Make STOPs to steer your life with open eyes

Stop sign image
Photo by John Matychuk on Unsplash

Steering with closed eyes is not the best way to get to the destination. And I believe each of us is a driver with a “steering wheel” in the hands – the steering wheel of life. We have plans and we’re taking actions (or inactions) many times a day the same way as a driver has a route to the destination and choosing when to accelerate, stop and change the route. Ask yourself would you be happy if your taxi driver gets off the route, misses a turn or goes the wrong way? Probably not. While it’s relatively easy to look around and follow the route while driving the car it might be challenging to do the same with your daily life. 

TLDR; I’ve read about the tool called STOPs in the book “The Inner Game of Work” by Timothy Gallwey. I use STOPs to align with my plans and take actions in a timely manner. More details 👇.

Zooming in and out

In Google Maps you can zoom in and out to see more or fewer details on the streets and roads. Depending on how far you go you might need to zoom out to fit the whole route. However, you should zoom in to get detailed directions to the destination while driving. Moreover, if the route is unfamiliar Google Maps can make life easier by tracking the position, notifying on required actions and suggesting alternative routes.

The same way any higher-level goals and plans can be split into smaller tasks and milestones. The same way precise steps need to be taken to get the result. However, following own plan is hard because there is no such Google Maps for it. You should manually zoom in and out to check your current position on the route and correct the directions to reach the destination.

Execution inertia is your enemy

Besides our plans and goals, so many things break into the daily routine from different sources like family, coworkers, communities, friends, etc. We are going through hundreds of messages, calls, posts, tweets, meetings and so on. We’re creating task lists to keep things organized and under control.

Even if you apply task and time management tools it’s so easy to get into a trap of unconsciously executing one task after another without realizing the importance of the task or how is it related to the higher-level goals. This is what is called execution inertia. It keeps you driving full speed in the flow of daily tasks without giving a chance to check the directions on the map.

STOPs to the rescue

I’ve read about the tool called STOPs in the book “The Inner Game of Work” by Timothy Gallwey.

STOP is an abbreviation of four steps:

  1. Step back.
  2. Think.
  3. Organize your thoughts.
  4. Proceed.

Step back. It is a crucial element of the tool. First of all, it requires you to take a pause and step out of the flow of tasks. Then you have to zoom out to create a different perspective on the current situation.

Think. Once zoomed out you can better observe the current position and direction, analyze it and compare with the desired route. Just draft some thoughts and ideas at this step.

Organize your thoughts. While the previous step can bring a lot of insights and interesting ideas, this step is required to update the existing plan or make a new one.

Proceed. You’ve already done a great job at previous steps! It’s time to get back to the refreshed tasks flow 😉

Different flavours of STOPs

All STOPs shouldn’t be the same. You have a lot of freedom regarding when and how many STOPs you wish to make. They can be done during the day (e.g. start, middle, end of the day), once a week, month, quarter, etc. The duration can vary with the frequency of the STOP and depending on how far you zoom out when stepping back.

At the moment I have daily and monthly STOPs. I try to check the monthly plan a couple of times a week just to keep it in mind during the daily STOPs. And I check the quarterly plan during the monthly stops. 

In my opinion, it’s not that important how many STOPs you have. The key point is to get most of them for yourself.

Bring structure to chaos with Pomodoro technique

Photo by Tristan Gassert on Unsplash

There is no such a thing as time management because you can’t control time. However, you have ability to choose how you use your time.

I’ve come across this idea ☝️ several times for the past couple of months. The wording was different but the idea remains the same. Well, it sounds simple as many great ideas but how do you apply it to your daily life? How do you leverage this knowledge when your day is packed with lots of different activities, communications and interruptions?

TLDR; I use Pomodoro technique to split my day into focus slots. If you want to find out more on how I use it keep reading.

Focus, focus, focus

As it was said many times, context switching kills productivity so staying focused is a solution to the problem. And for developers who often work on complex problems it is very important to be in a flow state with high focus and concentration. To reach that state you need to eliminate as many distractions as possible and it’s not that hard to achieve if you work remotely from the home office like I do. But there is another trap in the full focus mode – it is so easy to spend too many time focused on developing software that I can completely forget or miss other things I wanted to do. And this is where Pomodoro technique come to the rescue.

Managing your day with pomodoros

Okay, I want to be focused for some time but not too long just to keep other things on track. This is exactly what Pomodoro is about:

  1. Pick a task and set a timer (25 minutes is recommended). One slot is called Pomodoro.
  2. Work on the task without switching and distractions.
  3. Take a break. Recommendation is 5 minutes after each Pomodoro and 15 minutes after each fourth Pomodoro.
  4. Go to step 1.

Idea is super simple. This allows you to structure your day into finite amount of focus slots and you have a choice which activities you fit into the slots. On the other hand, Pomodoro just gives you a framework routine and it’s up to you how to use it. Recommendations above are good enough to start with but they may be not ideal for a particular daily schedule or activities. So some adjustments might be required and the good thing is nobody forbids doing so. Believe me, there is enough space for experiments and here are mine Pomodoro hacks:

  • I spend at least one Pomodoro at the beginning of the day for planning: catching up with updates (emails, chats, etc.), creating todo list, prioritising and “distributing” tasks into slots.
  • I experiment with the size of the slot for different activities. E.g. 55 min slot for development tasks with 5 min break works better for me.
  • Use breaks more effectively:
    • Quickly check chats during some of the breaks and update todo list.
    • Make STOPs (will write some post about it later) during the breaks to check how I am progressing during the day.
    • Do real breaks, move around, take a glass of water, tea, etc.
  • Combine multiple small tasks into a single slot. It’s just more efficient when you’re focused on handling multiple small tasks altogether.
  • Have some free slots without any tasks scheduled to fit in emergency activities. But I have a pool of some low priority tasks in case there are no urgent tasks.
  • Allocate some slots even for such things as random search and non-work related activities.
  • Allocate slots only for the type of activity rather than precise task. E.g. when planning I don’t try to guess how much time a specific task will take I just allocate some slots for development, code reviews, communicating in chats/emails, reading posts, etc.


At the moment I use PomoDoneApp for timers both on Mac and iOS, it’s free for my use case and has many configuration options which is nice for experiments. I use Todoist for task management and there is an integration available with PomoDoneApp but I’m not using it because of the reasons mentioned above.

Before switching to PomoDone I used Be Focused for Mac and iOS. There is a free version with annoying ads and without synchronisation between Mac and iOS. I decided not to use it because I constantly missed the timer on the phone because of the vibration only and I had to buy two apps (Desktop and mobile) to make synchronisation work.

Final thoughts

Pomodoro technique helps me to set time boundaries between different activities I schedule for the day and stay focused while working on each.

I have to say it wasn’t that easy to apply the Pomodoro technique to my daily routine. Sometimes I still forget to enable the timer or ignore the end of slot signal when I need some more minutes to finish the task but now I definitely have way more control and structure in my daily chaos.