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I am a programmer working in an open-space environment. There are basically two types of people which make it difficult to use pomodoro:

  1. Those, who want something completely trivial every 10 minutes or so, which can wait without a problem or, even better, is completely irrelevant to me.
  2. People who visit rarely but I can't tell them to wait because they either are both completely deaf to anything while not respect your time or concentration much, and are higher in the hierarchy - product owners. It isn't enough to say "I'll do it once I finish X", I have to repeat it a couple of times in different ways while ensuring that "Yes, it will be my top priority". It's not about me failing to fulfill my own promises, it's just how a person is.

I'd like to start using the technique because, frankly, it sounds really good on the paper, but the above is something which might result in voiding a lot of pomodoros.

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Keep a gape of 1-2 answer or 10-15 mins between 2 questions. Sometime one answer of your problem may resolve your another problem too. :) – Amit Gupta Feb 15 '13 at 11:14
Personally, I would raise the problem with management. It is their job to keep things running smoothly and avoid interruptions. They're paid more than you because they're expected to figure out problems like this. Sometimes they just don't realize that the environment is unproductive because nobody tells them. – Muz Feb 18 '13 at 0:42
up vote 1 down vote accepted

Some studies suggest open-space environments lower working efficiency with 2-10% due to interruptions, stress and noise. What you describe is clearly one of the adverse effects. If you'd had a room you could've put up a busy sign or similar. In an open-space it can be very hard to make higher-hierarchy people abstain from disturbing you whenever they like.

I'd say you need a product owner to be your gate-keeper, forcing everybody with programming work to go through him or her. Gaining organisational acceptance for a software methodology like Scrum, which uses a public backlog which everyone can see, will strengthen this further. Then you'd work in sprints where you simply don't accept new mid-sprint assignments. After a while hopefully people would understand and respect this.

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The problem is that this product owner requires these hundreds of assurations. As for Scrum, we are already working under this methodology, but... Well, it doesn't work that well in my company, there is always something important that has to be done yesterday, and it's not up to me to decline these tasks. Besides, everyone would consider it a bad team play, because 'communication is most important' (especially if you are doing a second thing in the middle of the first, and suddenly they want you to do a third or a fourth one). – Maurycy Feb 15 '13 at 11:26
@Maurycy Zarzycki: If you allow people to interfere with the Scrum process, then strictly speaking you're not really using Scrum. You need to be more strict about the process. – Gruber Feb 15 '13 at 12:24
I know, the teammates know, the team leader knows, but there is nothing we can do about it, although we try our best to limit the unplanned stuff. It's just that the change was sudden, and we were a 'throw-all' team, doing stuff no one else wanted. We're at 10th sprint and I still think we work more in a "shifing-priority queue" style. – Maurycy Feb 15 '13 at 12:28
@Maurycy Zarzycki: If the upper management of your organisation say they want Agile but doesn't respect the rules of the game, then the prospects don't look too good. This could be the root cause of your productivity problems. – Gruber Feb 15 '13 at 12:38
Haha, 2-10% is very vague. I know in my current workplace, an open environment is more productive than an office, because people avoid interruptions unless absolutely necessary. For open offices with selfish/needy people, I know it can drop more than 80% -- some barely accomplish anything at all. – Muz Feb 18 '13 at 0:39

In our open office we have been doing team pomodoro's and it has been working great. A couple things we have learned during the process were:

  • Have one person is in charge of keeping time. Be it a simple timer, an app, using the Phillips Hue lights etc...
  • Since the entire team is focusing during that time, inner team distractions are minimized.
  • Having some external indicator (Hue light changing color to red) is a good way to show other people that the team is currently in a Pomodoro. When the light changes color from red to green, people know they are free to interrupt a member of the team.
  • At the end of every tomato, we huddle up and talk about what we did, any problems we are having and what we will work on next.

Overall, it has worked well even with an open office and many possible distractions.

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I'll suggest not to go for pomodoro. Because making a small time box for development tasks is really not a good idea. But you can go for pair programming.

Pair programming is a good concept for programmers where 2 minds work together on single problem at a time. And each one from pair respect other's time. So don't get distracted. It is also a good reason to tell other people why you can't leave your work in between.

Pomodoro is nothing but a technique to reduce your distraction.

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The problem with pair programming is that it requires another programmer, so it's paying twice for doing one job (that's how upper management would say anyway) - it's completely impossible for me. – Maurycy Feb 15 '13 at 11:22
I agree with you. However pomodoro will not help you. Better prepare some gantt chart to make your self involve in the activity. And express your pressure, whether you have or not, to other people. So they will disturb you less. – Amit Gupta Feb 15 '13 at 11:52
And express your pressure, whether you have or not, to other people Sadly this doesn't seem to work well with some people :(. I can't see how Gantt chart will help me concentrate more on the work, since we already estimate each and every task, and what I am looking for is what you said in your last sentence: "Reduce my distraction". – Maurycy Feb 15 '13 at 11:58
@MaurycyZarzycki, I feel you are questioning for "how to handle people distracting you". Because Pomodoro is about reducing external distraction and increase concentration from inside by creating a small pressure of time box as we feel in exams. – Amit Gupta Feb 16 '13 at 3:36

I suffer from the same environment. Headphones are a big help. People tend to avoid bothering you more when you're wearing them. I like to listen to EDM if my motivation is sagging, ambient music if I have a tough problem to solve, or sometimes classical for either case.

Try and see if you can have the office implement instant messenger on everybody's computers. It's far less disruptive than verbal communication, and can give you a chance to quickly respond to somebody "just 15 minutes" without breaking out of your flow.

Other than that, this is something you've gotta take up with management.

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