[Previously called Rational Breaks. See comments for name discussion]

HOW CAN you be more productive? Instead of half-working all day, it’s better to work in focused stints, with breaks in between to recover.

There are various ways to do this, but here's my new technique, called Third Time. The gist of it is:

  • Work for as long or as short as you like, until you want or need to break; then
  • Break for up to one-third of the time you’ve just worked.

So after 15 minutes of dealing with emails, you could stop for up to 5 minutes. After an hour-long meeting, you can take a good 20-minute break. And if a task bores you after 3 minutes, you can even break then — but only for 1 minute! Breaks reward you for working, but proper breaks have to be earned.

Work stints can be any length; breaks are (up to) one-third of the time just worked

This kind of pattern is natural; research confirms that people tend to take longer breaks after working for longer. (One-third is just a recommendation; you can use other break fractions if you prefer.)

Third Time has many advantages over other techniques such as Pomodoro (which I’ll discuss later), but the key one is flexibility. It adapts to your attention span, energy, and schedule, as well as to other people and events. And Third Time isn’t just for your day-job — it suits anything that needs focus or effort, such as studying, practicing an instrument, personal admin, writing, or fitness training.

Using Third Time

Here’s an example of the basic procedure:

  1. Note the time, or start a stopwatch
  2. Work for as long or short as you like, until you want or need to break
  3. Suppose you worked for 45 minutes. This earns you 45 ÷ 3 = 15 minutes off; so set an alarm for 15 minutes
  4. Break until the alarm goes off
  5. Go back to step 1.

Breaks

You needn’t take the full break. Maybe you have a tight deadline, an important customer calls, you’re keen to resume work, or only have a short gap before a meeting. Whatever the reason, if you end a break (say) 5 minutes early, add 5 minutes to your next break. You don’t lose the remaining time, it’s just postponed:

You can shorten and postpone breaks like this, but don’t let them overrun. Break time must be earned by working; it’s like a debit card, not a credit card. So always set an alarm for the end of a break, and resume work as soon as it goes off (don’t snooze it!)

Take breaks whenever you like. Surprisingly, you’ll still end up doing the same amount of work! For example: instead of working for 45 minutes plus a 15-minute break, suppose you do just three minutes’ work plus a one-minute break, and repeat that over and over again. You’ll still be working three-quarters of the time; so in an hour, you’d still get 45 minutes’ work done.

That said, it’s annoying to end a break after just one minute, and keep switching back and forth. So even with tedious tasks, you’ll soon find yourself working longer — and perhaps even enjoying it — to earn a decent break.

While breaking too often is counterproductive, so is breaking too seldom, such as when immersed in an interesting project. Notice when you start to flag, and give yourself a break, to restore focus and avoid burnout.

Take proper breaks. Don’t think, talk or read about work. Instead, get up, walk around, drink water, go outside, chillax. (There’ll be more about how to work & break properly in Part 2 of this article.)

Though it’s best to choose when to work and break yourself, nothing changes if others are in charge. Suppose your boss fixes an hour-long meeting for you, then a five-minute gap, followed by a video call. The meeting earns you a 20-minute break; you can only take five minutes of it, but just add the remaining 15 minutes to your next break. (And if you really can’t take a full break then, carry the leftover time forward again, and so on.)

Interruptions

Similarly, nothing special happens if you get a work-related interruption, e.g. your boss calls you while you’re hard at it. The call is still work, so the clock keeps ticking. Either deal with the interruption, or postpone it (e.g. send to voicemail) and resume what you were doing.

Personal interruptions are different. Suppose you’re working from home, and the doorbell rings: this isn’t work, so a break starts then. Once the interruption is over, figure out when you stopped work, and hence when this break should end (by dividing by 3 as usual). Then either take the rest of the break, or resume work (saving the remaining break time for later). If you’ve already overrun the end of the break, start work immediately.

Meal breaks & big breaks

Most people stop work for lunch, some for dinner. With Third Time, you can divide the day into two or three separate sessions — morning, afternoon, maybe evening — to allow for proper meal breaks between.

If you only take a short time off for lunch, a normal break may suffice for it. For instance, an hour-long meeting just before lunch earns you a 20-minute break — enough to eat at your desk, anyway. Or you could save up more eating time by shortening earlier breaks. If you have lunch in a normal break like this, meals need no special treatment, and your whole workday is a single session.

But if a normal break won’t do, you can take a big break. This means a meal break that lasts as long as you like — longer than you’ve earned from previous work. The only constraint is that you must decide at the start of the break when to resume work, then set an alarm, and obey it as usual. This stops you getting lazy.

If you work into the evening, you can extend dinner in the same way: when a normal break isn’t long enough, you can take a big break, provided you set an alarm first. But only take big breaks for lunch and dinner.

Break minutes you’ve earned are used up by a big break, so you can’t carry them over to the afternoon/evening. Each session starts with a clean slate. (Hence you don’t need to time the work stint just before the meal.) Similarly, you can’t carry unused breaks over from one day to the next.

Sometimes you’ll have a personal task, e.g. going out to buy something, that’s too long to do in a normal break. If possible, do it in a big break, or before/after work. Try to avoid taking unofficial breaks for errands or anything else, lest you allow more and more exceptions to the system, and relapse into chaos.

Other fractions

What matters is not the absolute length of work and breaks, but their length relative to each other. Not enough breaks per hour worked, and you burn out; too many, and you don’t get enough things done.

Fitness training and other physical activities follow the same principle. For instance, with high-intensity interval training (HIIT) you might rest for half of the time you work: between 20-second sprints, you’d rest for 10 seconds; after a 2-minute dash, rest for 1 minute.

Third Time recommends breaking for one-third of your work time (a similar proportion to the Pomodoro and DeskTime techniques). If this sounds lax, a survey showed Britons spend less than half their time in the office actually working! So, with Third Time, you’ll accomplish much more than many people — particularly if you keep your work highly focussed, with no distractions.

But instead of one-third, you can use whatever fraction you like, such as:

  • 1/2: 40 mins work + 20 mins breaks per hour. Working 2/3 of the time. Lazy
  • 1/3: 45 mins work + 15 mins breaks per hour. Working 3/4 of the time. Standard
  • 1/4: 48 mins work + 12 mins breaks per hour. Working 4/5 of the time. Industrious
  • 1/5: 50 mins work + 10 mins breaks per hour. Working 5/6 of the time. Hard
  • 1/6: 51½ mins work + 8½ mins breaks per hour. Working 6/7 of the time. Grinding

If you take a big break, you could shrink your other breaks by using a smaller fraction. For instance, neuroscientist Dr Daniel Levitin suggests working 90-minute stints with 15-minute breaks, plus a long lunch. A fraction of 15 ÷ 90 = 1/6 will achieve this.

Should a deadline or crisis strike, so you need to get a lot done fast, don’t abandon Third Time — just switch to a smaller fraction. Or save up breaks and use them later. Conversely, if you’re tired, or there’s not much to do, you could try a bigger fraction to get more breaks.

Different break fractions also suit different activities, from the gym to piano practice.

The other fractions, above right, let you calculate how much work you’ve done, or will do, without needing a timesheet or schedule. For example, Third Time’s default of 1/3 makes you work 3/4 of the time, so in an eight-hour day you’d complete six hours’ work — regardless of how your meetings, appointments, and interruptions pan out. (To calculate how long you worked if you took a big break, or didn’t use all your breaks, see footnote.[1])

Advantages of Third Time

Various time management techniques involve working for fixed time periods. The most popular one, named Pomodoro after a tomato-shaped timer, alternates 25-minute work stints with 5-minute breaks (or occasionally longer).

Tomato overlord

While there are benefits to this kind of pattern, there are big problems too, which I discuss in a separate post. In a nutshell, 25-minute stints may be far from optimal. Indeed, any fixed time period is unnatural and mechanical; thoughtful, creative work doesn’t watch clocks. And it's hard to work with other people this way, as their meetings, calls and interruptions won’t fit in with your timeslots. Nor will crises and deadlines. Basically, techniques like Pomodoro are too rigid.

This is because they insist on regulating your work. Third Time’s key insight is that this is unnecessary — you can guarantee how much work you’ll do, just by limiting breaks. This gives you complete freedom in how to divide up your day.

Both techniques achieve 2½ hours’ work + 50 minutes of breaks in a morning — but Third Time is flexible. Don’t take five, take a third!

People work best with loose constraints, somewhere between total freedom and total restriction. Total freedom is anarchy — the life of the lazy, the workaholic, and the procrastinator. Total restriction is tyranny — ruled by a despotic tomato, and forced to work like a robot.

Third Time applies a light touch, keeping you in the happy, creative zone between these extremes. Its flexibility is its big advantage over other systems:

  • Break whenever you want or need to, to suit your attention span, energy, schedule, and the task at hand
  • You get the same amount of work done, however often you break!
  • Third Time accommodates meetings, appointments, calls, interruptions, meals, and personal tasks
  • Unlike Pomodoro, it's not just for working alone, so you can use it all day
  • When on a roll, you don’t get interrupted by alarms for the end of fixed time stints
  • Save up unused break time for later
  • Choose a break fraction to suit you, or even vary it with the situation
  • With tedious work, ploughing on rewards you with a longer break — an incentive to keep going
  • With a deadline or crisis, you can take quick, occasional breaks, or none at all. Third Time automatically makes up the shortfall once the storm has passed.

If you like Pomodoro or other methods (e.g. the pressure of their short-term deadlines), you can still use them with Third Time to get the best of both worlds, as it doesn’t forbid fixed work stints. I’ll explain more in Part 2 of this article. In fact, Third Time is really a general form of time management technique that encompasses the others, and solves their flaws.

Other benefits of Third Time include:

  • Encourages focussed work and proper breaks, rather than inefficient half-working (more in Part 2)
  • Ensures you don’t underwork or overwork
  • Easy to calculate how many hours’ work you’ve done or will do, without a timesheet or schedule
  • You can even knock off work early every day (see Part 2)
  • It’s not just for work — use Third Time for study, sport & fitness training, personal admin, hobbies, etc. — anything that needs prolonged focus or effort.

Summary

Lastly, here in one place are all the steps for using Third Time:

  1. Note the time, or start a stopwatch
  2. Work until you want or need to break
  3. Divide how long you’ve just worked by 3 (or use your chosen fraction), and add any minutes left over from previous breaks
  4. Set an alarm for that long
  5. Break until the alarm goes off, or you decide to resume work
  6. If you resume early, note how much time was left, to add to your next break
  7. Go back to step 1.

Additional rules:

  • If you have to stop work for a non-work-related interruption, start a break immediately.
  • You can (optionally) take a big break for lunch and/or dinner, lasting as long as you like. Set an alarm at the start for when you’ll resume work. A big break uses up any saved break minutes, so you can’t carry them over to the afternoon/evening.
  • Avoid taking other unearned breaks if possible — so try to do personal tasks during normal or big breaks, or before/after your work day.

(Third Time would also work well in a smartphone/web app, or smart speaker skill. Anyone want to create one?)


Part 2 (coming soon) will include tips on how to work and break properly, and using Third Time with other time management systems.

You could also use Third Time with Hopscotch, my way of prioritizing what you work on.

  1. ^

    To the day length, add any break minutes left over at the end of the day (including any earned by your final work stint). If you took a big break, subtract its length, and add the break minutes you had earned or saved up just before the meal. Then multiply the total by 3/4 (for the default break fraction of 1/3); or for a break fraction of 1/n, multiply by n/(n + 1).

Thanks to Cat and Ari for many suggestions & comments

110

70 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 9:50 AM
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Not your main point, but I think "rational breaks" is a bit of a misnomer. "Rational" is about the study of cognitive algorithms, and I don't think this has much to do with that. From Firewalling the Rational From the Optimal.

We're only forced to use the word 'rational' when we talk about the cognitive algorithms which systematically promote goal achievement or map-territory correspondences.  Otherwise the word can be deflated out of the sentence; e.g. "It's rational to believe in anthropogenic global warming" goes to "Human activities are causing global temperatures to rise"; or "It's rational to vote for Party X" deflates to "It's optimal to vote for Party X" or just "I think you should vote for Party X".

If you're writing a post comparing the experimental evidence for four different diets, that's not "Rational Dieting", that's "Optimal Dieting". A post about rational dieting is if you're writing about how the sunk cost fallacy causes people to eat food they've already purchased even if they're not hungry, or if you're writing about how the typical mind fallacy or law of small numbers leads people to overestimate how likely it

... (read more)

It's mainly because it's a pun on 'ratio'. But I agree, it's not a great name (despite much brainstorming) - more of a placeholder. Any better suggestions very welcome - see my more detailed comment just posted. 

Lol, gotcha. The ratio-pun is a much better excuse than usual, although I wouldn't have gotten it without you explaining.

-3Ruby7mo
I came here to say the same thing as Raemon about rational vs optimal. I'd give up on the pun and just call it "optimal" breaks.

"Optimal breaks" has a similar low-information problem, where the name is just a smart-sounding synonym for "good breaks".

"Fractional breaks" or "proportional breaks", perhaps?

1bfinn7mo
They're accurate, but rather long and dry/mathematical. An ideal name (if it exists) would be lighter/snappier, to be more memorable and approachable to the general public. I've devised quite a few names for things in my life, and this is the hardest one!

I mean, ’Ratio Breaks’ seems like it’s just lying there. 

1jmh7mo
Agree. And I think that name allows for the implication that the ratio need not be fixed for all people or across all tasks.
5lalaithion7mo
The 1:3 ratio is similar to the summer break that most modern school systems have, and also similar to the 2:5 ratio that the standard week has between work days and weekends. Maybe there's an analogy to be made there?
2bfinn7mo
Indeed, I noticed that myself; also not far off the sleep/wake cycle (around 7:17 hours). And (modern) retirement vs pre-retirement (say 20:60 years), at a pinch. I didn't pursue the thought when I realized that the annual job vacation:work is a very different ratio, so it doesn't seem to work at all timescales. But nonetheless there might be something going on - needs more thought.
1Measure7mo
Maybe "Earned Breaks"? I did like the 'ratio' pun though.
1Pato Lubricado7mo
It's not even a pun, "rational numbers" are also called that because they can be written as ratios. A lot of people seem to be wanting to change the name, but I think that's a funny rationalist bias with the word. I work with maths quite a bit and I picked it up instantly. Then again, that could be a maths bias, but I think the average person has heard "rational numbers" more often than "Rationalism" (meaning LessWrong Rationalism). I think rational breaks is actually one of the best names you can give them, along with "fractional".

I like the idea a lot.

However, I really need simple systems in my work routine. Things like "hitting a stopwatch, dividing by three, and carrying over previous rest time" already feels like it's a lot. Even though it's just a few seconds, I prefer if these systems take as little energy as possible to maintain.

What I thought was using a simple shell script: Just start it at the beginning of work, and hit a random key whenever I switch from work to rest or vice versa. It automatically keeps track of my break times.

I don't have Linux at home, but what I tried online ( https://www.onlinegdb.com/online_bash_shell ) is the following: (I am terrible at shell script so this is definitely not optimal, but I want to try something like this in the coming weeks. Perhaps one may want an additional warning or alarm sound if the break time gets below 0, but for me just "keeping track" is enough I think)

convertsecs() {
((h=${1}/3600))
((m=(${1}%3600)/60))
((s=${1}%60))
printf "%02d:%02d:%02d\n" $h $m $s
}

function flex_pomo() {
   current=0
   resttime=0
   total=0

   while true; do
   
       until read -s -n 1 -t 0.01; do 
  &nbs... (read more)

3bfinn7mo
Great, thanks for this. Indeed, I was thinking the whole thing could be handled neatly by an app, or Alexa skill.

I like this idea, it matches quite closely how I naturally work. I had some spare time this weekend, so I made a quick prototype site: https://rationalbreaks.vercel.app

8bfinn7mo
Thanks - I like it! Can you make it do these, to implement the whole thing? * Sound an alarm when your break is up. Preferably re-sound it every minute * Carry forward unused break time to your next break * A readout of how much break you've earned, including breaks carried forward, while you're working (so you can e.g. decide to work until you can take a 15-minute break, say) * Start a big break (previously called an extended meal break)- by the user stating the duration. (Or ideally a choice of duration or the end time). I suppose you could also have buttons for common lengths - say 30min, 45min, 1 hour. Starting a big break should cancel any saved-up break time. * Let you choose which fraction to use, if not 1/3

Awesome idea! As an excuse to practice some coding, I made a c++ program that runs a little Rational Breaks timer app on the terminal. I've put it on GitHub if anyone wants to try it out (only tested on linux) https://github.com/ben-carew/ratio_breaks Currently in the process of adding a meal breaks feature and making it prettier, that will be up soon. If you use it, please give me feedback and suggest improvements/updates. This is also my first time using GitHub (I'm not a programmer) so any feedback on how that usually works would be great! 

4Stuckwork7mo
I have been using your app for a week now and I must say I really like it. It's simple, clean, and has all the functionality it needs!

I think many people would find this method useful, though it lacks a good name. So any improvements on Rational Breaks are welcome (and $100 if I use it!) The key concepts are:

  • Break - synonyms include rest, relax, stop, pause, chill
  • Fraction - synonyms include part, divide, scale, balance (kinda)
  • Flexible, though probably less important.

A good name would capture most of that in a memorable/catchy way - e.g. a pun, rhyme, alliteration or metaphor, and not too abstract/mathematical or long. It could be for the whole method, or for the breaks themselves.

Examples of other not-good-enough names include:

  • Fraction Breaks - explicit but mathematical
  • ClockWise, Breakout, TimeOut, BreakTime, Breakthrough, TimeScale etc. - semi-puns but vague & abstract
  • Breakaholic - negative connotations
  • Bonus Breaks - metaphor, but not that catchy

Just possibly it could be called Finn Breaks, after the inventor (as things often are!)

2bfinn7mo
Methinks, like Fraction Breaks, that falls into the category of names that are accurate, but probably too dry/mathematical for the popular appeal I'm hoping for!
5TurnTrout7mo
People usually know what ratios or fractions are. It seems fine to me! And I'm a strong believer of naming things accurately first before optimizing cleverness.
3Elizabeth7mo
I'd be surprised if there were many people who were otherwise into the concept but turned off by the word ratio but not by rational (which was chosen as a pun on ratio).
2bfinn7mo
I'm not keen on either - Rational Breaks is merely provisional.
1__nobody7mo
"Rationed breaks" could also work and is a bit "rounder". It's less mathematical, but the "ratio" root is still there, plus a hint of scarcity / frugality due to "rationing". Also "to ration one's time" is (I think? - non-native speaker here) a moderately common phrase?
1bfinn7mo
Thanks - yes that's a phrase, and indeed, 'rationed breaks' is already on my list of maybes.

Non-serious suggestion: Fractional-reserve breaking (in analogy to fractional-reserve banking)

Serious suggestion: Liquid Breaks (since the duration of the next break is like a reservoir you are filling slowly, and you can drain it when you want. It also implies flexibility.)

3celeste7mo
"Liquid breaks" sounds like a music genre.
2Korz7mo
a proposal that is related in meaning to Liquid Breaks would be organic breaks - I like some of the connotations (organic growth of e.g. trees has a lot of flexibility, while still following simple rules; the method (work:break ratio) can be organically adapted to the user and one's current capacity)
2bfinn7mo
Interesting. (Similarly I had thought of Natural Breaks before.)
1bfinn7mo
Interesting. If 'liquid break' were already a phrase - meaning e.g. coffee break - it would work as a pun. I see what you mean by the metaphor, but it might be unclear to others. I'll give it more thought, as there might be something similar.
9pjeby7mo
Proportional Pausing. Or at a 4:1 ratio, Pareto Pausing. :) (80% work 20% rest) Rest Ratio. Recovery Ratio (i.e., "Are you working to your recovery ratio?") Flex recovery. Break Budget, or perhaps a Balanced Break Budget. :) Flexible Break Account. Flexbreaking? Ugh. WRR = Work/Recovery Ratio. Recovery Rhythm. (In my group I'd call it Compass Breaking (vs. Clock Breaking), but that'd only work because of a pre-existing metaphor about these as referencing intuition/impulse/intrinsic motivation vs. rule-following/extrinsic motivation.)
1bfinn7mo
Thanks, I'll give these more thought.
5bfinn7mo
Many thanks for the numerous name suggestions. After brainstorming about 200 more, and polling other people, I've finally settled on Third Time. While various people here proposed purely descriptive names like Ratio Breaks, from previous experience names like that can seem generic and forgettable to many people. Third Time has the merit of a pun, which should make it more memorable and appealing to a wider audience, while still giving some idea of what to do. (Contrast Pomodoro, a non-generic but almost arbitrary name.) I also asked GPT-3 for its name ideas, of which it came up with many, notably the witty Break O'Clock, Breaky Breaky, and Unwind (apparently a clever pun on taking a break and a kind-of-opposite of clockwork). Additionally, I've renamed 'extended meal break' to 'big break', and ‘work/break ratio’ (e.g. 3) to ‘break fraction’ (e.g. 1/3). Other than that I've slightly rewritten the post, and split out my detailed critique of Pomodoro-like systems to another post [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/FDCJ2BfAT9qJGrpFa/what-s-wrong-with-pomodoro].
1EniScien3mo
I'm not a native English speaker, can someone explain all these puns, including "Third Time" (I don't understand what the point is).
2bfinn3mo
Third Time means '1/3 of the time' (referring to break time = 1/3 of work time) and also 'the 3rd occasion'. It's only half a pun because 'the 3rd occasion' doesn't refer to anything here, but it's a common phrase like first time, second time etc. (E.g. 'the first time I ate caviar I didn't like it, nor the second time, but the third time I enjoyed it'.) As for puns in the other names suggestions, there are too many to explain, I'm afraid!
4Korz7mo
Earned Breaks - would put the focus on the emotional aspect of coupling the two lengths and would sound non-technical
3bfinn7mo
I agree with the concept. It would help if it were a standard phrase, or used alliteration/rhyme/pun, to be more memorable/catchy though. A similar name I thought of a while back was Well-Earned Breaks. This would have been ideal, as it's a standard phrase in British English, meaning 'a break you deserve for working hard'. But it turns out Americans don't understand it.
4Vaughn Papenhausen7mo
Really? I'm American and it sounds perfectly normal to me.
2bfinn7mo
Is it a common phrase in its own right, as it is here in the UK? Maybe it's regional; my partner, from Chicago, didn't recognise it, though she got the literal gist. (ADDED) Actually I see some dictionaries list it (also e.g. 'well-earned rest') as a US phrase as well as UK: https://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/american/well-earned [https://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/american/well-earned] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/well-earned [https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/well-earned] Though from googling places it's used, I get the impression it's mostly British. I think it has a nice, cozy emotion to it - like awarding yourself a prize each time you take a break (even after 3 minutes' work!) I find it hard to say 'well-earned break' without smiling!
1Measure7mo
"Well-earned rest" is the standard idiom.
1justinpombrio7mo
I'm on the East coast, and "well-earned" is definitely in the lexicon.
3Neel Nanda7mo
Generalized Pomodoros?
1leogao7mo
Personally I like something along the lines of Proportional Pomodoros or Flexible Pomodoros, simply because anchoring it to the already-familiar concept of pomodoros makes it immediately obvious what it is in my own personal notes, though maybe this wouldn't be the best for mass market appeal.

Total restriction is tyranny – ruled by a despotic tomato, and forced to work like a robot.

 

I've heard some people describe the unnaturalness of the pomodoro method as a benefit. The reasoning is that if you take breaks when you feel like it, you're likely to do it 1) after completing a task and before starting the next one, or 2) when the task you're on becomes unusually unpleasant. This timing makes it more difficult / painful to get moving again after the break. If you instead take breaks when you're interrupted by a timer, there's an obvious point... (read more)

4bfinn7mo
Re 1), there are pros and cons about breaking at the end of a task. If you instead force yourself to start the next task first, that overcomes the hurdle of 'not wanting to start', but breaking mid-task makes it harder to get back to what you were doing when you resume (which is I think what you meant by your final paragraph). And/or makes you more likely to think about what you were working on during your break, which defeats the point of the break. There's research into this. I may say stuff about it in Part 2 of the article. [ADDED:] Also, if you finish a task mid-pomodoro, doesn't the system tell you to spend the rest of the 25 minutes reviewing/planning, rather than starting a new task? Which means you do end up breaking between tasks. 2) Indeed. Hence Pomodoro conditions you into stopping & starting automatically when the alarm goes off. But Rational Breaks also conditions you into starting automatically when the alarm goes off (at the end of a break). In RB's case you may well choose to stop at a very bad point to re-start from, though in Pomodoro's case you will (more often?) be forced to stop at a bad point to stop at (viz. mid-flow). So not clear which, if either, is better.

This is a great idea! I'm gonna try it out. It fixes quite a lot of things with existing systems, as you point out.

I'm curious though, since when have you been experimenting with it and how has it been? I'm assuming it went well, but I am interested to know more about the details in your process (setbacks, changes, etc) and expect it'll be helpful for others experimenting with this as well :)

4bfinn7mo
Only about three months. So I can't say it's fully tried and tested, though I'm confident the basics are right. It just popped into my head one day. For years - well before I'd heard of Pomodoro - I had my own system of alarms at fixed times of day, alternating 50m (or, later, an hour) of work with 10m or 20m of breaks (based on the DeskTime figures). But it never worked well for the usual clock-work reasons, and so I never stuck to it for more than a few days at a time. The main change when trying Rational Breaks was that early on I had a way of extending meal breaks by a fixed amount - e.g. adding an extra half-hour for lunch - but it was too complicated. An unlimited meal break, but where you have to pre-decide the length, is more practical. No doubt others will come up with improvements, or situations I haven't encountered. Please post your feedback when you've tried it!

I have an implementation here https://thirdtime.toren.dev 

1bfinn1mo
Thanks!

This looks like a very interesting thing to try for my workflow. Since I already use Emacs Org-mode for everything, I took 2 hours today and wrote this package to adapt the org-pomodoro package, which implements normal Pomodoros, to implement Third Time: https://github.com/telotortium/org-pomodoro-third-time.

1bfinn6mo
Great!

This is a neat idea! It's elegant enough that I'm surprised I haven't heard of it before.

That said, I'm not sure how well it will work for me. Here are some potential problems I thought of while reading. Of course, people should try experiments for themselves, my relationship to work is pretty unusual.

4Alex_Altair7mo
Maybe most importantly, I'm not sure the premise of "it's good for breaks to be proportional to the time you worked" actually applies to me? It's certainly a reasonable hypothesis for how mental energy works, and it's true to some resolution (if I do basically no work then I need basically no break, and if I work three days straight on a big project I'm definitely taking a big crash afterward) but I'm not sure it's true on the scale of a day's work. If I'm doing some kind of physical or ops related work, then I can go all day -- breaks seem like a waste. For computer work I occasionally do Ultraworking's [https://www.ultraworking.com/] Work Marathon, and thus far when I've done that I've managed to solidly do 21 pomodoros every day, with a strict 30/10 duration. These things make me think that in order to do more work, I need the right environment, and not that I need to fine-tune my breaks.
3bfinn7mo
It may be short breaks would be beneficial without your realising it. I read some research somewhere which showed that people often flag without realising it (or before they realise it), ie they don’t notice that their concentration declines.
3Alex_Altair7mo
My second thought was, "but then how can I get points??". I have trouble doing work at all, and one of the main mechanisms that pomodoros provide for me is a form of gamification. If I do a pomodoro, I get a point. I'm highly motivated (relatively speaking) to make number go up, either daily, or my weekly average, or my yearly average. I often think to myself "let's just make sure we do at least my average today". It's not clear to me how this could be extended to the non-integer land of ratio breaks. I suppose I could track total hours worked.
4dybypy7mo
Could the time worked be the number you gamify? Though that might incentivize taking no breaks.
2bfinn7mo
Indeed. For years I’ve set myself a target for time worked per day, which I track in a spreadsheet. I don’t always hit it each day, but try to ensure my monthly average does.
3Alex_Altair7mo
First thing I noticed was the name; I automatically thought "Right, I'll just call them ratio breaks then". I think the audience for productivity optimization is going to be totally fine with that name.
2Alex_Altair7mo
Another major mechanism that pomodoros provide for me is getting me to do any work at all by forcing me to do a minimum amount of work. If I do zero pomodoros in a day, I'll feel bad. But then all I need to do is start the timer, and as long as I can get myself to make it through the 25 minutes, I've done it! Now I've earned a point. If I just tried to wake up and then... do some work, and stop whenever I stopped, and then take the ratio break... I'm pretty sure I would just never start working. I've had a lot of days like this anyway, when for whatever reason I don't use pomodoros. If the rule is "work however long you want", then I will frequently drift in and out of working, or I'll look at the clock and just suddenly realize that I wasn't working for the past half hour. Pomodoros, with a visual, reasonable-length timer, give me a small sense of urgency and a reason to focus.
4bfinn7mo
As hinted at near the end, Rational Breaks is a superset of systems like Pomodoro, so there’s nothing to stop you using Pomodoros within the RB system (which fixes Pomodoro’s flaws). Eg you could require your work stints to be 25 mins anyway - setting a 25 min alarm - and let RBs handle the breaks and exceptions (eg interruptions). Or require 25 mins minimum, ie ignore the alarm if you want to keep working.
2greenrd7mo
I think I may have ADHD, but I think this: "I'll look at the clock and just suddenly realize that I wasn't working for the past half hour." is a more severe version of a problem that I have. For me, this problem never lasts for more than 5-10 minutes before I notice, unless perhaps I am very sleep-deprived. And for me, it is usually caused by sleep deprivation (which causes me to slip into daydreaming, or "microsleep"). Have you considered that you might have ADHD and/or sleep deprivation? If you do, then getting treatment for it might help more than any particular time management system. And this goes for anyone who has particularly severe problems with time management as well, I suppose. It doesn't mean you necessarily do have ADHD, but it does mean you should check the diagnostic criteria for ADHD, in my opinion.

That is pretty close to how I deal with breaks intuitively. I do many small (<5min) or medium-sized (15 min) breaks and even micros-breaks where I just look around (like Logan in Duncan's quote) or quickly open a fun website or check mail. I would consider these guilt-free breaks in the sense of Soares in Deregulating Distraction.

But I also want to add that people have different relaxation period habits on very different time scales:

  • Some people take very short breaks (like me)
  • Many people seem to take the recommended screen time breaks every hour.
  • Many pe
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3bfinn7mo
It also strikes me that school teachers (at least in the UK) proceed on the model of working all hours during term time, then using the (long, paid) holidays/vacation to recover.
3bfinn7mo
Interesting. I've read bits of research into work breaks in the office - the length, and what people do with them, and how they affect subsequent work - including microbreaks of a few seconds to a few minutes. I'll say more in Part 2 of the article. I don't know anything about longer breaks of days/weeks, though no doubt there is research into that (for employment, tourism etc. purposes).

My first day experimenting with this and had a question.

I worked for 90 min and went to lunch, which I usually take 60 min. However, I only earned 30 min of break assuming a ratio of 3.

I have back-to-back meetings for 2 hours after my lunch break. How much break time should I have after those meetings, since I took an extended lunch break?

Is it 40 min (120/3) or 10 min (40 min earned after 2 hour meetings - 30 min past earned break time due to lunch break)?

Or something else?

2bfinn7mo
40 mins. Extended meal breaks use up/cancel any previously earned break time, so the afternoon session starts from scratch. (Hence there's no need to time the work stint just before an extended meal break, as the break you earned is ignored.) I'm not sure this is unclear in my post, but if you still think it is I'll change it somehow! Or maybe if I add an example that might help clarify.
1warrenjordan7mo
Thanks for clarifying! Makes sense to me now.
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