Teleworking and Avoiding Pitfalls (3/3)

In my previous posts, I talked about focused work and fruitful breaks while teleworking. I wanted to end with some practical tips for avoiding pitfalls

For me, the most dangerous time with the extended Pomodoro strategy is the transition between breaks and work. If I’m not careful, a 15-minute break can stretch to 20 minutes, then 30, then even longer.

Here are a few thoughts on how to be disciplined with re-starting work after a break:

  1. Start Well with Work not Rest – Some productivity gurus swear by making your bed to begin the day. The idea is to begin with an action that sets a tone of discipline and self-control for the rest of the day. Start well and discipline flows naturally; start poorly and invite disorganization. This might sound hokey, but I’ve found the principle to be true with work. Early on with teleworking, I’d spend my first moments browsing social media, sports, and tech news. Seems harmless enough, but by beginning the day with distraction, it became easier to be undisciplined throughout the day. These days, I try to set a better tone by jumping straight into planning out the workday (30 min) and then a 45-minute Pomodoro session.
  2. Avoid Distracting Websites During Breaks – In his article on deep breaks, Cal Newport warns against choosing break activities that expand outside of a 10-15 minute time window. It’s easy to start scrolling through social media or watching a YouTube video, reach your time limit, and think to yourself, “Just 5 minutes more.” Another side effect of distracting websites: your break will feel like it’s gone in the blink of an eye. In contrast, try walking around the block without headphones. The 15-minutes will feel much longer and you’ll really have a chance to think and catch your breath.
  3. Plan Your Next Breaks and Focus Session – Before going on your break, I’ve found it helpful to jot down what you’ll do during the 15-minute break and what you’ll do when you’re return. It’s a small step, but you’re being intentional and defining your next steps, instead of approaching them blindly.
  4. Be Flexible but also Disciplined in Returning to the Cycle – We don’t always have full control over our schedules. There will be times when meetings, trainings, other phone calls, will interrupt your 45-15 minute time blocks. Be flexible but also be disciplined in getting back to your Pomodoros. For instance, it’s easy for me to be lazy after I’ve had a long, tedious meeting. I need to be careful to limit myself to a 15-minute break and then focus, instead of lapsing into distraction.
  5. Use an Actual Timer – Actual timers, whether physical or digital, add an external source of accountability. Besides that, before I used a timer, I would just judge my calendar in 15 minute windows If I slacked and took a break until 2:37, it was easy for me to think: “Ah, I’ll just wait until 2:45.” Timers can help you stick to the 45-15 minute rhythm no matter the time.

My hope with these reflections is to brainstorm out loud about how to both faithful (Col 3:23-24) and balanced at work. With the 45-minute focus sessions, I can do good work and meet my deadlines. With the 15-minute breaks, I can rest and or knock out personal tasks that otherwise would build up and cause stress. While this may not be peak productivity, together, this rhythm of work and rest feels sustainable in these odd, unprecedented times.

Until next time!


Teleworking and Focusing with Pomodoros (1/3)

Telework has its clear benefits. No more early commutes or fighting for parking spots. Now, I can leisurely enjoy my mornings, or, if I’m feeling lazy, roll out of bed 2 minutes before work. It’s been a blessing that my wife and I have been able to spend extended time together to begin our marriage, instead of me being gone at the office most of the day.

But telework poses challenges too, especially as a Christian seeking to honor God through faithfulness at work. Working from home means less accountability and easier access to distraction. Sadly, this has often resulted in wasted hours, sometimes even days, at work.

In this post, I want to talk about creating a rhythm of focused work while teleworking, using the well-known Pomodoro technique. I still have a long way to go, but this strategy has helped me and hopefully can be of some benefit to you too.

The Pomodoro method is a commonly recommended strategy in productivity circles. Here is the basic jist: Pick a task, work for 25-minutes, followed by a 5 minute break. Repeat this cycle several times, then take a longer 15-30 minute break.

My main gripe with the Pomodoro technique is the 5-minute breaks. There’s not much you can do during a that time. So for me, I’ve found it more helpful to extend both the focus and break time: 45 minutes and 15 minute breaks

Overall, the Pomodoro creates an enjoyable rhythm to my day. In the past, I’d often release my willpower in one concentrated burst, but I’d let myself take an even longer break. With the Pomodoro technique, I’m able to get into a groove after a few cycles, and make good progress on my work while still enjoying my breaks.

In the next post, I’ll brainstorm some ideas for how we can use those 15 minute breaks. Until next time!