Andrew Maddison


Goodbye Dash Timer - Hello Pomodoro Timer.

A few years ago I read an article over at 43 folders about running a dash. In short, a dash is a silly little mind hack to get you off your arse so that you get started on whatever task is waiting for you. Washing up to do, project to code, chapel ceiling to paint, whatever.

The idea is that you get a kitchen timer, and set it to an silly, unintimidatingly short time, like 3 minutes (seriously) and you start work. Anyone can manage 3 lousy minutes of hard graft, even someone as lazy as me. Then after 3 minutes, you’re absolutely allowed to stop. No guilt. The trick is, the biggest problem wasn’t working, it was starting, and usually by the time you’ve done 3 minutes you’re away. Procrastination defeated, awesome productivity and world domination within your grasp.

I found this works pretty well for me so I modded myself a little timer, the slightly geeky details of which are why I’m really writing this. I used to keep this timer on my desk at work in a room full of people who have their own productivity to worry about, so In order to avoid being glared at/ostracised/lynched I hacked the timer so that I could turn off the beep and put in an LED so there is a little flashing light instead. There’s a switch so I can flip between lamp and buzzer if I need a normal timer.

The timer was a cheap kitchen timer that I think I found in Maplin, where I probably also picked up the SPDT toggle switch. Wire and LEDs I have lying around in boxes because I like that sort of thing (and I hoard) .

Back of the timer showing contacts to piezoelectric buzzer

First up, I unscrewed the back and had a look around expecting to find the wires to the buzzer. Instead it simply contacts with those two little springs, which are soldered through from the far side. So I flipped it over, poked around with a multimeter for a bit, cut a track and soldered three wires straight on to the board.

Back of the timer circuit board showing extra wires

Then I cut a small hole in the back of the timer, soldered on the toggle switch and LED, and gobbed the whole affair up with Polymorph. In my mind this was going to be a neat and nearly seamless extension to the timer, in practice it’s tricky stuff to use, and sets to slightly translucent, grubby, off-white colour so the end result looks a little obscene. Incidentally, I am never going to take this through an airport as I hate to think what it looks like on a baggage scanner. (battery, timer, wires, plastic mass).

The finished timer, with switch and little LED lamp

What I’ve found since I’ve been trying to learn TDD, is that for my home programming tasks writing a single test is a convenient quantum of work even though it usually takes me a lot longer than 3 minutes. I tried this the other day and ended up doing about 3 hours of good coding, Job done, and it frees up the timer to become a Pomodoro timer instead.

Speaking of procrastination, I took these photos with the vague idea that they could make blog post over two years ago, long before I even had a blog. So it’s evidently not a perfect solution to procrastination.