With a big new project on the horizon, I recently took a long, hard look at how I spend my days as a work-at-home mama. With my 47th birthday looming this Autumn, there were some things that I really want to do with my life, such as changing my relationship with stress to one of respect and discipline and launching the new “thing.” Plus, my middle-aged glutes have gone AWOL (more on that later), so working in a little more “working out” seemed sensible.
Thinking through ways to hack my schedule in order to get more out of it–including some self-care, I spent some time refreshing myself with the Pomodoro Technique. It was created years ago by a man named Francisco Cirillo, and here’s a good, in-a-nutshell description from Wikipedia:
[The time-management technique] uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. These intervals are named pomodoros, the plural in English of the Italian word pomodoro (tomato), after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Cirillo used as a university student.
Over the years, I’ve tinkered off and on with “pomodoros.” Until this summer, however, I couldn’t get it to click and stick. And then, suddenly, clickety-click-click-click.
When the transformation happened, I’d just purchased a new book (see the end of this post) on the topic to test drive for my middle-school aged homeschooler. Reading and thinking about it–after attending a workshop on the “power of three”–I had an epiphany.
That morning, with pencil, paper, and my usual master “to-do list” in front of me, I sketched out some pomodoro “trios” that clock in at just over an hour (one hour and 9 minutes, to be precise). Granted, one usually divides a big task into smaller sub-tasks and assigns pomodoros for each of them–and that’s great if you have hours of uninterrupted time. For me, it made more sense to cluster three pomodoros, each focusing on a different part of my master schedule, and trim the time blocks by five minutes. This allowed me to create a satisfying “power hour” in which I cranked out progress on some smaller projects or to-do list items.
Below are some power hour templates I generated. Tinker with them to get them to work for you and your to-do list. Note that to get the most out of each pomodoro (highlighted in red) you have to really focus on the topic at hand during the working phases. In between them, you have to truly step away from what you’re doing. Stretch, grab a cup of tea or coffee, take a bathroom break–whatever.
Parents of young kids: with patience and practice you can train your littles refrain from interrupting you until the timer goes off. Things like extra cuddles during breaks, shorter pomodoros (start with ten minutes) or exclusive access to a fave toy while you’re working can be motivators. [ETA: I don’t need to clarify that when I say “work-at-home” parents, I include SAHMs, right? There was just so much space in that graphic for a lot of words.]
Power Hour Plan #1
Social Media (20 minutes) + 3-minute break + Cardio (20 minutes) + 3-minute break + Email & Phone Calls (20 minutes)
This is great for those days when I need to some scheduling, writing, and tinkering activities for my blog and Facebook pages–when I want to catch up with people but need a reminder to get off the computer! It’s also handy for replying to emails and scheduling appointments.
Power Hour Plan #2
Rest (20 minutes) + 3-minute break + Tidy House (20 minutes) + 3-minute break + Email, Social Media, and Calls (20 minutes)
Maybe it’s because I’m getting older—or maybe I’m just lazy, but I need a break in the early afternoon. I tend to go to extremes—taking too much or too little—but with this plan I force myself to lie down in silence. It really does help. (This might pair well with sleeping daytime babies.)
Power Hour Plan #3
Fold Laundry (20 minutes) + 3-minute break + Write/Edit/Read (20 minutes) + 3-minute break + Exercise (20 minutes)
Don’t laugh but I discovered, thanks to Airrosti, that I have sitting-induced “butt amnesia.” Okay, do laugh. It sounds funny. But the thing is that when I get into a state of flow with my writing, I can get stuck in one position. That’s not good for my body. Working movement into my day is “doctor’s orders,” hence Plan #3 was born.
(Because I have to ice my muscles a couple times a day–part of my “amnesia recovery,” I have another variation of this plan that includes icing while writing and editing.)
Power Hour Plan #4
Garden (20 minutes) + 3-minute break + Write/Edit (20 minutes) + 3-minute break + Clean Kitchen or Bathroom or Living Room (20 minutes)
Since this blog was originally launched as a garden blog, it seems fitting to work the gardening in there. Naturally, you could just go “Garden / Break / Garden” and hit repeat, but if you’re staying in one position in your flower bed, that’s not much better for your own glutes than sitting on a chair. Okay, so you are outside, granted,
butt but still.
Power Hour Plan #5
Tidy House (20 minutes) + 3-minute break + Tidy House (20 minutes) + 3-minute break + Tidy House (20 minutes)
This is based upon a friend’s strategy for getting her whole family to help with housework. You might want to tinker with it and give kids more time for breaks—perhaps play a round of basketball, a game of UNO, or let them have a little screen time.
Power Hour Plan #6
Yoga (20 minutes) + 3-minute break + Meditation (20 minutes) + 3-minute break + Warm Shower or Bath (20 minutes)
This last trio is great for helping you craft and enforce the ever-elusive self-care (a.k.a. “me time”). All the better if you can get your spouse, partner, or a babysitter to cover for you. (Tip: “gift” a free hour to a friend and she might return the favor.)
Power Hour Plan #7
Calls, Planning, and Scheduling (20 minutes) + 3-minute break + Walk (20 minutes) + 3-minute break + Reading for Pleasure (20 minutes)
This plan is nifty because it is portable and you can potentially pair it up with your kids’ extracurricular activities. Maybe even have younger, tag-along kids work with you on the timer thing?
Currently I am working on building the daily habit of scheduling at least two power hours into my weekdays. My daily life isn’t ordered well enough to reliably have 8 hours of uninterrupted work (like a traditional office work day), but the constant looking at my master to-do list to figure out where I can knock chunks of it out has a weird side effect.
I actually feel more vibrant and creative.
“Seriously? All because you got more organized and focused by thinking about a tomato-themed productivity technique?” you ask.
Hopefully, the ideas in this post will spark some positive changes in your life, too.
• My brilliant friend (and fellow gifted child advocate) Jade Rivera wrote a Pomodoro Technique-inspired post last year, specifically for parents and educators of gifted/twice-exceptional kids. You can read it here.
• Another friend’s husband has a new, minimalist meditation app that I’m loving for rest periods. It comes in 1-minute or 5-minute packages, but you can actually drag out the 5-minute option to a full twenty. (I used it while working on this post, in fact!)
Relevant & Recommended on Amazon:
Below are some Amazon Affiliate links to products related to this post. If you purchase products through these links, it’s like giving me a “tip” for this post–but don’t forget your local bookseller, library, or resale shop. (Note: My FTC disclosure notice for Amazon.com appears at the very bottom of the blog.)
• Pomodoro Technique Illustrated is the book that helped me better grasp the method. The text is a little dry at times but there are awesome PICTURES!