I have a lot of plates spinning in my life right now. I work full-time as a worship and children’s pastor at a church; I’m going back to school to get a Master’s degree; I love spending time with my husband and daughter; I substitute teach fitness classes at a local gym. I also try to make sure I’m caring for myself in all of this madness as well, I try to eat well, drink plenty of water, exercise regularly, oh, and sleep.
How do I make all of this happen?
Well, for one, it doesn’t all happen. There are things every week that are left undone, but I have found one, simple thing I can do that helps me maximize my productivity so that I can leave as few things as possible on the “not done” list.
I set a timer.
The technique is called Pomodoro. The basic premise is that you shift your attitude about time from time being your enemy (“beat the clock”) to time being on your ally. By setting a timer for a determined work interval, you prime your brain to focus more and work harder, because you know a break is coming.
Here’s how it works:
Official Pomodoro Technique suggests you choose a task, set a timer for 25 minutes, and then devote yourself to working on the task without interruption or distraction for the full 25 minutes. After the work cycle, take a short break (5-10 minutes) to stretch, drink some coffee, or do something otherwise refreshing. Repeat this work-short break cycle three times, then after the fourth work cycle take a longer break (20-30 minutes)
I work from home half of the week. Those days are largely devoted to the administrative side of the ministries I run, and to homework. I am immensely grateful for the flexibility working from home allows, but the freedom and flexibility can be a double-edged sword if I don’t make a plan for how I will use my time.
The Pomodoro Technique has proved immensely helpful since I started following it three months ago.
Here’s an example of what a Pomodoro work day looks like for me:
9:00 am – Pomodoro 1: Planning
My first Pomodoro each day is spent setting out specific goals and tasks for that day. I use a Bullet Journal to “Rapid Log” these things.
I make note of which tasks will require undivided attention, and which can be easily accomplished after my daughter comes home from school. I also try to identify which tasks on the list may be suitable to work on during breaks – for example, I can put laundry away in small, five-minute chunks.Once I’ve logged what needs to be accomplished for the day, I use any remaining time to check my email and my phone and follow-up with any quick response communications.
9:25 am – Break 1: Coffee.
9:30 am – Pomodoro 2: Content creation tasks
I’ve found that I do my best work earlier in the day, so I make it a priority to do any tasks related to content creation in the morning. “Content creation” for me can be anything from working on lessons plans for the after school program I run; curating the music for the weekly worship service, or writing a paper for school.
9:55 am – Break 2: More coffee.
10:oo – 11:00 am – Pomodoro 3 and 4: Content creation tasks
11:30 am – Long Break
Sometimes I use this break for lunch. Other times, I will try to schedule
meetings in this time frame, or I will use this time to work on a more time
consuming household task – like cleaning the bathroom. I also check my email
and phone/text messages at this time.
12:00 pm – Pomodoro 5: Reading Assignments
In the afternoon I alternate assigned readings and mundane work tasks (like
emails and updating spreadsheets) to prevent brain burnout. If I didn’t eat
lunch during the long break, sometimes I’ll eat while I do my first reading
12:25 pm – Break: Walking or stretching
Afternoons feel sluggish to me, so I try to use my breaks to do something
physical to keep me energized – even if it’s just walking from room to room in
12:30 pm – Pomodoro 6: Mundane work tasks
This is the time I block off for emails or phone calls which require a longer
response. I’ll also use this time if I need to file or organize papers, clean or
restock classrooms, etc. These are maintenance tasks, not creative tasks.
12:55 pm – Break: Walking or stretching
1:00-2:00pm – Pomodoro 7 and 8: Homework and more mundane work tasks
2:00-2:20 pm – Break: Evaluate and prioritize remaining tasks
When 2 o’clock rolls around I pause to prioritize the tasks remaining in my
daily rapid log. I leave to pick up my daughter from school at 3pm, so I look
to see which things I most need to accomplish before getting her from
school. I’ll also take some time to walk or stretch in this break time.
2:20 – 3:00 pm – Modified Pomodoro’s to complete priority tasks
For the last 40 minutes of my uninterrupted work day I work through as
many of my prioritized tasks as I can. Rather than using a set 25 minute
interval I set the timer based on the amount of time I think I’ll need to
accomplish a task. For example, if I have one more important email to
reply to I may only set the timer for 5-10 minutes. If I have a major reading
assignment, I may use the whole 40 minutes for that assignment. I omit
breaks during this cycle knowing that for the remainder of the day my
attention will be divided.
After my daughter arrives home from school I continue working through remaining tasks and errands that I earmarked during my planning Pomodoro.
It’s not a perfect system, but the simple act of setting a timer during my workday has increased my productivity, boosted my mood, and kept me from feeling so overwhelmed in this full time of life.
Have you ever heard of the Pomodoro Technique? What strategies for organizing your day have you found helpful?
Megan Westra is on the pastoral staff at Transformation City Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She also blogs regularly at http://www.crazylovemke.com. Megan lives with her husband Ben, and her daughter, Cadence Grace in the inner city of Milwaukee as part of an intentional relocation movement within her church. Megan recently began studying at Northern Seminary, pursuing a Master of Divinity. She loves to read, run, practice yoga and she’s an unapologetic coffee snob.