Lately, I’ve had productivity methods on my mind. Well, let’s face it, they’re always somewhere on the brain, whether I’ve had a slow day and I’m figuring out how to avoid another one, or I was wonderfully productive and hoping for a repeat performance the next day.
Only recently have I figured out that an ordinary household task can boost my productivity: laundry.
Well, this is useless, you might be thinking. I work at an office and I can’t do laundry there. Not true! I have something for you too, even if your employer hasn’t invested in washing machines. So bear with me while I tell you a story.
A Laundry Story
My laundry days used to be super unproductive. I’d have to keep interrupting my work to move dirty clothes around, and then I’d have to fold them. Ugh. So I’d try to delegate laundry to the weekends.
But one day – a weekday – I’d forgotten to do laundry over the weekend. I also had a significant amount of writing to do that day. So I set a tight schedule. I packed my clothes into the washer and set a timer on my phone. As soon as that timer rang, I’d rush down to the laundry room and get those clothes in the drier.
Since I had a lot on my plate, naturally, I’d do work while my clothes were washing. This gave me two 30- to 40-minute chunks of intensely productive time. And thus, the laundry Pomodoro method was born.
The Pomodoro Technique
If you already know what the Pomodoro technique is, you probably have me pegged. This post is about combining Pomodoro with household chores. You got me. But it’s been effective for me ever since I started laundry Pomodoro.
The Pomodoro Technique, if you don’t know, is a way to structure your time and stay productive. It was invented by Francesco Cirillo, who used a Pomodoro or tomato-shaped timer, hence its namesake. The method is this: set a timer for 25 minutes and work during that time. Then give yourself a 5-minute break. Rinse and repeat for as long as needed. But since we human beings are only able to focus for so long, take a longer, 15-minute break after you’ve completed three or four pomodoros.
You can vary the time of your breaks and number of pomodoros, but the basic premise is:
This method has been so well-received that there’s a Cirillo company with Pomodoro courses, Pomodoro certifications you can earn, and a Pomodoro book.
So Why Laundry?
So if this method is so effective, why did I bother adding laundry to the equation? Is this my attempt at a unique spin? Some cheap gimmick I picked up in the process of writing for marketing agencies?
Fortunately no. I bring in laundry because the Pomodoro technique doesn’t work for me.
I mean, I’m sure if I used it consistently, it would be helpful. But it’s getting there that’s the problem. I just can’t motivate myself to use pomodoros. It’s annoying to always set a timer. I always go over or under the times I set. Sometimes I’d rather just charge ahead for a couple hours without stopping for a break.
That’s where laundry comes in. Laundry is set in stone.
What I mean is, there’s no going under the time limit for laundry. If I do, I’m just wasting time while the washing machine continues to run. And if I go over the set time, my clothes will stay soggy in the washer or get wrinkled in the dryer.
The result is an enforced Pomodoro that I have no choice but to obey. But since laundry is only once a week, I don’t feel constrained or annoyed by the time limits. Instead, it’s fun to see how much I can accomplish in two Pomodoros of laundry.
What to Do if Your Dog Won’t Let You Work: A Practical Guide
Working from home can be pretty awesome. But it’s also ridiculously distracting. And most of the time, my dogs are part of the problem.
When your dog needs your attention, nothing matters. Not schedules. Nor deadlines. Nor client calls. Your dog has decided that she needs your attention right now. And she’s let you know by strange high-pitched bark-whines, sharp swats to your leg, or jumping up and down repeatedly.
So when your dog won’t let you work, what do you do?
Fear not, as an experienced work-from-home dog parent, I have developed several tried and true strategies for working with a needy pet.
Strategy #1: Lap time.
If your dog is under 20 pounds, the best option may some low-maintenance cuddling. That’s basically what sitting in your lap is like. Continue to type away while reaching down to give your dog the occasional stroke. Your dog will also function as a living, breathing heat pack, which is excellent for cold and rainy days.
Side effects of this strategy may include an inability to use the restroom, get up to find snacks, general muscle stiffness in the legs, or pins and needles. In severe cases, sit your dog down to have a serious conversation about limits.
Since my dog is a cuddler, most of the time this works best. But if your dog doesn’t get as much enjoyment from being in your mere presence – and absorbing your body heat – as mine does, read on.
Strategy #2: Break time.
Sometimes your dog bothering you can be a good thing. Because instead of brushing them off, you might stop and realize that you’ve been sitting in the same spot for quite a while, and maybe it’s time for a break.
So follow your dog’s lead and run around. Fake chase them around the house. Play tag. Stretch your own legs while making it seem like your sole purpose in getting up was to give them attention. They’ll love it.
Although this strategy is excellent, I caution you against using it too often, which can lead to chronic unproductiveness and where-did-the-time-go-itis.
Strategy #3: Food break.
Your dog’s attention-seeking antics might also remind you that you’re hungry. In that case, how much work did you think you were going to get done anyway? You can only be so productive on an empty stomach. And usually that means not very productive.
Instead, take your dog to the kitchen where both of you can enjoy a well-deserved snack (at least on one party’s end, anyway). If for whatever reason you have reservations about giving your dog a treat at the moment, give them a “healthy” treat like a vitamin or one of those teeth brushing bones. They’ll love it just the same.
Excessive use of food breaks may result in canine chubbiness.
Strategy #4: Work laying down.
Okay, here me out. I realize this may sound like a bizarre, not-very-useful strategy, but in my dog’s case, it works. Whenever I’m laying on my stomach, my dog likes to come over and lay on my butt. Apparently I’m pretty comfy. I’m not going to question it.
So occasionally, when I need a change of pace, I’ll grab my laptop or a notebook or a book and lay down to work. It’s only a matter of minutes before my dog follows suit.
Strategy #5: Mild threats.
So far these strategies have all been nice. Go along with whatever your dog wants, I seem to be saying. What a pushover parent, you might be thinking, but you’d be wrong. Sometimes I threaten my dog. Mildly. It’s important to note that these threats are mild.
Of course, you can tell your dog no, or keep them in a separate room, but those are pretty boring suggestions in my book. You can figure out the boring strategies on your own. What I’m suggesting, if you’re fed up with your dog and not in the mood to cuddle, is to be a little passive aggressive.
Sometimes, while my dog is sitting in my lap and my legs have gotten tired, I’ll run my fingers through Lhasa Apso hair and note that I should probably comb her soon. Suddenly, she’s perfectly willing to leave. You might also mention baths, cutting toenails or other necessary activities that your dog finds distasteful.
So don’t let your dog prevent you from getting your work done. From cuddling to breaks to cautionary words, you can find a strategy that works for you.
Disclaimer: Of course, some dogs seek attention excessively because of issues like separation anxiety. You should definitely consult a professional, or at least a more reputable source if your dog’s behavior is serious.
Here are a couple resources that make me question my dog parenting legitimacy, but are also useful:
I’m always reading too many books at once. If I count – like my friend forced me to count my succulent collection recently – it turns out I’m currently reading 10 books. (I’m not yet ready to publicly share how many succulents I have. That information would just be distracting anyway.) Of course, some of these books are in a hiatus sort of situation, and I should probably just start over because it’s been so long since I last opened them.
But other books I don’t feel bad about reading so incrementally slowly. Because these are “short burst” kind of books.
What are Short Burst Books?
A concept I just made up. I’ve been thinking about becoming a researcher lately, and researchers need to be able to make up new words and concepts at the drop of a hat. So don’t go throwing this phrase around and expecting people to get it.
But in my mind, short burst books are books broken into a lot of small essays. Usually, these essays are densely packed with information, inspiration, or just general goodness. So it’s better, actually, to only read a little bit at a time so your brain can really take it in.
Alternatively, maybe you only read bursts of these books when you feel uninspired, or discouraged, or need a kick in the butt to get going. Short burst books are excellent for that.
Okay, okay, you might be thinking. This short burst concept seems reasonable. Let’s see some of these books already.
I hear you. Just one more thing – this short list of short burst books is all about art. So if you’re not an artist, you might not be interested in the first book. If you have absolutely no desire to engage in any creative pursuits ever, you won’t care for the second book. And if you’re not a living, breathing human being, the third book won’t apply to you.
The Art Spirit – Robert Henri
The Art Spirit is the most artsy book on this list. Its author, Robert Henri, was a famous and well-followed American painter and teacher during his time, which was 1865 to 1929.
Henri made important contributions to the art world, being part of the Ashcan School of Art and mysterious sound group The Eight (just kidding they were just a group of eight American painters). They challenged impressionism and academic standards of art at the time. I won’t go into it here because I’m not very knowledgeable on the subject myself, but you can read up on Ashcan and The Eight if you wish.
Because he’s such a big deal, Robert Henri didn’t even compose a book. The Art Spirit is a compilation of his works, speeches, letters, and instruction to students. The subtitle in my copy reads:
“Notes, Articles, Fragments of Letters and Talks to Students Bearing on the Concept and Technique of Picture Making, the Study of Art Generally, and on Appreciation.”
It does the book a disservice since the contents are far more interesting than the description. Henri and his editor Margery Ryerson have crammed The Art Spirit with excellent tips on art, motivation, and more specifically painting.
I have trouble ever getting very far in one sitting because I feel like I need to stop and paint so I can apply Henri’s advice. Perhaps because most of the fragments were written directly at his students, reading the book feels like you have a real, in-the-flesh artist speaking to you. A compact art teacher for busy artists on the go. (That sounded strange – sorry art teachers.)
It’s probably better if you just read some quotes for yourself. Like these broad art-teacher-y quotes:
“An interest in the subject; something you want to say definitely about the subject; this is the first condition of a portrait.”
“A weak background is a deadly thing.”
…to the specific and sometimes odd quotes:
“The white of the eye is more often the same color as the flesh about it than the average painter is likely to think it to be.”
“The eyebrow must not be drawn hesitatingly.”
…to the motivational, of course:
“Don’t worry about your originality. You could not get rid of it even if you wanted to. It will stick with you and show up for better or worse in spite of all you or anyone else can do.”
The War of Art -Steven Pressfield
Next on the list is a better-known work of creative inspiration. The War of Art is a motivational staple for creatives of any sort. I first borrowed this book from the library. I read the first chapter, a preface of sorts called “What I Do.”
Hey, this is me, I thought. This is the kind of routine that I need to be figuring out for myself.
At the surface level, the intro is relatively mundane compared to the rest of book. All Pressfield does is outline his daily routine as a writer. But read through my freelance writer eyes, Pressfield stirred up aspiration (I need to figure out my routine too!) and trust (this guy knows my life). I was ready to soak up everything this pro-writer was saying. I still am.
Steven Pressfield’s advice doesn’t just apply to writers. Visual artists, musicians, homemade crochet craft business owners – go for it. Read this book.
The War of Art is a series of short essays that deals with the creative’s worst enemy – writer’s block, artist’s block, lack of motivation, procrastination – all summed up as something he dubs Resistance.
He has three sections; defining Resistance, combating Resistance, and beyond Resistance. The chapters are super short, not even a page long in some cases, so you have no excuse to not give it a shot.
As my conclusion, here’s one chapter that I thought was Instagram-worthy:
Resistance and Self-Doubt
Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? And I really an artist?” chances are you are.
The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.
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Real Artists Have Day Jobs – Sara Benincasa
Maybe someone will call me out on this one. So I have to beat them to it.
You got me. This one isn’t really an art book. But it’s definitely a short burst book. Real Artists Have Day Jobs is informative, motivational, and funny. So if you’re a living, breathing human being, you’ll probably like at least a chapter or two. And there are 52 of them.
I bought this book on a whim. Somehow, during an Internet procrastinating session that spiraled out of control, I found Benincasa’s book on Amazon. Since I was already procrastinating from something, I spent another good 20 to 30 minutes reading through the preview.
Wait, you might be thinking, Amazon previews aren’t even that long, how did she waste so much time reading a book preview?
Well, here’s an Amazon pro-tip for you: Start reading from the beginning and read all the pages that are available. Then go back to the table of contents. If the chapter titles have hyperlinks, you’re in luck! Click to read as many chapter previews as you want.
While milking the preview for its full worth, I realized quickly that despite the title, there wasn’t a whole lot of art in this book. That’s mostly in the first chapter. But the other chapters, which fall under the subtitle “And Other Awesome Things They Don’t Teach You in School” were pretty fun.
The more I read, the more I laughed. Benincasa has some outrageous stories. And she’s a comedian, so you can’t go wrong there. Her book is aimed at a millennial audience, so I suppose if you’re sufficiently old and wise, you might not be as amused. Maybe you’d just roll your eyes. But if you’re young, young-ish, or feel young, some of these will definitely resonate with you.
You’ll get more out of this book if you read whole chapters, not just a smattering of quotes, so I’ll just end with some memorable chapter titles (out of the ones that are not NSFW):
When You Don’t Know What to Do, Ask a Successful Woman
Wear a Weird Hat
The Power of Being a Dork
When You Can’t Figure Something Out, Put Yourself in Water
I’ll tell you now – so that you can’t say I never told you so – that I’m only in the middle of reading all of these books. I haven’t finished any of them. And if I keep going at my short burst pace, I won’t be done with them for a while. But I’ve been sufficiently impressed enough with each book to share them with you.
So give them a shot, if you want, but don’t blame me for any bombs dropped at the end.