One of the hardest things as a work-at-home mom is fitting in all my work around having my kids home. Even when they aren’t here, I’m at home, so I’m tempted by housework, projects, and all the little things I could be doing instead of focusing on the task at hand. I’ve worked on figuring out some ways to keep productive and focused.
One of the simplest and most effective things I do is use something called the Pomodoro Method. The Pomodoro Method was developed by a grad student who was trying to come up with a better way to study. He (Francis Cirillo) decided to set a kitchen timer, work in short segments with short breaks and then repeat until his studying was done. He chose 25 minute-blocks, with five minute breaks. After 3-4 pomodoros (25-minute sessions), he took a longer 20-30 minute break. It worked so well he wrote a book about it. And over 2 million people have read it.
Um, gosh. He might be on to something here…
There are so many things I love about the Pomodoro Method, but my favorite thing is how it employs neuroscience to literally train my brain to stay focused.
For minds that tend to wander, repeating longer tasks helps connect longer synapses – yeah! If I’ve lost you, don’t worry. Just know that the Pomodoro Method is great tool to help build mental stamina for adults and kids who have a hard time focusing.
I know for myself when I feel my mind start to wander or the desire to get up and multi-task, I literally tell myself to stay focused and keep doing the work, that I can get up in 25 minutes and do whatever else just popped into my mind. To help, I keep a notebook handy to jot down any “To do’s” that try to slip into this time… I write it quickly on the list and get back to my work.
It’s amazing what you can get done when you focus on something for an uninterrupted half hour! An extra bonus for creatives is that once you’re able to zone into what you’re doing, you hit a groove and can work for much longer periods at a time.
As a mama of four who’s constantly trying to come up with ways to get kids to focus, I realized implementing the Pomodoro Method, or a variation thereof, is a great way to lure the kids into doing things that they might typically complain about. I came up with the following five, but I’m sure you can gear it toward anything you’re working on (decluttering a space, purging files, completing long-term projects, etc).
Time for homework? No problemo. Set the kitchen timer for 25 minutes and knock it out…. Takes longer than that? No worries. Do a series of two, take a long break, and come back to it. Or start back up tomorrow if it’s an ongoing project.
Many hands make light work. Many evenings I’ll look around the house and call for a quick clean up. Everyone has to come and pick up their items from the day so we can start the next morning with a clean slate. Rarely does it take 25 minutes, but setting a timer helps the kids know it will be short and sweet.
The time it really comes in handy is when we work together to clean the house from top to bottom. While it may take several Pomodoros, throwing on our favorite play list, and again having an end in sight, helps the kids know we won’t be at this all day. When they’re itching to be done, I can point to the timer and remind them it won’t be too much longer.
Some moms find sanity by implementing a quiet time during the afternoons. One great way to work up to longer times is by starting with something shorter, like a Pomodoro, and working up to two Pomodoros. Kids can learn how to extend their quiet play, especially if they can see the timer. If my kids are constantly at me with with grumbling and complaining (I’m bored, there’s nothing to do, etc) the first thing I do is give them a chore, the second is set the timer and tell them they can’t come back to complain until the timer goes off. It works like a charm to get them focused on something to do while the time ticks down. Rarely do they come back because just having the timer makes them focus on something other than complaining for that 25-minute block.
My kids tend to grumble about practicing their instruments. Pomodoros are a great length for someone who needs to practice, but isn’t going to be a concert musician. It’s enough time to work on scales, theory, and do deep practice on a song or two.
The best thing about using the Pomodoro Method with kids is how tangible it is for them. They can see the timer counting down and know that at some point in the very near future, they’ll be done with the task. Kids need a light at the end of the tunnel to keep their spirits up. Once you start using Pomodoros in one area, the idea will quickly resonate and you can use them for all sorts of things. Give it a try and let me know in the comments how it has worked for you.
NOTE: While a Pomodoro is a tad long for toddlers, I’ve effectively used timers from the time my kids were two years old to help incentivize kids to sit still, sit on the potty, sit and wait for dinner (practicing for restaurant waits), and taking a mental breather when overwhelmed.
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