Balancing Work at Home with Pomodoro

Healthy Red Tomatoes with Water Drops

For me, this summer has been a time of extremes: I go outside to be active for an hour or two, then come back into my basement to stare at a screen for many more hours on end. I know this isn’t healthy: the medical warnings surrounding sitting have only gotten more dire over the past year, and being active at other times of the day isn’t enough to counteract the impact. Working at home amplifies the problem: I don’t have a reason to go visit other people in the building or go teach to break up my schedule, and unlike some of my fellow ProfHackers I haven’t yet converted to a standing desk.

While I promised myself when summer began that I would regularly set the computer aside, the reality looked more like marathon sessions of sitting. So I started using a timer to keep myself on target. A few years ago, Cory Bohon outlined the timeboxing technique Pomodoro, named for a tomato-shaped kitchen timer and based on working for 25 minutes with 5 minute breaks and a longer break every four sessions. (You can learn more about the technique itself here.)

I’ve used the breaks for enforcing healthier practices for my work at home:

  • Stand and stretch for the shorter breaks. I like to get outside and readjust my eyes to sunlight, even if it’s only for a moment. No sitting, and definitely no checking Twitter or Facebook. (Or at least, that’s my goal.)
  • Exercise or take a walk during longer breaks. I like NerdFitness’s 20 Minute Hotel Workout for ideas that don’t require any equipment. Fitness games can be a great break too, although not as great for getting away from screens.
  • Dedicate at least one pomodoro to active goals. When I’m working at home, there’s plenty of other things that need doing: laundry, cleaning, organizing materials for the new semester, and so forth. I set aside a few work sessions a day for those activities, especially the ones that won’t be easy to catch up on once fall hits.

Pomodoro times are definitely worth altering to suit your pace–I tend towards 30 minutes at work, 10 at rest, with 25 minute longer breaks. George noted that using Pomodoros made him more aware of how long things take–I’ve already learned that things like writing this ProfHacker post take at least one more “pomodoro” than anticipated, and likewise a walk can easily become its own pomodoro rather than a five minute break. Cory adds that these time restraints can be challenging: some things don’t fit in 25 minutes, and a lot of work gets fit into much smaller periods. Dan Quigley conquered timer anxiety by finding a more natural way to create flows of work and breaks.

I like using an app so I can take my phone with me on breaks and know when it’s time to go back to the keyboard. My current go-to is Focus Time (iOS): it offers a good range of alarms, which don’t interrupt my concentration too much if I decide I need to finish something to keep in the flow, and there’s lots of options for controlling time at work and rest.

Have you used pomodoros or another timebox technique? What are your strategies for balance when working at home?

[CC BY 2.0 Photo by Flickr User epSos]

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