The Benefits of Uninterrupted, Focused Work

Over the last year, after my transition to being self-employed I started working from home full-time. At first, I was worried whether I would be able to do that in a sustainable way.

There are several pitfalls when working from a home-office. Motivating yourself, handling distractions, taking breaks and drawing a line between work and leisure time come to mind.

Fortunately, I was so far able to avoid these classic pitfalls. Living alone certainly helps with handling distractions and regarding taking enough breaks and avoiding overworking regularly in order to keep productivity high, I believe a structured process / routine is key.

In terms of motivation, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield helped me quite a bit. It’s a great little book and well worth reading for anyone who does creative work.

One negative impact of working from home I noticed early was that I sat even more than in my previous job. As a software engineer, sitting a lot is part of the deal, but with regular meetings, coffee breaks, mentoring and cross-team discussions there is at least some standing and walking around baked into the daily routine, when working in an office.

Working from home, most of these “natural” opportunities to stand up and walk around went away and I noticed in a painful way, that I was sitting way too much. In order to deal with this, I bought a height-adjustable desk , which enables me to switch from sitting to standing several times a day to relieve the stress on my back.

I also found that having a structured daily routine makes it a lot easier to integrate such little changes as working standing up for some time into the workday.

In the following sections, I will describe the process I have developed and used successfully over the last year and point out some of the benefits it has on my productivity and health.

My Current Process

I think the most important part of my daily routine is the Pomodoro Technique. The idea is pretty simple - you work on a task for a fixed amount of time (a pomodoro, e.g.: 25 minutes) without any distractions and take a short break after. Then, after a certain amount of pomodoros (e.g.: 4), you take a longer break.

In my case, I do 25-minute pomodoros with short breaks in-between and a longer break after 3 pomodoros. I use Kanbanflow for tracking tasks and pomodoros.

During the pomodoros, all notifications are off and I try to ignore all distractions. Of course this doesn’t work as well for every circumstance - I found that it works very well for purely technical tasks while working at home for example, but it is a lot harder to execute with other people in an office or while executing a task which needs communication or coordination with other parties.

I don’t follow a very strict ruleset for which pomodoros I count, but I think when starting out with the technique it makes sense to follow it to the letter for a few weeks to see how it feels.

In my experience, one feels quite busy and productive when multitasking, but the measured reality looks very different. Try focused distraction-free work for a day and you’ll feel the difference. Also, there is plenty of time in-between pomodoros to handle requests from colleagues etc. - just try to get everything off your plate for the next productive pomodoro session.

Splitting work up into pomodoros also makes big problems look more manageable and has the nice side-effect of being measurable in terms of daily progress over time.

However, you need to be aware of the potential dark side of measuring pomodoros in the form of pushing the number higher and higher. As with every process and with all work worth doing, there will be good days and bad days in terms of what you get done and measuring to reflect and improve can be worthwhile, as long as you don’t overdo it. ;)


There are, I think, several benefits to using this technique with the most important one being the focus on one thing for a certain amount of time without any distractions. Between colleagues, Chat tools (Slack…) and a phone it’s not that easy to get any focused work done on some days.

Another great benefit is that with a fixed process you actually take breaks and don’t skip them. Everyone knows the feeling of hammering your head against a hard problem - you’re almost there, just a few minutes now…and then it’s late at night and the problem is still not solved. You go home, sleep a few hours and the next morning you sit down and solve the problem within a couple of minutes.

We all know how important rest is, so our subconscious can work out the hard problems and to refresh us mentally and physically, yet it’s so hard for many people to actually take good breaks and to get enough sleep consistently. I believe a routine, which includes enough break time by default makes this a lot easier. Worst case you smash your head against that wall for 25 minutes - then the timer goes off and you actually stand up, walk away and have a chance to free your mind.

Splitting the day up into several parts also has some nice advantages. For example, switching between sitting on my normal chair, a sitting ball and working standing up works very naturally with pomodoros - this is also the reason why I split my day into pockets of 3 pomodoros and take a longer break after each of these pockets.

In these longer breaks I usually do some exercises as well. Of course this is a lot easier working from home without a dress-code and people looking at you in a weird way. In general, I like using my breaks, long and short for walking away from the computer and doing manual things (e.g.: washing the dishes, exercises, cooking…) to disentangle my mind. This has some nice time-saving benefits, but also helps productivity, as it prevents getting stuck for too long.

After some time using pomodoro, when I had a lot to do and felt a bit stressed, I found that I trusted my focused “pockets of work” to get me there. This is very important I think to trust in your process and to not stray from it and fall into bad habits when things get stressful.

I’m a big believer in optimal experience or flow when working - that feeling when you get lost in your work and just “Do”. At first glance, this process seems like it would be the exact opposite of a flow-inducing routine with the short intervals and breaks, but I have found the opposite to be true.

In my experience, flow doesn’t need to be completely uninterrupted. If you’re “in the zone” and take a short break, without giving in to distractions, you will get into the zone very quickly after you sit down again to continue working. Distractions are the natural enemy of flow, not breaks where you let your mind rest, but not wander somewhere else.

The outlined process is what works for me (so far) and surely won’t be for everyone, but I think the basics behind it, to create good habits by repetition and structure, can be a helpful technique no matter what the exact habits and techniques end up being.


A sustainable work-process is invaluable both for productivity and for personal health. I am satisfied with the progress I made so far, but will continue to try and improve my process as necessary.

Most importantly though, I will focus on not falling back into bad habits such as overworking or missing breaks - it’s just not efficient both in the short and in the long run. :)