Productivity as a WAHM: Count Down to Focus

June 16th, 2009

Hi again, I’m Nicole Dean, and I’ll be guest blogging here all week about “Productivity when Working from Home” as part of my Summer Blog World Tour. If you missed yesterday’s post, it was all about valuing and protecting the time that you spend working so that you aren’t working ALL the time.

I know that, when you are working from home and you have kids at home, you’re constantly conflicted. On one hand, you feel like you’re never able to get onto the computer to work. On the other hand, you feel like you’re on the computer all the time.

Some days, I would just sit and cry from frustration. I’d feel like I was letting everyone down in my life. I was letting my kids down by being crabby and not spending enough time with them. Letting my husband down by not making enough money and for not spending enough time with him. And, I was letting myself down for not making enough money, not being a good enough wife and mother, and not taking the time I needed to exercise. Bleck. So, I can certainly relate. We ALL face that feeling at some time or another.

One of the items that saved my sanity was a simple $7 tool. It has been invaluable in my business and has made me more money than any other investment that I’ve made.

Would you like to know what it is?

A simple Kitchen Timer.

For instance, right now, I’ve given myself 15 minutes to write as much as I can during that time. When the timer goes off, I will take a break and check on things around the house.

Now, you may think “Sure, Nicole. That may work for you. Your kids are 7 and 12. They’re older and can be left unsupervised for longer periods of time.”

True. It’s true. However, the timer is as much for me as it is for them. Here are a few reasons why it works to make me more productive.

It provides an Urgency.
I don’t know about you, but I can dilly-dally on my computer all day long and not get a thing done. I can take my time… write a bit and then think… and then write some more. Doo dee doo. You know the feeling? Well, when I know the timer is counting down and I’ve got to leave my desk no matter what I’m doing, when it starts beeping, all of a sudden I work a heck of a lot faster — and get a heck of a lot more done!

It keeps me Accountable.
I can’t wander off from this blog post. If I headed over to Twitter and the timer went off, I’d be busted. I have to stay on track because I have allotted time for guest blogging and I don’t want it to take 3 hours. I want it to take 15 minutes tops.

When I was in High School and College, I noticed that I’d always finish a project the night before it was due. It wouldn’t matter if the teacher gave me 3 days, 3 weeks, or 3 months to do it. I’d always finish the night before. And, not too long ago, I realized that I was the same way in my business. If I give myself 3 hours to write this blog post… that’s exactly how long it will take me. If I give myself 15 minutes… that’s exactly how long it’ll take me.

Now that’s not to say that I’ll do shoddy work. This is just a tool. Nothing more. If I get done with my writing after the timer beeps and this article is junk, then I’ll have to take another stab at it. And, of course, I’ll spend some time going over it again to make sure I covered everything that I wanted to.

The point is that I’ll be much further ahead in 15 minutes with a timer clicking down than I would just sitting down and thinking “ok, time to write a blog post”. It forces me to focus for 15 minutes. How else do you think I could guest blog for an entire summer without going totally insane?

It’s about me valuing my own time as much as others valuing it, too. Yes, I tell the kids “I’ll be writing for X minutes. If there’s an emergency, come and get me. Otherwise, I’ll be all yours when the timer goes off and we’ll (insert thing here whatever it may be).” I get a lot more focused work time out of my day when the kids understand the rules.

And, my kids and my hubby love the timer, too.

It’s tangible.
They see an actual number rather than hearing me say “I just need a few more minutes” – and then coming out of my office an hour later. In fact, I keep several timers in the house. When the kids were younger, they’d keep one to count me down, too. I would keep one by my desk and they’d take one with them to their rooms. They could watch the timer count down while they colored or played, knowing that I’d be all theirs when it got to zero.

It teaches them time management.
They are learning time management, too. When my daughter was five, I asked her to clean her room. She said “Can I please use a timer?” She got it already at that age. My 12 year old homeschools with me. He uses a timer a lot. It saves both of us from frustration and the feeling of “open-ended” assignments that never end. If I told him to read for “awhile” he’d become frustrated. If I tell him to read for “2 hours” — he’ll buckle down and start reading. It’s how he ticks. (Pun intended.)

They feel important.
My kids ask me to set a timer if I’m not using one, even when hubby is home and is watching them. They’ll come into my office and say “We want to go swimming. Please set a timer and then watch us?” I’ll set it for a certain number of minutes, work my bottom off, and then head outside to watch them in the pool.

If you don’t have a timer – or the kids ran off with yours, here’s an online version that I use. There are many others. Just search Google(tm) if you don’t like that one. Some you can choose the sound that plays when time is up. I just like the look of this one and the ringer isn’t obnoxious so it works.

Jimmy D. Brown – remember him? I mentioned him yesterday as being my mentor. Well, he recommends scheduling your day with exactly 45 minutes of focused time, alternating with 15 minutes of rest and going through that cycle 3 times per day. Yes, he’s built a huge business working only 3 hours per day max.

In fact, if you have $15 to spend, I highly recommend this course that he’s put together all about working from home. It’s one of my favorite reports that he’s written and I’ve read them all.

It’s called “Homepreneur Habits: How To Run A Successful Home Business

If you’re enjoying these tips, you’ll love his Homepreneur guide. He doesn’t share tips about working with kids underfoot, but he feels as I do that any time spent in front of your computer should be productive so that you have time left in the day to live your life as it was meant to be lived – taking care of yourself and spending time with those that you love.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more tips.

Nicole Dean – Summer Blog World Tour

17 Responses to “Productivity as a WAHM: Count Down to Focus”

  1. Can I Give you Prizes? on June 16, 2009 3:43 pm

    […] Count Down to Focus […]

  2. Courtney on June 16, 2009 4:45 pm

    Your post described me exactly! Using a kitchen timer sounds like a great idea. I will have to give it a try.

  3. Cathy on June 16, 2009 5:33 pm

    My kids are older but I often used the timer for the same reasons you do. I still use it just for myself to keep me focused.
    Within a few months, we will have a new baby in the house that I will b caring for while her mother works. Any ideas on how to work with a baby? It’s been so long I have forgotten what I did when my kids were babies but I don’t think I got much work done.

  4. Susan S on June 16, 2009 5:37 pm

    Wow, thanks for this! I love this idea and I will definitely pick up 2 timers this week. My son is home with me in the AM and goes to school in the afternoon (sis is at school all day) and I am famous for the “just give me a minute” and he won’t see me for an hour…
    He would love to have a timer to watch, and I definitely would become more productive instead of going back and forth between the 10 tabs I have open on my firefox browser 😉

    Thanks for the tip!

  5. FruitfulVine2 on June 16, 2009 7:00 pm

    OMG! This post is even better than the first one I wrote. I learned the 15min timer thing from FlyLady but sometimes don’t use it. Sometimes I get distracted by the boys or by myself and it takes a lot longer to write the post than I intended. Oh how I can relate. Thanks so much for tweeting about this. This is really helping me to refocus and do what is best for myself and my family especially now that I’ve begun to get paid reviews to do on my blog. Thanks again for tweeting about this.

  6. FruitfulVine2 on June 16, 2009 7:01 pm

    OOps sorry the first line is meant to read than the first one I read not wrote. Sorry.

  7. Cindy Bidar on June 16, 2009 7:41 pm

    I find that time tracking is useful in the same way. If I set my time tracker when I start working on x project, I tend to stay far more focused than if I’m just “working.” I have gotten out of the habit, but you’ve given me the incentive I need to get back in the habit of time tracking again. Thanks!

  8. Stephanie on June 16, 2009 9:00 pm

    Imagine that…a simple kitchen timer could help me turn things around and be sooooooooo much more productive each day! This is really a great idea! I’m heading downstairs to grab a timer from the kitchen right now! Can’t wait to see the results!

  9. Rhonda on June 16, 2009 11:35 pm

    I also love using scheduled time to help me get more focused. Before I get started, I write on a sticky note top priorities that I need to get done for the day. There’s no pressure if I can’t get it all done (leftover work goes on the sticky note for the next day)…and I do like to take refresher breaks in between!

    I’m going to try the 45 min. focused time and 15 min. break routine. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Corrie on June 17, 2009 1:00 am

    Nicole – that is great advice for any mom that has a business. Whether you work outside the home and run a business or you work strictly in the home these will help. Thanks for sharing. Corrie

  11. Ash on June 17, 2009 12:49 pm

    Good advice, I started using a timer recently too and it really helps in getting more done.

  12. Mary on June 17, 2009 1:20 pm

    Nicole, I feel like you are talking about me. Although my kids are adults now, I watch my 2 year old grandaughter everyday. And I totally get the frustration of trying to get work down with a small child. When you talked about being in High school and college I felt like you were talking about me.

    I cannot wait to implement the timer. Such a little thing, with such a huge impact. Thank you for all your great info.

  13. Dawn on June 17, 2009 3:48 pm

    Hmmm…I’ll have to dig out that timer. Thanks again Nicole, you are the best!

  14. Angie (Losing It and Loving It) on June 17, 2009 3:53 pm

    Hmm a timer..I think it’s time to try it out. I definitely have a lot more I need to get accomplished on a daily basis so this might help keep me on track.

  15. Lexi on June 18, 2009 1:17 pm

    The timer works great! I used it in 15-minute increments yesterday and here are my results:

    – I learned that I have developed such a short attention span, as if my brain has been trained to switch from one thing to another every 60 seconds. I couldn’t go 15 minutes without thinking to check my Email or Tweetdeck. Tsk, tsk!

    – I felt motivated to plough through tasks I didn’t particularly enjoy, knowing that the timer would soon go off and I could take a break.

    – The toddler didn’t get frustrated when he wanted me, because he knew that as soon as the timer rang, I could read him a story (or watch TV with him or whatever).

    – I realized I was accomplishing a lot in such a short time. All in all, I worked for under two hours yesterday… and yet all my Most Important Tasks were done. Much less frustration but greater feeling of accomplishment.

    – I did hate hearing the tick-tick-ticking of the kitchen timer. I think it made me a little nervous, as if a bomb were about to go off! So today I’ll be using my iPod’s timer instead.

    I’ll be using a timer to do focused work in chunks throughout the day. One thing, though: I do allow one – and only one – interruption during these times: my little boy.

  16. Nicole Dean on June 18, 2009 2:19 pm

    I am thrilled to hear how many of you are trying the timer trick. It does work and it’s so simple!

    Lexi, yeah, I forgot to mention — digital timer is less of a “ticking time bomb” feeling. :) And, as your son gets older, you can move to 20 minute blocks and then 30 minute block and then 45. But I don’t recommend working in blocks much larger than that because we tend to let our minds wander. So, break and play time and hugs and then another timed work stretch.

    Congrats all!

  17. Shannon on August 26, 2009 2:10 pm

    Nicole, I love the timer idea. When my kids were little, I found I could be very productive by focusing on the kids for about 30-40 minutes and then they would be fine to leave me alone for 20 minutes. And I could really focus in that 20 minutes. I’ve gotten away from that as they’ve gotten older. But a timer would be a great way for them to see when it’s okay to interrupt and when they need to wait. Going to have to give it a try. Thanks!!

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