I am a person who is easily distracted, y'all. Even just now, sitting down to write this post, I spent ten minutes cruising Facebook because something caught my eye. And in the midst of checking out whatever that was, I was led astray by something else… and before you know it, the clock had moved ten minutes further, and I had forgotten why I opened up my browser. Sigh.
So it should not surprise me that at least two of my children have inherited this tendency. As smaller children, it wasn't that big of a deal. I mean, sure, maybe doing math took four times as long as it should have; but it was just simple multiplication, or something equally uncomplicated; and so if it took an hour rather than fifteen minutes, that was actually okay by me. If anything, it made my life somewhat easier when school took longer, because then there was less time for chaos. (Don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about.)
But as teenagers, my kids have a lot more work to accomplish. Math no longer takes 15 minutes of diligent work; now to complete a lesson requires steady effort over an hour or more. So for the easily distracted child, that one lesson can stretch into an entire afternoon or even most of the day. (Don't ask me how I know.)
Or, if the work time is restricted to an hour, that means quickly getting weeks behind schedule. (Don't ask me how I know.) Either of these can lead to mondo frustration and discouragement for both the child AND the parent. (I said, don't ask me how I know!!)
After literally years of struggling with this phenomenon, we have finally hit upon a solution that works most of the time.
I can't say it works all of the time, because we do grow lazy and “just wanna have fun” sometimes; but this technique helps keep my teenagers motivated and on task far better than anything else we have tried. (And I won't deny that I use it myself to great advantage when I'm needing to get a bunch of stuff done efficiently.) It's called the Pomodoro Technique.
You can check out their website for more information, but the basic idea behind the Pomodoro Technique is to set a timer for 25 minutes, during which time you work uninterrupted on a given task. After 25 minutes you get a five-minute break, and then you start the 25-minute timer again and keep working.
You might work again on the same task, or you might switch to a new one. But all tasks are done on a 25-minute on, five-minute off cycle. Each cycle is called a “pomodoro.” (Which if I remember correctly means tomato in Italian. But I don't recall the story behind why it's called that…)
The reason for the 25 minutes is that studies have shown that people are most productive with that kind of cycle. Or with a 50-minute on, 10-minute off cycle. My family likes the 25 minutes, lol. We tell ourselves we can handle anything for 25 minutes!
Human beings need to take breaks in order to work most effectively. That is just the way it is. We all are familiar with the sensation of pushing ourselves for hours to get something done, and towards the end we are exhausted and not moving very fast.
The truth is we could most likely get the job done in less time and be less physically and mentally exhausted if we took fairly frequent breaks. We get this idea into our head that taking a break will delay the end of the task, when in reality it will probably make it come more quickly.
Here's how my easily distracted teens use the Pomodoro Technique:
At the start of our school day, the child makes a list of the tasks that need to get done each day. In our case, this means making a list of specific homeschool assignments. For example, the child would write the lesson number for math, the pages to read for science, etc. After each assignment, the child puts the estimated number of pomodoros it will take. This makes it easier to plan their day, and it also gives them a goal to shoot for.
After the assignments have been listed, then it's time to make a plan for when to do them throughout the day. Each task is given an “appointment” time, and that time is also written on the task list.
Then it's time to get started working! A timer is set for 25 minutes, and the teen starts working on the appointed task. It's important for the timer to be in plain view so that the child can always see how much time is left; this helps them gauge their work pace. When the timer dings, the child places a hash mark next to the task, to show that one pomodoro has elapsed. Then the timer is set for five minutes; it's break time.
The five minute break needs to involve getting up and moving around. Just changing activities in the same place – like checking FB while still on the computer, or picking up a reading book while remaining seated – does not help the body and brain get as much refreshment to be prepared to work well again. There are lots of possible activities for break time:
1) use the bathroom
2) grab a snack and/or drink of water
3) jump on the trampoline or go up and down the stairs a few times
4) do some stretches
5) lift weights, do some pushups or some plank time
6) go get the mail
7) do a household chore
8) hug mom
When the timer dings after the five-minute break, it's time to reset the timer for 25 minutes and get to work again.
Of course we (I've given up pretending this is all about my kids, lol) get distracted in the middle of a pomodoro – that's just who we are. When a distraction comes to our mind while working on something, we just write it at the bottom of the list. Then we turn back to the given activity. Writing it down gives us reassurance that we will remember to do it later, and that helps us clear it from our brains enough to be able to concentrate again on the task at hand.
Here's a great timer to use for this process (referral link), because you can set TWO times at once — one for 25 minutes and one for 30 minutes. When the first timer beeps, it's time to stop working and take a break; when the second timer beeps, break time is over and it's time to get back to work again. And then restart them both as you begin the next Pomodoro. How slick is that?? And actually, since this timer actually has FOUR channels, you can do it for two different kids AT THE SAME TIME. I call that pretty nifty!
I'll be the first to confess that we don't use the pomodoro technique every single day. It's called laziness, I guess. But on the days when my kids do use it, our homeschool day goes faster and better. The kids seem happier and less weighed down with work. When I use it to work on the blog or clean the house, I get done more quickly and have more time for other things.
Are you thinking you might like to try the Pomodoro Technique in your own home, for yourself or your teens? I've developed a free printable Task List to help you do just that! Of course it would be easy to make your own, if you are so inclined; or you could really just use a blank sheet of paper every day – but this printable has pretty colors! And we all know that pretty colors make work more fun!
I hope this is helpful for you as you homeschool your easily distracted teens! Or maybe you'll use it for yourself! In either case, let me know how it works for you. I LOVE hearing from my readers!
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