192: Flow State

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I haven’t listened yet but this episode is on my list.

That said, I have tried the Pomodoro technique on and off for quite some time, but never with great success. While reading Johann Hari’s book “Stolen Focus” recently, I learned more about flow states and suddenly realized the way I work is not conducive to the Pomodoro technique.

I’m a programmer (here and there, in small chunks) and a Data Analyst, so often my work involves building datasets, and trying to get different apps/searches/functions to work with one another. This almost always takes longer than 25 minutes.

I found I’d have the best intentions and set a timer for 25 mins, then just as I hit my stride, the alarm would go off and totally interrupt me.

I’ve learned my workflow is more effective when I do what comes natural to me:

  1. Procrastinate a bit. Read the news, write a longer journal entry than normal, check the sports scores etc
  2. Start with something small. Organize my todo list for the day, process email etc
  3. Procrastinate a tiny bit more (see point 1)
  4. Open my larger apps and dig in. Don’t look up until I’ve accomplished something major.

The above doesn’t work for pomodoro, but it does help me hit that flow state with far more regularity. I never would have guessed I worked this way. One or two huge waves a day – no time for setting Pomodoros or having them interrupt me. Flow is where it’s at.


I think I’m the same as you, though different vocation (ecology). I like timers for when I do want to contain a task to a specific time, or if I really don’t want to do something. But for real work I prefer to just be left alone with time and space.

In the last year I’ve been using background noise to create space for myself to focus. As I don’t tend to use them unless I’m doing deep work I find that quite helpful. I’ve also been using Apple’s focus modes more to limit notifications and set my devices to specific screens with what I need (and different wallpapers so I know which focus mode I’m meant to be in).