Saturday, November 3, 2012

Pressed for Time

Okay, I have a confession to make that’s going to sound obsessive compulsive: I use a kitchen timer to help me with time management. This might sound like something you’d expect a from a software engineer in Silicon Valley, but not from a cross-cultural servant/housewife who lives in the Middle East, where time management is NOT a high priority.

I started using a timer for home school to keep my kids and me on task. We work for 25 minutes, take a 3 minute break, work for 25 minutes, and then break for ten.  Twenty five minute work sessions are supposed to help you to focus on your work and avoid interruptions. (This is the Pommodoro technique, named after the red tomato kitchen timer.)

While I certainly don’t want to live my life to the dictates of a timer, I use it occasionally after school as well. With so many demands, both at home and in ministry, it’s hard for me to stay focused on what I must do and to find time for what I want to do.

Using a timer to work for twenty-five minute Pommodoro’s helps me to:

Get started on large tasks, a little at a time.

Some tasks, like cleaning out my home school closet or writing a prayer letter, seem so overwhelming that I never get around to them. Breaking them down into shorter work sessions helps me to get started. Sometimes I make progress in small chunks by working for one or two 25 minute sessions over several days.

Avoid procrastinating

Honestly, I just don’t enjoy housework, so it’s easy to put it off!  Some days I tell myself, “You can do anything for 25 minutes,” and I set the timer and work like crazy on whatever seems most urgent at home. It’s amazing the difference just 25 minutes can make.

Avoid doing more work than a task merits

I’m a perfectionist, so I tend to spend too much time trying to get things perfect even when the task isn’t that important. For example, I send an e-mail ministry update every 3 weeks, and I could spend hours laboring to write a creative, brilliant letter, when in reality, all I need is a quick e-mail to let people know how we’re doing. It helps me to decide in advance how many Pommodoro’s I’ll need for a task and to try finishing in that amount of time.

Find time for hobbies and special projects

A reality for cross-cultural workers is that it is so hard to find time for ourselves. Writing is an outlet for me, but the only way I’m able to do it is in 25 minute time segments. Another personal project is to organize our last two years of digital photos, choose which ones to print, and frame some for our home.  It’s going to take forever, but I’m working on it, even if it’s just 25 minutes a week.  Making time to do the things I really want to helps me to be a happier wife and mother.

So do I sound totally obsessive-compulsive to you? What is your favorite time management trick?


  1. Take it from one who is obsessive-compulsive this sounds great. I love the idea of setting a timer - maybe it will motivate me to clean my house - or perhaps not!! Thankyou for you insight

  2. Thanks for these tips. I try to get the things I don't really like done first thing in the morning so I don't keep putting them off. :) Maybe a timer would help on those days when the "first thing in the morning" thing doesn't work!

  3. Going after things first thing in the morning is a great idea. I often notice that what I didn't do FIRST THING just ends up not getting done!

    Anna, it's good to know I'm not the only obsessive-compulsive cross-cultural mom!

  4. I love your timer ideas. So practical and clever. Sometimes it seems like I just have to force myself to do things, and a timer seems like it would really help. I also like to break big projects into lists that I can check off-like preparing for furlough. Then I feel like I'm making progress, even if the project isn't done. But lists that are too long can be overwhelming, so I also try not to write down too much at one time.

    Having accountability with the person who prints our monthly updates at the church really helps us get them done. Then, we turn that into an email for the month. And, I try to post pictures on Picasa once a month after we send out the update. That helps me stay on top of the pictures.

    1. I agree that lists can be too long and overwhelming! I try not to have more than 3 things on a to-do list! Posting pictures monthly is a great idea.

  5. I use a timer too! I know my guard must think I'm crazy when he keeps hearing the timer go off but it really helps me stay on task and manage my time. I thought I was the only one!

    1. Oh Nancy! You're helping me to feel lots better about myself! Thank you so much.

  6. Just a few weeks ago I ordered a timer from the States for just this purpose! I used to use this method, but thought I wouldn't want it here where everyone has such a different view of time. But I've found I still need it for MYSELF, even if no one can relate!

  7. Great advice...I have been thinking a lot recently about getting a timer...somehow I have home school 23 years without one, but this season of life I seem to get distracted and that would help my son and I both to stay on track...great post.