaluated by output, some are evaluated by time spent. You need to clarify with your boss how is your work being evaluated, then you can base your negotiation from there.

First, ask for the acceptable amount of paid break time. If it's 30 minutes, that you have 6 pomodoros covered. Then, tell your boss that for the rest of the "breaks," you'll use them to perform some less mind-taxing exercises (again I have no idea what your work is but we do all have some work that doesn't need us to think as much: filing, mailing, refilling supplies, mentally preparing for the next project, etc.)

Second, when taking breaks, do something less "obvious." For instance, I would not recommend browsing non-work-related websites, putting on headphones and listening to music, etc. However, you can get a notebook and doodle, go refill your cup of coffee/tea, have a piece of snack, perform some mild stretching, etc.

And let's face it, your boss is a certified lunatic. Just tell him/her that it's not 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes of break; it's 25 minutes of highly mentally focused work and 5 minutes of physically focused work so that you mind can be prepared for the next task more efficiently. With that level of intelligence your boss will totally buy it. What a nut job, think about getting a new boss as soon as you have learned what you have to.

Also, given your company's culture, I will suggest not to share with them any personal performance restructuring without sugar coating it to make it sound excruciatingly painful and sacrificial. They are in to nickel and dime you, and will not leave you in peace as long as you appear to be having a good time.

Best of luck!

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Let's look at the known facts:

  • you feel very stressed and burnt out at work;
  • the stress causes health problems to you (dizziness, headaches, fatigue, loss of focus, IBS);
  • your boss is unhappy with you having two 3-5 minutes breaks every hour;
  • you have been extra productive recently, yet your boss suggests that you work extra time.

Those are the facts you wrote. Read them again. And again. And then ask yourself why exactly would anyone want to keep such job.

Can you realistically expect a reduction of stress and an improvement in your health in a job where, if you successfully use a personal improvement technique to increase your work productivity, your only reward is being asked to work unpaid overtime?

In hindsight, telling your boss about the Pomodoro technique was a mistake. You probably should stop using it (I mean, stop using it visibly) and never discuss this topic at your current work again. If your boss asks, just tell them you stopped taking the breaks. Do not let bully yourself into unpaid overtime, ever! By the way, if the boss asked you to work extra time for all those breaks in e-mail, print that e-mail and keep it at home; one day it might be useful. And start looking for a new job. Also visit a doctor and speak with them about your job-stress-related health issues.

Working extra time is not a solution. Your situation at work is already bad, and that would make it even worse.

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It's a very old school method of thinking that time translates to work.

Here's an analogy: Working is like doing a day-long run. If you're constantly running for four hours straight, you get worn out very quickly and accomplish nothing at the end of the day. Even if you could keep going it would be at half the pace or less. Or you'll stop/slow down for uncertain amount of time when your legs can no longer push on. Rarely will this break be only 5 minutes.

If you take an organized method of taking breaks, you can keep running the whole day and go even further than you would have without short breaks.

In the end, what really matters is how far you go, not how many minutes you ran as far as your legs could go.

The problem is that you can't really measure how much the breaks really add to productivity. Encourage your boss to do some kind of research to benchmark (or just avoid sharing this kind of thing with him).

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You told your boss that you're going to use pomodoro technique. Breaks are part of this teqhnique.

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