Photo by Marcelo Leal on Unsplash

If you are at home with your kids and you have to work, keep reading. I promise you, this article is going to change your life!

Let me introduce you to the Pomodoro technique. https://francescocirillo.com/pages/pomodoro-technique

Now, I can’t take credit for this technique, but I can assure you it works wonders! My wife and I have been using the Pomodoro technique at work for a few years now. When we first discovered the technique, it really changed the output of our productivity in our 9–5 job. Rather than wasting days working on tasks, we would break things down into 30–40 minute tasks and work relentlessly and distraction free for that period of time. When the timer went off, we moved on to go walk around the building, talk with coworkers, or just relax for 20 minutes. We would repeat the process 5–7 more times and the day was over! The amount of productivity we got out of using this technique was extremely powerful. We would get things done in a very short period of time that otherwise would have taken days with the normal in office distractions.

Many of us are working from home now and we face new distractions. Both my wife and I work from home and both of our kids are at home with us as well. Unlike our adult coworkers, which we could easily run away from, it’s a lot harder to neglect your child during working hours. Thus, we decided to try out the Pomodoro technique with our kids and see how it would go. This is going to be a memoir of what and how we did it. Hopefully by the end of this article, you are inspired to go and try it yourself!

First Step

You are going to want to get a timer that allows you to set up timers for up to 60 minutes. Most documentation on Pomodoro will tell you that 25 minutes is the ideal time but I recommend you try different durations to see what works best for you and your family. We have found that 40 minutes of distraction free focus followed by 20 minutes of family time work best for us. Play with the timing and find out what works for you and your family.

At first, we tried using a mobile app as our timer, but the screen kept dimming and we were running out of battery quickly. Also, it meant that if we were on a call with our phones, we couldn’t use the timer because it would be a distraction. Naturally, we moved over to Alexa and had her set up timers for us. This was good and worked out well for us. We set up Alexa’s throughout the house and it allowed us to set up timers no matter where we were in the house.

And finally, if you don’t have a smart assistant in your home, you can purchase a Pomodoro timer from Amazon. The Pomodoro term means tomato so you’ll often find timers in the shape of a tomato. Any timer will do as long as it can do the maximum time interval that works for you and your family.

Starting Small

As adults, we tend to follow and understand instructions a lot better than children. . . well some of us at least. We had a 3 year old at the time of this endeavor, so we had to get a little creative when introducing our new technique. At first, it was extremely challenging for us. We set up a 5 minute timer just to teach the little one that for 5 minutes, he couldn’t talk to mommy and daddy. Obviously in 5 minutes, it’s difficult to get anything done, but the intent here was to introduce the younger child to learn that as long as the timer was running, he had to be independent and focus on his tasks. We would assign him tasks such as coloring, reading, puzzles, games, etc. After about a week and a half, we finally got to the point where our youngest understood that for 5 minutes he had to be on his own and wait until the timer went off before he could interrupt mom and dad.

Scaling Up

Once we mastered 5 minutes, we cranked it up to 10 minutes, then to 15, then to 20. 20 minutes was a sweet spot and so we modified the technique to work for our kids. My wife and I like to break up our tasks into 20 minute tasks and training our kids to be independent for 20 minute increments worked out really well. We’d all set up the timer for 20 minutes and all of us would go to work on our tasks. Our youngest would play a learning game, the older one would read a book, and mom and dad could focus for 20 minutes on a critical task at work. When the timer went off, we would have family time for 10 minutes. 10 minutes to run around the house, eat a snack, talk about anything the kids wanted to talk about. Then, when that 10 minute timer went off, we’d go back to focus work. We would do this for 4–5 rounds in the morning and then we’d break for lunch. This was an hour of us making lunch together and overall just spending time as a family during the day. After lunch, we repeat the morning cycle and make it to the end of the day.

Where we are now

The kids are a little older now and this technique has been a part of our lives for a few months now. We still have 40 minutes of focus work and 20 minutes of “play” every hour but we go straight 40 deep focus with 20 minutes of mental break and relaxation. When my wife or I have a meeting, we’ll alternate who takes the mental break with the kids (depending on who is free). But, sometimes meetings drag on and the kids have to take the breaks on their own. Also, our oldest is in class most of the morning and his schedule doesn’t always allow him to take breaks with us. Nonetheless, we try to get into the rhythm and work with at least the youngest since he requires the most attention anyways.

Recommendations

If you are struggling to be productive with your kids at home, give this technique a try. It’s highly customizable and I really do believe that once you get over the initial hump of getting everyone used to living by the timer, you’ll see excellent results.

You’ll want to plan out your day as well. My wife and I wake up two hours before our kids do in order to work on heavy tasks that require a lot of our time. The rest of the day is spent in this Pomodoro life so that we can maximize productivity and the time we spend with our kids. Try to break up tasks into 20–40 minute activities. Trust me, you are not going to be very productive if you don’t break up your tasks anyways.

Stick to the technique. It can be challenging and life gets in the way sometimes. But always reset and start with a 20 minute session whenever you deviate. Research shows that just a few Pomodoro sprints will yield far better results than “working” 8 hours in a row.

Final Thoughts

This technique might not be for everyone but I would urge you to give it a try. Set up a quick timer on your phone and give it a try. You literally have nothing to lose. Don’t give up if it doesn’t work right away. It took us well over a week to finally train our kids to recognize the pattern.

If you try this technique out with your family, I’d love to hear from you! What is working and what isn’t working? Let’s chat! Feel free to reach out to me on social media. https://apetech.me/social is where you can find me and everything that I’m working on.

I’m an engineer working professionally in San Diego, CA. I’m trying to improve every day and use this space to document. Connect: apetech.me/social

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