I’ve struggled my entire life with doing chores. I procrastinate, I protest, I ultimately find something else to do with my time. My husband is no better. So, our house isn’t the cleanest. Thankfully, we are generally neat and organized, so it doesn’t look like a complete disaster.
I had grand delusions of how clean our house would be when I quit my corporate job to work for myself. Surely I would have extra time to clean and polish every surface. Just being at home had to make it easier.
But I found myself cleaning even less. I fell off my regular cleaning schedule, because I thought I could catch up anytime, since I was always at home. But I fell further and further behind.
I tried to salvage my cleaning habits. I created a cleaning command center to keep all the cleaning supplies organized and easy to grab. We still use it today, but it didn’t make me reach for the broom any more often. I thought for sure I would do laundry more often if the detergent was in pretty glass containers and I had a beautiful rolling table to fold all the clothes on. Yes, we are blessed with a beautiful laundry room, but I still have piles of clothes waiting to be washed and folded.
I let my work takeover my home and failed to draw a clear line between work time and home time. So my household chores suffered. I kept thinking, I’ll have time next week. When I get this done, I’ll take a whole day and do a deep cleaning. Someday never came. And I don’t think it ever will.
A few months ago I started following CleanMama.net on Instagram. I love her simple daily reminders. They helped me get back into a cleaning rhythm. Plus, whenever I find myself mindlessly browsing social media, I snap out of it when I see my daily cleaning reminder.
But it wasn’t enough. My house still needed a deep cleaning. With two boys and two dogs and Old Man Winter, once a week tasks like floor washing need to happen almost daily at my house.
While my housekeeping went by the wayside, I spent more time working. Non-stop. I wouldn’t take a break for hours on end. Being a one-woman business means there is always more to do and there never seems to be enough time. I worked tirelessly, but I knew I wasn’t always doing my best work. I was burnt out. I wasn’t giving myself time to re-charge.
I was a home blogger with a messy house and a self-employed workaholic.
What’s a girl to do? The cleaning procrastinator I am, I focused on how to improve my work life first. Over the years I’ve read a lot about productivity and getting more done in the same amount of time, but I didn’t want to get more work done. I felt that I needed to relax a bit and get less done. I needed to find balance again. The more work I was doing wasn’t always necessary, some of it was just busy work. What I needed was a way to slow down, focus, and recharge.
I’ve been doing a lot more writing recently and I started using the Pomodoro technique for writing. Basically, you work for 25 minutes straight, then you take a five-minute break. Then work for another 25 minutes. Each 25 minute interval is a “pomodori”. Traditionally, four pomodoris make a set. After a set, you take a longer break. I personally, do a set of six pomodoris, so I have a morning set and an afternoon set with a longer lunch break between the sets.
The technique worked great for my work, but of course, I found myself doing meaningless things during my five-minute breaks, like browsing Instagram. Meanwhile, my house was still a mess.
I decided to marry my new work habit with a new cleaning routine.
I use the Pomodoro technique to work in 25 minute bursts, then I do a cleaning task during my five-minute break. If you’ve ever checked out FlyLady.net, you know most cleaning tasks around the house can be done in under five minutes. She even recommends taking 15-minute breaks between cleaning tasks. Stretch that a bit and your work is a break from cleaning as much as your cleaning is a break from work.
With this new routine, I start my day by making two to-do lists; work tasks and cleaning tasks. I only write down the top three things I want to get done that day on each list. The work tasks are what I focus on during my 25-minute pomodori. (Note: One task does NOT equal one pomodori. A single task may require multiple 25-minute intervals to complete.) The cleaning tasks are what I do during the five-minute breaks in my afternoon set. In the morning set I do my daily cleaning tasks during the five-minute breaks.
I know you might be thinking, but that’s not a break. Oh, but it is. The idea of the Pomodoro technique is to take a break from the main task at hand and do something different, so you can come back to the task with fresh energy. Cleaning during my work breaks means:
• My house gets cleaner as the day goes on.
• I regularly get up and away from the computer or phone screen.
• I give my mind a rest and use my hands.
• My mind can wander or not think at all.
• I experience mindfulness–being present in the moment with the cleaning task, most of which have a natural soothing repetitive, rhythm.
With my new approach, my house is getting cleaner day by day and my work has a renewed energy. Since a lot of my work revolves around writing, I need a lot of mental breaks to produce my best work.
I used to set the timer on my phone for 25 minutes, but that didn’t work so well. It was too easy to turn my phone over, tap to stop the time, and then continue working. I switched to setting the timer on the microwave. It has a really annoying beep and it forces me to put down my laptop and get up. It also takes me to the kitchen where most of my morning cleaning tasks start. When I turn off the timer at the end of my work interval, I reset it for my five-minute cleaning break.
Short Breaks Don’t Disrupt Flow, They Improve It
Before I started using the Pomodoro technique, I was convinced the timer would be disruptive to my flow. But I’ve learned a flow state doesn’t mean constantly staring at your computer. When I’m writing, getting up and away from the keyboard doesn’t disrupt the flow in my mind. In fact, the Pomodoro technique was developed to improve focus and flow, by intentionally choosing a specific task, and only one task, to focus on for 25 minutes.
When I am writing, the breaks give me a moment to gain perspective on what I just wrote and to think about what I want to write next. Or during my breaks I can stop thinking and let my subconscious mind take over for a few minutes. For example, I was mid-sentence when the timer went off while writing this article. I stopped anyway. While I was away loading the dishwasher and not really thinking about anything, I realized I should add a section to this article detailing the typical cleaning tasks I do during my short breaks. Once my cleaning break was over, I added that section. Without the break, I might not have thought to add that valuable section to this article.
I actually find I can focus better on one type of task and sustain my focus for the full 25 minutes when I use this method. Much of my work can be broken up into different pieces; writing, editing, graphic design, website updates, social media. I’m sure most jobs can be broken up into individual tasks. If you focus on just one task for 25 minutes straight or until it’s done, you’ll get more, better work done than if you try to work on multiple tasks in an undefined block of time.
Under Five-Minute Cleaning Tasks
Besides getting better work done, this technique is helping me get my chores done. Here’s what I typically do during each five minute break in my morning set:
Break #1 – Unload and load the dishwasher
We load the dishwasher and run it every night after dinner. During my first morning break, I unload the dishes and load what is in the sink from breakfast. This way the rest of the day all the dirty dishes can go directly into the dishwasher and all we have to do is run it after dinner. No more piled dishes in the sink.
Break #2 – Wipe Counters and Sweep
At the start of my second break, I take my puppy outside for a quick potty break. Then, I wipe down the kitchen counters and table and sweep the kitchen floor. I always do this after loading the dishwasher, so I won’t mess up the counters again.
Break #3 – Floors
During this break I alternate between vacuuming, carpet raking (to remove dog hair), or mopping. I choose one floor area that needs it most. If it’s been rainy or snowy, I will mop. If the dogs are shedding, I will vacuum or rake.
Break #4 – Clean a Bathroom
Before I start cleaning, I take my puppy out for another potty break. Then I proceed with a potty break of another kind. We have four bathrooms. I pick one each day to give a quick clean.
Break #5 – Trash or Recycling
During this break, I quickly check the waste baskets in all the bathrooms and take out the trash or recycling if needed. I also round up any water glasses and snack dishes from the night before and pop them right into the dishwasher.
Break #6 – Lunch Time
This is the end of my morning set, so I take a longer lunch break; no work, no cleaning.
By lunch time, I’ve completed all of my daily cleaning tasks. In the afternoon, I use my breaks to do less frequent tasks, like dusting blinds, wiping down the appliances, throwing in a load of laundry, washing baseboards, washing windows, etc. I’m not following any set routine for these tasks, I just pick the problem areas that have been bothering me lately. Those are the three tasks I write on my cleaning to-do list at the start of the day and tackle during my afternoon breaks. As I keep up with these five-minute cleaning tasks my home is getting cleaner everyday and each cleaning chore is getting easier as I keep up with regular cleaning.
The Easy Way to 60-Minutes of Cleaning a Day
I know it sounds like a lot of cleaning, and it is. It adds up to 60-80 minutes of cleaning a day. If I did all that cleaning at the same time I would be exhausted and grumpy, not to mention I wouldn’t believe I could devote that much precious time to cleaning. But by breaking it up into small cleaning breaks, I squeeze in more cleaning time than ever before and avoid getting tired and crabby.
Much of the work I do takes time, multiple revisions, and phases, so I don’t get a lot of quick wins and motivation boosters during a single day. My quick cleaning breaks give my brain those interim feelings of accomplishment and productivity throughout the day. At the end of the day, not only have I gotten a significant chunk of work done, but all my chores are complete and I can relax.
I’m dubbing my method the “Pomodoro Cleaning Technique”. It may not be a perfect solution for everyone, but it works for me. Both my work and my home are improving. I don’t spend my weekends trying to catch up on the cleaning I neglected all week. I’m even getting more comfortable having guests come over on short notice. And I feel like I’m respecting my home again.
Sarah @ An Inviting Home says
Great post Jackie! Perhaps when my youngest is in preschool next year I can try this method. Currently my biggest challenge has been juggling working from home and cleaning all while still having one child home during the day. I’m excited to try this down the road!
Sarah, I understand. My youngest is home with me 2-3 days a week still. It’s not optimal, but on the days he is home I still try to use this method, but many of the pomodoris are replaced with reading a book, playing legos, etc. I used to try to do all my cleaning on the days he was home, because I thought I’d rather he see me clean than be on a computer all day, but now I feel differently. I’d rather he see a good balance of play, housework, and work-work. Because I have three days where he is in pre-K, I reserve most of my work for that time. On days he is home, if I have a little work to do, the Pomodoro technique becomes even more important. I set him up to color and do my work for no more than 25 minutes. Without the timer it is too easy to get sucked into the work, when I should be spending time with him.
Angie Mizzell says
Thanks for this post Jackie, and this comment… exactly where I am in my life, so I also needed the added note about a young child still at home (same preschool situation for me too). Now, off to set the timer. :)
Your welcome Angie. The same timer helps me keep my son’s screen time limited :)
Kimm at Reinvented says
I love this post! This could really work for me. I find that most days I either get lots of blog/design/DIY work done, OR I get house chores done, but rarely am I satisfied that I made progress with both, and that stresses me out. Thanks for sharing what works for you, I’m going to give this a try!
Kimm, Yes…it always feels like one or the other. I always felt like I needed to take a whole day off work to clean which never happened. This is the best of both.
Anna International says
This is genius! I already use the Pomodoro technique for work (there is a free app with a timer that I use) and find it really helps you focus, but I’ve never really found a ‘use’ for the breaks, usually spent on Instagram!
My house is a pigsty at the moment, and this is totally going to be how I spend my breaks now! Thank you for sharing.
Anna, So glad you found this useful. I knew I couldn’t be the only one that didn’t know what to do with the breaks. I’m not good at idle time. Cleaning really does provide a good productive break from screen time.
Great tips! Kills two birds with one stone – you get a cleaner house and a brain break! I definitely need to take more time away from the computer screen!
Lauren, I’m finding it’s helping me break my bad screen habits. Sometimes after my break, I seek out work I can do off-screen for my next pomodori. It’s nice. I’ve gone back to paper for making lists, brain-storming, and planning.
I’m going to use this for keeping my office clean, too! I have found that daily small cleaning tasks really do make it easier. And it is a way of respecting your home and family. Great plan!!
Heather, great idea. I didn’t use this specific technique, but when I worked in a cubicle, keeping it clean kept me sane. Even if it’s not cleaning, take 5 minutes every so often to make it nicer or more you. Pin up some pictures, bring in a plant you can care for, or use a nice smelling cleaner to freshen up.
Thanks for this post, I struggle so much with this. I’m going to give your ideas a try, anything is better than nothing, right!
Love this Jackie! The 5-minute cleaning break is a good idea even when one isn’t working, but rather just browsing online. Sometimes I look at a huge surface of clutter and feel defeated. It would help to tell myself to work on it for just 5 minutes.
Melissa, Good point. It’s probably healthy to put down Pinterest and take a break every once and a while. I haven’t heard form you in a while, how are you doing? You missed a cold, dreary MN winter here.
Lauren @ The Thinking Closet says
This. Is. Brilliant! And I think it can totally be applied to any sort of task you put off. For me, it’s checking email. Or decluttering. And yes, definitely cleaning. I love how you break down the tasks you do, so we all can give this a whirl, too! And I’ve heard fantastic things about the Pomodoro Technique and want to really give it a go. Thanks for the inspiration!
Lauren, You are right…this is also how I got my taxes done this year. Baby steps and five minutes at a time :) I used one break to gather the papers, one to figure out my TurboTax login again, and a few more to start entering data. I just saved and came back to it over a few weeks and it was so much less stressful.
Ellen Vandever says
Wonderful read! As someone who works from home and also has a large amount of writing and social media throughout the day, I imagine this will work so well for me! I am also obsessed with cleaning and often get stressed if everything isn’t done. Thanks so much for sharing! I bet this is going to be a great way for me to accomplish what I need to do and relax.
Ellen, So glad you found this helpful. I’ve definitely fallen into the trap of trying to get all my cleaning done, before I start working…and feeling defeat if I didn’t. Having this plan and knowing it will all get done has allowed me to start working, knowing I have the cleaning time set aside too. I hope it helps you.
Jill @ The Rozy Home says
Thank you thank you thank you! This is brilliant! I work from home and I blog so they house isn’t always as tidy as it should be (oh who am I kidding – it’s a disaster area). I’m going to try this out!
Brilliant idea! I’ve tried to implement the Pomodoro technique before but kept blowing off the breaks, not knowing what to do with five minutes. This is a great solution.
Jodi, I totally relate. I am so bad at being idle. I always feel like I need to be doing something, but I also know how important breaks are. Cleaning keeps my hand busy and lets my mind rest. I hope it works well for you.
This sounds like a great method! I definitely think having two small kids home with me all the time would make it look different but I’ll bet it could still work with some modifications for us. Thanks for the great post!
Nicole, Read a few comments above where I described how I manage this with one child home a few days a week. If they are old enough they could do a simple task during the five minute cleaning break, too. Let them be the dust pan holder, the dish dryer, or my boys favorite…following the mop around with a towel to dry the freshly mopped floor.
Love this, thank you!
I use flylady off and on, but I like the timing of these intervals 25/5, and I like the balancing of two jobs rather than on/off.
Really nice balance, and yet efficient. My Achilles’ heel is that the less deadlines I have, the less I get done.
Trying this today, thank you.
Heather |The Decor Fix says
“I was a home blogger with a messy house and a self-employed workaholic.” YESSSS- that’s me! This is such a good post Jackie. I started doing the “unload the dishes” thing as an avoidance tactic when I hit a creative block. But I like the idea of using cleaning as intentional “brain breaks”.
I LOVE this idea. I have just started using the Pomodoro Technique to get some blog writing done and to stay focused on household tasks separately. I know while I’m cleaning that 25 minutes isn’t that long but I get way less accomplished than I believe I could if I did the same tasks in 5 minute chunks in between my writing! I also scrapbook and if I spend too long staring at one page I tend to get discouraged. Having a timer has really made such a big difference in how I function. Thanks for the wonderful post. :)