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API, iOS, and Web engineer at Foursquare.

My name is Zack Sheppard, Columbia CS '11; Amateur Bartender; Former Actor

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  • What is the workday approach you take in your line of work to achieve maximum productivity without burning out?

    Much has been said about the "tomato" approach to work, where you work X minutes and take a break for Y minutes. How well does this technique work in a high-tech, high-intensity job?

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    I've tried the "pomodoro technique" several times, but have had trouble fitting it into my day since it's very hard to find a value of X+Y that will fit perfectly in between the meetings that you have to deal with in the professional world. I think, though, that the pomodoro technique gets at a couple key principles that one should adopt for a happy, productive workday.

    1) Work in chunks.

    Figure out what small bite of a project you want to take on right now. Do it and only it. Trying to do an entire project in one go, or jumping back and forth between several tasks can cause you to get overwhelmed and distracted.

    2) When you work, shut out distractions.

    Put on headphones, close your email apps, and get stuff done. If you're finding small, bite-sized tasks there should be no issue going OTG for the 20-40 minutes it takes to finish one and you'll get much more done than you would if you're checking ever single email that comes in.

    3) Take breaks

    A lot of people I know get burned out because they don't give themselves permission to take breaks. Pomodoro is useful because a key part of the system is that it forces you to take a break. You, though, don't have to follow an X+Y breakdown to get that, though. You can just know that taking a break is important and, more importantly, that it will make you more productive for longer even though it feels at the moment like "not getting anything done."