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I'm about to embark on a pretty time consuming software project, so I'm looking for ways to improve my productivity over long periods of time. While searching for solutions, I found this article:

http://chetansurpur.com/blog/2010/11/magic-work-cycle.html

It claims that, when working for long periods of time, one must work for 30 minutes straight (completely absorbed in work) and then take a 30 minute long break. The author claims that it has worked "like magic" for him. However, I am quite skeptical. So I'm wondering: Has anyone tried this work cycle and has it worked for them?

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8 Answers 8

up vote 27 down vote accepted

It's very easy to be distracted if you don't get some breaks once in a while but isn't 30 minutes too much? All the bosses I've had so far were very cautious about new techniques because of how "it's working fine the way it is". A 30 minutes of break is very unlikely not to be noticed and cause unnecessary conflicts with your boss and co-workers.

I strongly suggest reading The Pomodoro Technique before engaging in such a radical change, especially if you're planning to use it in your important project. It uses a similar assumption that you need regular breaks but instead of 30 minutes, only 5 minutes breaks after 25 minutes of focused work - then a longer break after four of those. You can find more details buying the book or dowloading it for free.

In any work environment, it's easy to take 5 minutes breaks and nobody notices anything wrong. You can get up get to get some beverage, talk to some co-workers, do anything you don't have to make great intelectual effort. After the small break you'll find it easy to continue doing your job.

Still skeptic?

If you're looking for more arguments check the third chapter that explains a bit more about the reason of 25' and other proof it works. In my own experience, I felt tired just a few minutes before the first 25', right when I was about to feel stressed and very likely do something else such as checking my e-mail or stare at the screen mind-frozen.

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1  
I agree with Renan. Taking breaks is good, but 50% of the time is very much! I have made very good experience with "17+3" working 17 minutes, 3 minutes break or "25+5" with 3 resp. chunks per hour. I think that depends on the kind of work and on the person. The important thing (If you want to get the work done) is to stop the breaks at the right time. –  Martin Jul 30 '11 at 6:53
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+1 in university its pretty common to interrupt a 90min double lecture by 5 min lasting pause. No one can concentrate in one piece for 90 min, but making 30 min pause interrupts the whole learning process, so here im 100% sure its more counterproductive –  Hauser Jul 30 '11 at 11:03

30/30 is great in theory but very hard to implement in the real world. It's hard to get yourself to stop at 30 once you get going and very hard to jump right back in after the break.

On projects where I know I need to get work done, no matter, what - I commit to getting at least 30 minutes in before considering taking a break. Often I go well over 30 - but that small commitment (it's okay if I stop after 30) helps me start....much easier than trying to start a 4 hour project! And working from a list, where I am constantly checking things off helps me stay focused and motivated.

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I will say that a 4/1 day works better for me. I’m not saying that on the one day you should not work at all, but taking at least one relax day works better for me. If that day is Friday, it works better and the other days I can push hard.

I've noticed that sometimes I have a technical problem that doesn't work. If I have to spend more than 8 hours working on it, I go home and think about it. Then when I come back next day it only takes me minutes to solve. When I'm stuck in a cycle (a problem that I'm trying over and over to solve), I definitely take a break. A long one works best, at least for me.

I'm a programmer. Someone mentioned that it depends on your line of work. Also, the Pomodoro Technique looks interesting too.

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Having done both Pomodoro and 30/30, I feel that the ideal is a mix between the two.

Pomodoro

Pomodoro is ideal for mindless tasks where you want to churn out as much time as possible. It's also perfect at maintaining momentum. Pomodoro actually works great for light programming as it forces you to take a little stretch or tea break.

Tasks where you want to maintain full concentration work well with Pomodoros, but it takes a little practice to change your 5 minute break into something that doesn't disrupt focus. For example, if you're in the flow, just take a short walk to run the idea in your head.

The downside of the Pomodoro is that it can be exhausting. With some tasks, you'll reach a breaking point where the 5/15 min breaks are not nearly enough, and you'll start to disrespect the Pomodoro's time limits.

30/30

30/30 is ideal for creative tasks and learning tasks. The 30 minute break is ideal for your mind to 'settle' what you've learned or to calm yourself and listen to your intuition. After some very difficult tasks, you'll want to force some time off; the 30/30 rule keeps that time off from exceeding the time you spent working.

Many people can barely do 8 pomodoros a 8 hour workday. If you find yourself doing so, you should consider the 30/30 cycle.

Also note that the 30 min break doesn't have to be unproductive. I often reserve it for mindless, but necessary tasks like filtering e-mail or doing paperwork.

At the very least, 30/30 makes for a very productive, yet relaxing weekend for workaholics.

I'd recommend for most people to try both and learn to swap between the two techniques. They're both tools, suitable for different situations.

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I'm a little surprised that nobody had anything positive to say about it. I've been using Pomodoro for a month, but I'm switching to 30/30. (I'm a freelance developer so I have the freedom to not worry about what my boss thinks about my break time routines.)

A couple thoughts:

  1. Pomodoro is strictly rigid. If you get "interrupted" 20 minutes into a task, you aren't allowed to count that pomodoro. In 30/30 if you get done early, you can move on to the next item.
  2. Pomodoro is strictly rigid. If you are in the zone, you have to stop when the timer goes off. I you're using the 30/30 iOS app, you can increase your current interval by 5-minute increments to defer your next task.
  3. Pomodoro was invented by a random Italian guy who wasn't a productivity guru until he came up with it. 30/30 is based on the work/play recommendations of Niel Fiore, Ph.D., who seems to have a little more clout.
  4. Your "breaks" don't have to be spent goofing-around. You might alternate 40 minutes of heads-down coding with 20 minutes reading a book or listening to a podcast, for example. Planning your day might be similar to what you would do with Pomodoro, but instead of doing all your high-priority tasks first, you could spread things out and alternate the high-effort tasks with the low-effort ones.
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That sounds like far too long a break, and if you're working in a structured environment at all, you're going to have trouble finding a boss who'll be happy with you doing that.

In addition, personally, I think 30 minutes is too long - instead of just being a relaxing "take a look out the window, drink some water, maybe go outside for a moment" break, it would end up requiring me to get absorbed in some other activity (read a book, maybe), which would 1) break up my work flow very badly, and 2) not really help me relax, since I'd be doing something else instead of resting. I can't rest for 30 minutes!

That said, a similar system was great for me during a year when I was struggling with depression and found that promising myself a long break was the only way I could start working at all. Spending 50% of your time on work is certainly better than nothing. But unless you honestly can't get yourself to do more work than that, I wouldn't recommend it.

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I would probably say no. I can honestly say that breaks slow me down when I am programming.

When I get into the "groove" it seems that any small distraction breaks my concentration. I feel even lunch sometimes gets in the way. It all depends on the individual person to whom is subjected this rule.

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Working for hours without a break and not moving is not so great for your health. What's more important to you, work or health? At least try a standing desk. –  M.K. Aug 18 '11 at 18:09
    
Well, the technique (for example, pomodoro) is just a tool. It won't fit all people. But you can use it as a hint: research tells that people works better if they take small breaks among work hours. You may give it a try. –  Hoàng Long Jan 20 '12 at 9:28

I would expect that it depends to some degree on the type of work you're doing (and likely your personal preferences), but for me and my work it would be incredibly frustrating and annoying to have to break up my work like that. When I get into "the zone", I can easily blow through a few hours of time (and do an incredible amount of work), and having to stop every half hour would utterly destroy my rhythm. On the other hand, there are times when I can't get my brain into gear and could easily spend a half hour of "work" time doing nothing useful.

My suggestion would be to try it out; it might work for you and the work you're doing (I can see how it could work well, it's just not for me), so give it a go for, say, a week, and if it works, it works, and if it doesn't... onto something else.

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