Setting up a home office should be easy, right? I mean, I know how to work. I know what I need to work. I should know what should go into a home office, right? I thought I knew what I was doing until I scored a job that was 100% remote.
Until then, I'd only worked one day a week at home. It's possible to tolerate anything for one day a week. Would I last with this set-up five days a week, eight hours a day?
I googled, and came to the conclusion that people that write articles that are SEO'd for 'home office supplies' are idiots. Number one on their list? A computer.
No, really? How did you think I was going to work? Banging rocks together? Cuniform tablets? Smoke signals are most certainly low bandwidth!
After taking a few deep breaths, I moved my question to Twitter and G+, with much better results.
A standing desk
This seems to be spreading to everyone in the Python community, starting with patient zero, Jesse Noller. Every week, someone else converts. I've been poring over set-ups for months.
At the moment, I can't get one of the awesome Geek Desks, as I just got a desk which I adore. No reason I can't fake it, though. I have a slot ready, full of books, which will double as a makeshift standing desk.
This, sadly, isn't going to happen. For an office, I had two options: a small, dark room next to the laundry with no windows, or a nice open spot next to the den. I put the play room in the less favorable room, because if someone's getting shut in the dark, smelly place, it ain't me.
I may end up switching us, and I know that, as we look for a house, an office is a must. It's just not happening here.
A dedicated space
See above. This is going to be hard. What I think I'll have to do is banish all non-work stuff to other places in the house. This does mean I'll have to put off getting a tower, but it does mean that I can start to set up the mental boundaries that I'm going to need.
For the past ten years, I've worked in offices where, if your computer made any sort of sound, you were fair game for a keel-hauling. Speakers were paired with every desktop, but it was a joke. Turn them up, face dire consequences. As a result, I have spent a not-insignificant amount of money on headphones.
When Nick spoke, up I realized something. I... I don't need to wear headphones anymore. There's no one else to disturb!
I ended up buying a Bose Bluetooth Travel Speaker. Expensive, yes, but I've learned the hard way that cheap speakers eventually let you down. This thing pairs to my phone and sounds like a dream. And it travels! When momma's gone, no one gets tunes!
Good lighting is key, and happily, I have that in spades. We have tons of light in our den/office area. Natural light is scarce, but if I start to grow mushrooms, I can move to the kitchen, where we have tons of natural light.
How good is the light? Ten 100 watt bulbs in in a slightly large living room. Hell yeah!
Oh, yeah. I have shelving in spades, baby. I ended up getting the Expedit desk from Ikea, so I have sixteen cubbies for all my stuff.
This presented a problem, however, as I had to think about how to best use all my little cubbies. I realized that some of them, due to the desk, will be hard to reach, whereas others will be right next to me. I sat down, then determined which cubbies would be hardest to reach.
With that in mind, I planned at least a few of them, trying to put some actual thought into them.
As you can see, it's not done. I told you I had hella shelves.
A good chair
I ended up spending as much on my chair as I did on my desk. I strongly encourage going to a store and sitting on every chair until you find THE ONE. If they're out, don't take number two. Leave, go hit up another store.
One thing I've discovered over the years is that all desks are slightly too tall for me. Rather than pay more for a shorter desk, I've found putting a ottoman pillow under my desk made a huge difference.
I thought this was silly at first, but I realized that the kitchen was an invitation to distraction, and ages away when I'm in the middle of a meeting. Also, I could stock the mini-fridge only with things that are good for me, since the wicked snacks that lurk in the pantry are my downfall on many a homebound day.
Magnetic white board
This appeared on nary a list I found, which only confirmed their idiocy. I have a wall picked out already for a nice size white board.
Back when I was looking for a cheap white board, I found a neat hack: tile board. You can get HUGE sheets of it at Lowe's for $10-$12, and though it's not magnetic, being cheap certain counts for something.
I realized how important this was when I was doing paperwork for the new gig. No matter how modern the development lab is, HR is often left behind, doing many things by hand.
Happily, I had purchased an Epson All-in-One a few weeks ago. Was it after countless hours of research? ... No. It was an impulse buy at Target. I had the sudden urge to SCAN ALL THE THINGS. That said, the non-lizard part of my brain remembered that of all the printers out there, I love Epson the most, so this probably wasn't a totally crap decision.
Also, their inks are cheap, and you remember your ink type by remembering what picture is associated with your printer. That is genius.
A place to spread
I confess, I hadn't even thought about this. In an office, there's always a conference room open for you to spread out, if a certain stage of planning requires surface area. That's something I don't have here. Sure, I have tons of flat open space upstairs in the kitchen, but my family has the unfortunate habit of wanting to be fed now and then. I need that space open.
I found my ideal solution in a surprising space: Ikea's dining area. The Norden is perfect: attractive enough to sit out, but folds down to a narrow profile. It has storage (of which I can never have enough), and doesn't need to be moved to extend it out halfway. Of all the things I found while putting together my office, this was the prize.
A cable solution
I'm actually fortunate in this. My desk is facing the SO+'s desk, which is a mirror image of mine. The gap between the two is surpisingly good at cord management.
I am going to have to watch my charging area, though. I have a lot of gadgets that need to be plugged in, and I'm not crowding my computer's USB ports with them. To that end, one shelf is now a dedicated charging shelf, complete with its own power supply. One important thing I have to do is loop all my cords, then double-tie them. I also know now that I need more power slots than I thought I would need.
A place to stuff children
Ideally, when I'm working, the children will not be in the house. I have no desire to try working, day in, day out, with She Who Will Not Be Denied (the boy is less of an issue, since I can stick him in front of the XBox).
This doesn't mean that, on occassion, I might have to work with them around. Baby sitters get sick. Children get sick. Snow comes and screws everyone over. I need a plan for when they're around.
I have a play room for them (okay, okay, for the girl, who took it over pretty quickly), but that only works so long. What I need, I've decided, is a stash of excellent, forbidden toys that shall only come out when momma needs to get her code on. Things I'm adding to the pile: special DS games, paint, dry erase markers (to be used with some tile board of their own), a spare phone with cool games on it, and a cleaning rag.
Yeah. That last one is a threat.
A maid service
This last one, no one suggested, but I knew I would need. With one person being home all day, the house is going to get a lot more dirty. I won't be able to concentrate if I'm thinking about how we need to vacuum, dust, or scour the bathrooms.
Having someone come twice a month cost only a little more than my transportation to the old job, so I'm breaking even on this. Besides, would you work in an office where no one ever vacuumed, windexed, or cleaned the toilets?
Lazyweb really came through on this one. I think I'm on the way to a kickass home office.
Pictures! I demand them!
When I first scored a gig working from home, I hunted around for tips and tricks, and ran into walls of stupid. Either they were written for people who weren't actually going to work from home (they just wanted a place to put a computer and do the bills), or they were for people who had already learned everything they could by trial and error... but forgot what those actual mistakes were.
What I really wanted, I realized, was a diary of sorts. It's not concise, but hey, my background is in psychology, and I deal with developers. Neither are concise people.
Not finding a diary (or journal, as my son would quickly correct me), I've decied to write one myself.
Technically, the work from home gig hasn't started yet. While my work at NASA has ended, my new job doesn't start until next Monday. I was going to use this time to get my home office together, but a burst of inspiration flooded me a weekend ago, and I got it done in one day. Instead, I've decided to use the time to get in the rhythm of working.
Monday was a federal holiday, so I was surrounded by the other people who live here. Work-wise, it was a bust. It's not their fault, of course. I could have stayed home and let the cleaners work around me, and asked my mother to take my daughter for the day, but the last minute things I needed to do beaconed, and I wasn't quite ready to use up a good-will token.
I did get up early, though. I think I deserve something for that.
It does bring up an interesting quandry for when everyone else has the day off but me. Theoretically, I could take the laptop and find a place to work outside of the home, leaving the kids with the SO+ or bribing a grandparent to take them on. That's assuming I'm not dealing with some catastrophpe, like a few flakes of snow falling on the DC region. The SO+ still has to go in (it's a matter of pride, him being from New York State and all), but the kids are more than likely off. I've started to train the kids that when I'm sitting at my desk, they are to come to me with issues that involve smoke, blood, or ruining the carpet.
This, by the way, has lead to the following exchange with my daughter.
Me: *messing with her hair*
Her: Leave me alone! I'm working! *leans over her pink laptop*
Me: On what?
Her: I'm making a website! *shooes me away with her hand*
I'm proud and distrubed at the same time.
The to-do list
Even with having the week off, I decided I'd start with a to-do list.
- Get Django Explorer site up and running
- Get data to at least 20%
- Re-read one of my Python or Django books. Good time for a refresher!
- Do not eat the entire kitchen
Things I missed
I knew my workspace wasn't complete when I posted last week, but the feedback was so awesome, I thought I should put something up to thank people.
One thing I figured out quickly was that my lighting, while great for typing, sucks for reading. Happily, I had impulse purchased a neat LED light strip during my Ikea extravaganza, so that's doing nicely as a fill in. My cords are once more a mess, however, so I'll have to rewrap everything.
Power strips suck. I mean, seriously, who designed these? People who've never seen how huge power adapters can get? My power strip has six slots on it, and I can barely use four of them. The only reason I can get four is because two are normal sized plugs. I'm now going to be shelling out twenty bucks for the adapter I should have bought in the first place, but ah well. If there's one thing you can never have enough of, it's power strips.
I need more music. Wow. I'm already kind of tired of what's in my library. Unfortunately, before something becomes working music, I need to be familiar with it. Guess I need to work on listening to music on my off-time.
The children have learned where I'm keeping my pencils, and they're already getting raided. Investing in a small badger to live in that cubby hole.
Family (namely my mother, who watches my kids) is taking well to re-training. This came from me having to be crazy firm about not 'doing lunch,' and keeping to my hours. I have a feeling I'm going to have to start screening my calls, though.
On being alone
I'm actually comfortable with being alone all day. I'm an only child of the benevolently neglectful 80's, so being left on my own a lot was the norm.
The big issue with being alone for ten hours a day is that sometimes, when I want to do something, I want to do it NOW. Case in point: my awesome new spreading out desk. I should have waited for the SO+ to come home, help me get it downstairs, then help me set it up. No, I decided. I am strong! I am mighty! I shall do it all by myself!
... with my stupid gimp hand that hurts if I strain it too much. The table did end up put together, but at the cost of three days of sucking down pain killers.
What actually got done
I'm actually really, really proud of the progress I made on Django Explorer. I set up a Django site to make it easier to enter data, then wrote a script to convert that database into an Android database. A few remapped functions later, and I had a very nice system that I'm considering taking live so I can get more feedback on the actual pages. I also read through a sizable chunk of the Python Cookbook, which is always good for getting my head in the zone.
I did not eat 20% of the kitchen. Having my own fridge and snack cabinet were a large part of that.
I use the simple and somewhat dorky Pomodoro method. That's the one where you set a timer, work for 25 minutes, take a 5 minute break, then do it all over again. Every four 'pomodoros', I take a longer, 20 minute break.
I've use so many time management techniques, I've lost count. This is the only one that seems to work for me. Sure, I know people who can hack for hours, but it's actually pretty important for me to have a reminder to get up, stretch, walk around, look out a window, and get some water. Also, those breaks help you out when you're diving down a well of stupid, and you need a moment to realize that the code you thought was brilliant in your head is an Eldritch horror on screen.
I had a goal of doing an hour of standing a day, and found it was easier than I thought it would be. Sure, I don't have the awesome Geek Desk, but a handful of books I never use stood in perfectly fine. I've found doing my standing in the afternoon helps battle my PM malaise better than sucking down another cup of coffee. Will I get to eight hours of standing? I'm not certain, but I could see where I could start upping the hours until chairs are reserved for reading or gaming time.
Am I going to make it?
This was really satisfying week of working on my own. I got tons done on Django Explorer, and we're on target for a October 30th Alpha release.
Wish me luck, because in fifteen minutes, I start for real. :)
It has begun. I am now really, really working from home.
The VPN Hates Everybody
Your pipeline to all things having to do with your job? It's going to go down. It's going to go down, and it's going to take all the things you needed to do your job with it.
Mine went down on day three. Thankfully, I still had my colleagues in IRC, but I realized I was disconnected from everything I could have used to solve my issues. Tech numbers, co-workers numbers, links to our help desk's site: all behind the firewall.
Lesson learned: first thing, keep a copy of your help desk number, as well as the phone numbers for anyone remotely useful.
Nothing messes with your schedule like thinking you'll be able to keep to your schedule.
As I've stated before, I use the Pomodoro method. This works for me for several reasons: not only does it stop me before I continue going down the path of the stupid, it also gives my hand a chance to rest.
If was off on my own, coding, I was able to keep to my schedule. The second I had to work with other people, it went to hell.
This wasn't a bad thing, as working with people usually meant that I was getting things done. The bad thing was that, without the visual cues, it was easy to forget to take a break to do things like grab food, water, or use the bathroom. When people start hitting physical restrictions, they get antsy, and in the meatspace, we see that. In virtual space, we might as well be well-written chat-bots.
Lesson learned: it's okay to let someone know you need to go afk for a minute. They've probably been doing it to you while your code was building.
Wires, wires, wires
I've worked exclusively off of a wireless connection for the past three years of home life, so I hadn't even thought about how close I was to a hard connection... until I had to do my first build.
No problem, I thought, I have a desk upstairs where our modem lives. I shall simply move my set-up up there! I thought I might be there for an hour... until the issues with my build started.
Three days later, I finally moved back downstairs.
My desk upstairs is super-pretty, and totally not made for eight hours of working. I missed my cubbies and supplies and space horribly. I was gleeful when I was able to move back downstairs, and am now determined to have access to a line down here.
Lesson learned: find a way to get the modem somewhere comfy.
Yeah, standing went straight to hell once I actually started working. Next week! Really really!
As long as I kept snacks next to my desk, I was good. When I was evicted from my desk, however, I was planted next to the kitchen, where all the yummy things lived.
Yes, I know we could have gotten a few more days out of that cake, but it was me or it, and I'm not buying new pants.
I am turning into a crazy person
This was highlighted most the day that my SO+ was sick, so stayed home. The office is in prime family territory, so he sat within visual contact of me. He didn't so much as make a peep at me, but I realized how much I was used to being able to talk to myself. I had to physically stop myself from getting up so I could pace aimlessly around the room.
I had to do this because he hasn't married me, yet. I figure I can break out the full crazy once the wedding is over.
What disturbs me even more is that I've only been at this three weeks. Even worse, I am utterly happy with becoming a crazy person.
I am happy to report that I have only had two PJ days in three weeks. Pants were had every single day, as were showers. I may be becoming a crazy person, but I'll be a clean crazy person.
When you work in an office, you move. You move quite a bit. You get coffee. You do Starbucks runs. You pack up and walk to meeting rooms. You walk to go grab lunch. You grab something from the printer. You at least walk from your car to the building, and you may walk from a metro or train station. You get up and you pester people while your server is building.
When you work from home, you don't move. My coffee station is three steps from my desk. Same with my printer. I have the space on my desk to move them even closer if I wanted. My lunch? Twenty-two steps from my desk. I don't do Starbucks runs, and even if I did, I'd have to drive. My meetings are all held at my desk. There is no one else to pester. There is no commute.
I'm not moving at all. And I feel it.
Attempt one: Walking
My first thought was to start walking. I live in a shady neighborhood with respectable paths and some nice hills. I see people walking all the time! I could do this over my lunch break: put some podcasts on the headphones, head out, walk for fifteen minutes, turn around, and walk back.
I even had the equipment already. I walked for exercise quite a bit at my old job, so I had some nice walking shoes and good socks. I set out.
For a few weeks, it was great. The weather was nice and I got caught up on my podcasts. Then, disaster struck.
When I speak of summer in DC, I affectionately compare it to spelunking in a hobo's a-hole (you don't want to know what I call it when I'm angry). We're built on a swamp. The heat here is oppressive. I've seen it melt Texans. I'm already a delicate Southern flower.
How did I do it at the old job? Simple: they had an underground system of hallways that made it possible to walk several miles and never go outside. I'd retreat to those after the temps went over 90 degrees. I had no such luxury in the burbs. I'd have to figure something else out.
Attempt two: Standing
Standing desks are all the rage at the moment, and they appealed to me. I liked the idea of having fitness seamlessly worked into my day. Also, the testimonies were pretty impressive: less back pain, lost weight, better posture, better concentration.
Problem: I really like my desk, and it's not a standing desk. I like my storage cubbies, I like how it fits into the space we have, and its color really helps disguise what a klutz I am with my coffee. Also, I don't want to spend $900 on something that I may not end up liking.
I looked into systems for 'converting' a desk, but they all seemed to be expensive, not work with my current set-up, or be big steaming piles of one-star reviews. I ended up stealing one of my daughter's play stools and putting my laptop on it.
Upside: It was the perfect height! And free!
Downside: I seriously feared for my life when she realized I was repurposing her stuff.
Standing went well for the first few days. I wore nice shoes, and would stand for an hour at a time. If I was in the middle of a crunch, though, I realized I couldn't stand. I had to have my butt in a chair. Maybe with time I would be able to stand and deal with a fix that had to be out in the next thirty minutes, but that day wasn't today.
I needed to supplement.
Attempt three: The Gym
When I worked in the city, I went to the gym. I'm one of those rare birds that loves the gym. I love running on the treadmill and watching crap daytime TV, especially if the captions are off, so I can make up my own plots. I love the machines. I love taking notes about how much I lifted last week versus this week.
At my old job, we worked right above a gym, go I could easily go over on my lunch break, and still get in a shower afterwards. There are a number of gyms in my area. Why not go to one of them?
I took a hard look at myself. How likely was I to actually leave the house and go to the gym? At the office, I looked forward to getting away from my desk. At home... well, leaving required pants. And leaving the very functional AC. And my comfy chair. I could barely drag myself out of the house to drop the kids off at the sitter, much less anything else more ambitious.
I had to be honest: A gym membership was going to be a waste of money.
Attempt four: Wii Fit
I gave in. However I moved more, it was going to be in my house. Not wanting to spend money, I drug out my Wii Fit. I had gotten it when it first came out, and actually liked it quite a bit at the time. I tried to remember why I had stopped using it. I popped in the disc and started it up.
And I remembered why I stopped using it.
In theory, I like the idea of a Wii Fit. I liked the fitness game, especially after they released an improved version. But a few things got to me:
- It's slow. It's so slow. You start it up, the little balance board dude has to talk to you. It has to calibrate between each exercise. The exercise lady has to talk you through each exercise. When you're done with each exercise, it has to congratulate you and tell you how much awesomer your life will be now that you did the tree pose for two minutes. There are no transitions, just lots of starting and stopping.
- What the hell do you do with the controller? You always need to have it close at hand to confirm things, but you also need room to do the exercise. If you keep it on your wrist, you take out your kneecaps.
- It doesn't autocorrect. Start a bit off balance (because you were putting your controller on the floor), and you're boned.
- It yells at you for not being perfectly balanced. Yes, I know I'm a bit shaky. I'm working on it, okay?!
- It yells at you for not showing up every day. Why do Nintendo games do this? What the hell?
- It's big on the fat shaming. A bit overweight? It makes your Mii fat. Doesn't that make you feel better?
After getting mad at the game and realizing that I was STILL only getting fifteen minutes of movement for every thirty put in, the Wii Fit got put away again.
Attempt five: The Kinect
My son got an XBox with a Kinect for his birthday. The Kinect wasn't my idea. My mother wanted wanted to get him something, and I wanted the XBox with the bigger hard drive, which was paired with the Kinect. Seemed like a fit.
Jake was more excited about playing his NHL games again than the Kinect. In fact, I don't think he's used the Kinect once.
I'd seen some workout games for the Kinect, and decided to look some of them up. To my surprise, some of them were not only highly rated, but had inspired people to write crazy detailed reviews. I found one that offered a demo (Your Shape: Fitness Evolved) and downloaded it.
Fifteen minutes later, I couldn't get my credit card out fast enough to buy it.
Everything that annoyed me about the Wii Fit is fixed. The set-up time is nil, and you never need to touch a controller to get everything set up. It groups expercises so that you move smoothly from one to the next. It doesn't yell at you. It doesn't call you fat. It doesn't guilt you into playing the game.
These days, I generally do a half-hour of yoga at lunch, and I've found it really helps me break out of the afternoon blahs. I thought I would get bored with it, four weeks in, but I'm still entertained by doing the exercises every day. I'll probably get the 2012 version of the game as well.
Oh, Kinect: I'm sorry for every snarky thing I ever said about you.
When I tell people that I work from home, I usually follow it up with "Yeah, and now I'm no longer fit for society" and a laugh. We've all seen that Oatmeal comic. We know how the story of the remote worker is supposed to end: covered in urine and communicating in grunts and half-words.
I thought I would need more socialization when I started working from home. I was convinced that I'd end up at a co-working space at least once a week (or at the very least, a coffee shop). I soon discovered that getting out the door was more trouble than I was ready to put up with in order to pay for coffee or a seat. I mean, I have a chair here, and coffee in the house is free!
I was surprised when I found out that I didn't miss people at all. I'd expected to be lonely, and I wasn't. Excellent!
In early September, I went to DjangoCon US. I love conferences. I'm an incredibly social person, so I tend to be in a rather manic state for the entire time I'm there. I want to see all the people that I only get to see at conferences, and there's always a few mavens that want to introduce me to a slew of new people. Add to that the fact that I can and will talk to anyone who happens to be within five feet of me, and that's a lot of social contact.
It started great. I was seeing people, hugging people, shaking hands, sharing stories, seeing talks, talking about talks... and then, at about 2 in the afternoon, it hit me.
I needed to be alone for a while.
I just didn't want to talk to anyone. I felt drained. I wasn't tired (I have a strict in-bed-by-eleven rule at conferences). I wasn't sad. I just... didn't want to talk anymore.
I skipped that round of talks and took a bath in my room. A cup of tea and some quiet time later, I felt ready to join the masses again. I chalked it up to being mentally exhausted after my tutorial.
Then it happened again on the second day. Then again on the third.
I've never had this happen to me. I've never gotten tired of being around people. Hell, even when the people are super annoying and I want to strangle them with their innards, my reaction is to find different people, not to find a quiet space.
I wish I could say that I'm posting this with any idea what this means for my future. Instead, I'm posting this as a way to record the first incident of becoming slightly less social. I can deal with needing a half-hour of alone time during a conference. It was nice. I can't picture a time when I simply can't go to conferences because I can't be around people that much.
If I do show a trend in becoming less social, then I'll have to make an effort to find some ways to inject people into my life during the day. Maybe co-working, maybe a coffee shop. Maybe I'll teach more. I just don't want to end up the person who never leaves her house five years from now.
The cult of Pomodoro is strong in the IT sector, and I'm one of its converts. From time to time, new recruits are sent to me, so I decided it was time to write about how I use the Pomodoro method.
The Pomodoro method is almost stupidly simple: Set a timer, work for 25 minutes, break for five. Do this four times, then take a twenty minute break rather than a five minute break. If you get distracted during a Pomodoro, void it.
Why I use it
Working from home, keeping a tight focus can be difficult. If I turn my head, I can see our entertainment set-up, from which I can play hundreds of games and watch practically any show made in the past 60 years. I can also see my personal computer, from which I can play dozens of Steam games. Hell, on the very computer I'm working on, I have access to everything on the Internet. If I'm done with the stuff that's already there, I can go make more things.
Pomodoros keep me tightly focused by only asking that I keep that focus for 25 minutes. If I can do that, I can take a break, get some coffee, take a walk, or get a snack. I can also switch tasks, if that one task is one that I utterly hate, then come back to it later.
It also helps me keep track of what distracts me. Calls from family are a big distraction (especially if there's some new controversy occupying everyone's brain space). Random chats also kill my concentration. People being wrong on the Internet? Huge distraction. Email was created to distract me.
Pomodoros also help me keep my flow by separating out tasks. Before, whenever I got mail, I would immediately read it, digest it, then respond. I'd try to restart whatever I was doing, but then I'd get another email. Read it, digest it, respond. This would happen over and over again, until the entire day had passed, and I hadn't written a single line of code.
Types of Pomodoros
I generally have two types of Pomodoros: Working and admin.
Working is self-explanatory: pick a task, work on just that. Admin, though, needs some explanation.
One Pomodoro out of four is always an admin Pomodoro for me. I've found this to be vital for keeping my sanity. What do I do during an admin Pomodoro?
- Check email
- Respond to email
- Clean off my desk
- Restock what needs to be restocked
- Return phone calls
I do keep an eye on my email through Growl notifications, but unless something is marked as absolutely urgent, waiting on it is not going to kill anyone. Besides, truly urgent matters usually come to me through IRC.
When I first started doing the Pomodoro method, I would mess around on the Internet during my breaks. This can be a very bad idea. The timer goes off, but you're in the middle of a comment or a really interesting article, and the next thing you know, it's two hours later.
I try not to make my small breaks Internet breaks, especially on days when I'm not concentrating as well. I go get some coffee, I grab a snack, I stare out a window. Five minutes feels much longer when you're not staring at a screen.
For my longer breaks, I've been trying to move more. Maybe I'll do a small set of yoga, maybe I'll do some weights. If I'm feeling particularly saucy, I'll break out one of the less embarrassing dance games that come with Your Shape Fitness Evolved 2012.
Really bad days
Sometimes, I have really bad days. I didn't get enough sleep. I have an oncoming illness. Something in my personal / other professional life is distracting me.
These days, I modify the system slightly to ten-on / ten-off. I work for ten minutes. I break for ten minutes (and this time, totally away from the Internet). I find this slowly ramps my focus back up to where it needs to be. By the end of the day, I'm usually back to 25/5.
I do not have a dorky tomato timer. The last thing I need is my daughter finding it, messing around with it, then tossing it into the no-mans-land of her play room, only to go off an hour later. Also, I can't take the timer with me when I work in a coffee shop.
Instead, I use my phone, and an app made especially for Pomodoros. I onced use Pomodorium, but found I didn't like the fact that it would automatically start my break. Sometimes, I need to do one last thing before breaking, and when your break is five minutes, you get very, very protective of every last second.
Also, it uses Adobe Air. Goodbye, CPU!
Where to learn more
Really, everything you'd ever want to know is on Pomodoro's official website. It's not a complicated technique, but they do have some nice templates and cheat sheets.