July 31, 2013 6:56 PM
I have been working from home for several years now. Yes, it is pretty awesome most of the time, but there are challenges. One of those is maintaining motivation and productivity on a normal schedule. Since these are not unique to working at home, I decided to share what I have found to work well.
It was a few years ago that I first learned about the Pomodoro Technique. The concept is to work in focused, 25-minute increments with short breaks after each increment. After four of these increments, take a longer break. The name comes from the Italian for “tomato,” because the creator used the tomato-shaped kitchen timer.
I thought this time management technique was pretty clever, but I did not actually implement it regularly until Todd Grotenhuis mentioned a web application that made it really easy. The application is tomatoi.st and it does not require any signup. Click “Pomodoro” and a 25-minute countdown starts. When it finishes, you will hear a chime. Then click “Short Break” and a 5-minute countdown starts. Lather, rinse, repeat. It keeps track of which action is next and makes the appropriate button green, so you do not need to spend time remembering whether you're taking a short or long break next.
My workflow is to pick a specific task to focus on, close my email, then start the timer and work on just that task. On the short break I will usually get up and walk around while reading a book. This is good for a mental shift as well as a bit of exercise in my sedentary occupation. I try to avoid checking my email except after the long breaks, which works out to about every two hours.
I can definitely notice a difference in my productivity when I use the Pomodoro Technique vs. working straight through. I also notice I tend to be less stressed by work frustrations, because I can focus on them for shorter periods and then think about something entirely different for a few minutes on breaks.
I imagine this could work well for a variety of tasks, especially if you do not have a PHB asking why you're taking micro breaks so often. :] Let me know if you use any interesting productivity techniques.