More Productivity, Less Stress, With the Pomodoro Method

I said this post would be about ‘tomatoes,’ and if you’re familiar with popular productivity methods, you may have guessed that I was alluding to the Pomodoro timer technique.

Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato, and the technique was invented my Francesco Cirillo, who used a tomato-shaped household timer when he developed his technique. https://francescocirillo.com/pages/pomodoro-technique

The idea is simple. By breaking up complex or overwhelming tasks into uninterrupted, 25-minute work sessions, you can focus on the work without distraction, so you make the best use of your time.

You’re also less likely to be overwhelmed, because you only have to focus on the one work session ahead, knowing a break is coming soon. It also helps you assess how many 25-minute sessions, or ‘Pomodoros” it takes you to complete a certain task.

Although the technique is formed around 25-minute sessions, in practice you can use longer or shorter sessions, depending on the needs of the project, your attention span, and your life. You can use a kitchen timer, the timer on your phone, or one of several online tools.

You can learn more about how to use the Pomodoro method, and access a digital Pomodoro timer, at www.pomodorotechnique.com

Though it was developed for study and work purposes, you can use it for any task you need to face in small steps. If, like me, you dread everyday tasks like housework or paperwork, this method works great. You set the timer, get as much done as you can, then you’re done.

The method is often used in multiple sessions. You complete one session, take a short break, then start another. But you can also do just one at a time. 

I find it amazing how much I can get done in even 15 minutes sometimes, and when you spend too much time on one work session, productivity goes down, and resistance increases.

Conversely, when time is limited you’re more likely to dive in and to get more done than you thought.

So if you haven’t tried it yet I suggest you give the Pomodoro technique a try, and see how much you can get done, painlessly.

Next time I’ll talk about another productivity method based on somewhat similar principles, called “can I just…?”

And thanks to everyone who supported my 5-day Words Matter Week Challenge last week. It was more work than I would want to do every week, but also a lot of fun.

#WordsMatterWeek, Day 5

Day 5: What word, said or unsaid, has or could change your life? How?

Reconsider.”

Some of the runners-up were: “options”, “possible”, “can”, “begin”, “don’t”.

When I was a young woman starting my life in the late ’80’s, I knew I wanted to be a writer, and didn’t really know what else I wanted to or could be, but people kept telling me I couldn’t make a living at it.

So I wish someone had shown me more options available to me (and that some of the options now available because of the internet had existed then), that they had shown me what was possible, that they had said “you ‘can’ do it. You can be yourself, do what you’re meant to do, and find a way to make it work.”

Now I would like to hear the word “begin” from a potential writing client. When can you begin? Let’s begin this collaboration.

And going back to the past, before I arrived at the word “reconsider”, I thought of “don’t.” There are times in my life when I wish that someone, along with showing me what was possible, would have said “don’t do it” when I was about to make a mistake mostly because I didn’t know what else I could do.

But then no one, and certainly no artist or young person, wants to be told what to do or not to do. What they could have said instead is “I suggest you ‘reconsider’ this. You might regret this decision, here are the reasons why, and here are the alternatives that might work better for you.”

So my word is “reconsider.”

What am I reconsidering now, three decades later? My lifelong unconscious beliefs that writing and business don’t mix; that I won’t ever be able to make a living doing one of the few things I’m good at; that I just don’t have what it takes, such as ability, know-how, energy, courage, competence or confidence.

#Words Matter Week, Day 4

Day 4: Writers craft words into memorable phrases, stories, poems, and plays. What writers make your heart sing? Why?

Just a few, pulled out of my immediate memory as if from a hat, for the sake of brevity.

Helene Hanff, author of 84 Charing Cross Road, because her memorable exchange of letters with a bookseller in London, from her apartment in New York, celebrate the power of words, of books, and of the human connection that both can make possible.

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I will also give credit to many film script writers, because I often come across a line in a movie that I will listen to over and over until I can copy the quote correctly and save it for later inspiration.

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William James, (in the form of a quotation I found on a tea box), offered these words that continue to renew my enthusiasm and hope when I feel like I’ll never achieve my goals: “Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they’ve got a second. Give your dreams all you’ve got and you’ll be amazed at the energy that comes out of you.”

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The poet Dorianne Laux, who was one of my classmates at Mills College. I will sheepishly admit I didn’t think she was so special at the time we sat at the same table reading our work out loud, but now her poems are in books, and she has even co-written a book on writing poetry.

She showed me that real people really can write something other people, including me, want to read.

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Alexander McCall Smith, a Scottish man who writes insightful, joyful novels about a woman in Botswana. These stories are clean and positive – no profanity, no racy plot lines – and yet they show that none of that is necessary to make a book fascinating and compelling.

They are fun and extremely readable, and provide portraits of real people living real life with grace, humor, and decency. And at the same time, they ponder big issues, and in each novel I find myself with new words to look up. A rare combination of decency, optimism, intelligence, and a reader friendly style.

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And of course Charlotte Bronte, a poor, powerless governess with great mental powers, who wrote about a similar poor, powerless governess whose strength of character, sense of self, and unquenchable hope and affection, led her to conquer a series of circumstances that could have crushed someone much stronger than she appeared.

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The psalmist David, who poured out his heart to God, whether in times of intense trial or those of joy and triumph. At times he showed great faith. At other times his actions were deeply flawed. But always he maintained his faith in God, his expansive love, and his desire to please him.

The songs, or poetry, that he wrote convey deep feeling, lasting faith, and the strength that originates beyond our flawed selves. They really do sing to us, as timeless poetry is able to do.

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I think that of all that writers give us, these two gifts are among the greatest.

  1. A view into a different place, time, perspective, and way of life.

  2. The gift of feeling that we are not alone. Even if we find ourselves with no one of like mind around us, when we read the writer reaches a hand across to us and reminds us that someone else does think and feel and experience life the way we do.

#Words Matter Week Writing Challenge Continues

Day 3: What person in your life helped you understand the importance of choosing words carefully? What would you say to them if you met them today?

I can’t think of one person in particular who taught me this in any direct way.

I had many great writing teachers, each of whom taught me something different, but all of them to value words and the meanings they express.

But there have been other kinds of teachers, in my personal life, who taught me things I didn’t necessarily want to know.

There have been one or two people who have, regrettably, taught me that your words can be distorted and used against you. Through them I learned how vital it is to be careful what you say, how you say it, and to whom you say it.

I would say to them that trust is an honor that should be earned, and words should be used to connect and clarify, not as weapons to be flung back at the one using them.

I have also known people who didn’t seem to understand the importance of just the right word, or of listening as a sign that you respect and value the person speaking.

As a writer, choosing the best words matters to me, but I also like to take a little extra time to really think about what I want to say when I’m speaking to someone.

Often I have had people react to this moment of thoughtfulness with either discomfort or impatience. They even try to guess at what I’m trying to say, as if I need their help.

And the further implications are that they know what I’ll say, that it isn’t surprising or special, and that my thoughts aren’t worth waiting a few extra seconds to hear expressed well.

Often they guessed wrong, and missed out on the chance to get to know me better and learn another perspective.

My answer to them: listen. You might learn something, even if it’s ‘only’ a new word, or some subtle aspect of who I am that you wouldn’t have known otherwise. Don’t assume I’m so uninteresting that it doesn’t matter if I finish my sentence the way I mean to.

Don’t rush me, or anyone, by filling in an easy, predictable response so it can be your turn to talk again.

On the positive side, there was one therapist, and friend, who confirmed my sense, even when I was a very young woman, that words had power, and could cause damage if not used carefully.

Because I was observant, felt deeply, had strong opinions, and could use words effectively, I had a kind of power that we both knew I needed to use carefully.

At the time I knew my words could cause pain or harm, and so I needed to use them with restraint, like a quiver of sharp arrows, most of which you choose to keep in their sheath. 

Later I realized words can also heal, connect, bridge gaps, teach what is valuable, fill in what is missing. There is something strengthening and life affirming about this sense of power, especially in situations when we might otherwise feel powerless.

Though I have sometimes failed to keep harmful words to myself, I now try to use the power of words for good, by choosing them carefully; by making them positive, respectful and helpful; by not saying what serves no purpose except to sting; and also by not holding back a good word that should be expressed.

So I will say to this ‘teacher,’ as well as to my younger self: thank you for making me aware of this power, so I could gradually learn how to use it well.

#Words Matter Week: Writing Challenge, Day 2

Day 2: Writers are artists with words as their medium. What author is your favorite word stylist?

As with day 1, I can’t choose only one.

I love Jane Austen, because she used words so effectively that she taught without people knowing they were being taught, and aimed arrows without the deserving recipients knowing where the sting came from.

She illuminated the unfair inequities, in both class and gender, that marred her society, all under the guise of an entertaining story.

Yet the stories themselves, and especially her artfully drawn character portraits, were so engaging and insightful that they still move readers over 200 years later.

Perhaps her portrayals of the impressive changes people are able and willing to make in their character and behavior were a bit optimistic, but isn’t that part of the job of an artist – to show would could and should be possible? She herself said that even if her own life could not have such a happy ending, she would make sure that her characters eventually would.

One can’t help but wonder, wistfully, what even greater works of art she might have created if she had lived past 41!

Having given credit where credit is due to one novelist who truly deserves to be called an artist, I will now transition to poets and poetry, in my mind the most direct and highest form of verbal art.

Poets are literally word artists, using words as material much the way a painter uses paint. They are able to take language – something common, utilitarian, and available to each of us, and make it something more.

Though I am especially drawn to several contemporary poets, generally preferring the freer forms and modern language of contemporary poetry, I enjoy the work of poets of various times, working in various styles.

I have long been a fan of the intensely emotional, lyrical, and thoughtful German poet, Rainer Rilke, though I’ve been limited to reading his work in translation.

However, if I have to choose one favorite, it would still be the poet I liked first, as a young girl – the probably obvious choice – Emily Dickinson. She was so ahead of her time in the freedom and eccentricity or her form and style.

She conveyed, with amazing ability, a deeply rich inner life that contrasts sharply, almost shockingly, with the extreme, partially self-imposed limits of her external existence.

Like so many artists, she was barely appreciated or known in her lifetime, but achieved a level of posthumous fame and even adulation that would likely have astonished, though perhaps not entirely surprised her.

It’s Words Matter Week

How great that a week about words, one of my great loves, is depicted by a poster in a beautiful shade of purple, one of my other great loves.

I’m going to put off the promised ‘tomato’ post until next week, so I can participate in a five day writing challenge in honor of Words Matter Week. I believe that idea so much that “words matter” is part of my email signature!

I’m going to try to write one short post each day in answer to each of the five questions provided by NAIWE (national association of independent writer’s and artists, the host for this blog.)

I hope you’ll tune into my blog (www.dianefanucchi.naiwe.com) each day to see my post of the day.

So, here’s day one of #WordsMatterWeek

Words Matter Week Writing Challenge

Day 1: If you had to eliminate one word or phrase from the English language, what would it be? Why?

This is one of those impossible questions, like “what’s your favorite book, food, movie?” You can’t pick only one. At least I can’t.

So I’m going to cheat a little.

First, I’m going to eliminate a whole class of words, then move on to the top two phrases I’d eliminate.

I hate profanity of all kinds and think it has no place in good writing or speech, with a few possible exceptions made necessary by context.

But in general profanity is ugly and annoying and a lazy (you’ll see the irony below) use of language. I’m 51 years old and have not lived in outer space, so it’s not likely I’ll be shocked because of never heard any of the words before. I just hate them, and don’t want to be subjected to them when I read or have a conversation.

In my opinion respect; decency; and love of language, as well as consideration for others, all make all profanity undesirable and unnecessary. Enough said.

Now, on to the phrase I’d eliminate: “just saying.” I don’t feel it conveys anything meaningful or has any real purpose except to make the person using it think they can say anything they want and then seek refuge under this phrase.

Usually people say this after they’ve made a comment that is rude, intrusive, unwanted, or irrelevant, then follow it by “just saying,” so you aren’t supposed to be mad at them because they’ve somehow neutralized it with these two words.

The phrase is annoying by itself, and usually follows something also annoying that the person knows they shouldn’t really say. So, try just “not saying.”

If I could pick a second phrase it would be “you’re lazy.” To me that usually just means that the other person isn’t doing what YOU want them to do, or isn’t doing it in the way or at the time you want them to do it. Then you want them to feel badly about themselves for not meeting your expectations.

It’s mean, controlling, and probably not true.

Do you see a theme here? None of these are kind, nice, considerate of the other person, or particularly insightful. They’re about imposing something on someone rather than listening.

So, let’s go out and have a day free of ugly words, pointless words, and unkind words. There are plenty other, better words to choose from.

Choose carefully, because words matter.

 

 

Exercise Snacks — The Painless Way to Satisfy Your Body’s Appetite for Movement

“Exercise snacks” have recently come to my attention through my eclectic online reading habits. It seems to be a popular idea right now, but I was able to trace it back to at least 2014, in an article from the New York Times website: “Exercise ‘Snacks’ to Control Blood Sugar” by Gretchen Reynolds.

She defined “exercise snacks” as “multiple, brief, snack-sized portions of exercise.”

Apparently the concept started with a study(ies) on how short bursts of exercise spread throughout the day can be helpful in managing blood sugar.

More recently, the idea is applied to more general benefits of exercise.

In a January, 2019 article in Psychology Today, Meg Seleg makes the point that “too often people view exercise as a dreaded chore.  The phrase ‘exercise snacking’ reminds us that we can view exercise as a treat.  Moving around can feel good and give us pleasure!”

I completely agree. I’ve gradually come to really enjoy exercise. Nothing fancy or extreme. Just a brisk walk, a tiny jog, a few minutes of bouncing on my mini trampoline. But it feels great, and makes a good break from whatever else I’m doing.

Looking at a good habit as not something we have to do, but something we want to do to nurture ourselves, can reframe our feelings about it and make us more likely to  actually do it.

So as I see it, these exercise snacks have three main lifestyle/fitness benefits.

  1. For people who don’t like to exercise, doing it in snack form throughout the day may make it less overwhelming and more achieveable. It can even become a fun break to look forward to, that you start wanting to do more often.
  2. Another prevalent concept is that if your work or lifestyle is mainly sedentary, then doing even a substantial workout once a day is — though of course beneficial — not enough to counteract the negative effects of being inactive most of the day. Adding in exercise snacks can keep you more active throughout the day.
  3.  These exercise breaks can also refresh your mind and renew your energy, so you’re more productive when you get back to work.

So whether you replace your longer workout with several smaller ones or you use these “snacks” to supplement your regular workout the way you would supplement regular meals with healthful snacks, they can be a fun and easy addition to your daily routine.

Some possible snacks listed include activities as simple as standing up for a few minutes, climbing a flight of stairs a few times, walking around in your house, or going outside to get the newspaper (or mail).

Other possible exercise snacks

  • Walk or jog around the block
  • Walk on the treadmill while you enjoy a chapter of an audiobook
  • Jump rope
  • Play with your (grand)children.
  • Energetically perform a chore, like vacuuming or gardening.

Use your imagination. The point is to fit exercise in more times in a day, and enjoy it more.

That’s it for now. Happy snacking, and next time we’ll talk about tomatoes, (sort of).

 

Something Different, Again: Two Announcements and Two New Kinds of Snacks

Announcement 1. With some reluctance, I have decided to put this blog on hold for awhile. Probably for 2-3 months. The reason is that I am currently focusing on other projects, including an intense class to help me improve my skills as a writer and content marketer. I just didn’t feel I could do everything — including this blog — justice, so a temporary break seemed like the best idea.

The good news is that the skills I’m learning in this class will probably make this blog better. I’m planning to try them out with the next part of my post about Words With Friends. So I appreciate your putting up with this temporary change.

Announcement 2. Though I had planned not to blog at all during this “sabbatical,” I’ve decided to stay in touch with shorter, more informal posts, if possible every Tuesday, since they won’t take as long to write – or read.

I wouldn’t want to abandon my vast audience that I now almost need two hands to count, and as a writer I can’t really stop writing for that long. So this is a way to keep writing, keep sharing, and keep trying out new ideas to see what you’d like to hear more of, while keeping it all short and sweet.

I’ll share an insight, an experience, a quote, a poem, a book review, a quick summary of a concept or trend I’ve learned about, etc. Anything I found inspiring or funny or useful that I think you’d also enjoy or find worth applying to your life or work.

Usually these mini-posts will be just three or four hundred words, maybe sometimes even less, so you can think of them as reading ‘snacks,’ rather than a whole meal.

I got the idea of non-food snacks from a concept I’ve been reading about lately. It’s called “exercise snacking.” Hope that whets your appetite, because that’s what I’ll be writing about for next time.

Words, Friends, and Words With Friends: How to Win, Whatever Your Score

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I love words. And word games. And my friends. And my Mom. And my Aunt and cousin. By playing Words With Friends on my phone, I find a way to combine all these loves every day.

And as a somewhat introverted ‘word geek,’ I not only love the challenge of using my vocabulary, along with various strategies I’ve acquired to play the game well – I also love keeping in touch without leaving my house or making a phone call.

I’m able to stay connected while also happily living my reclusive life at the same time. And I can do what I’m good at, which is everything to do with words, and with competing with myself only, to keep getting better.

My Mom and I even use our daily multiple games to keep in touch, and to keep track of each other. We know each others’ routines fairly well, so if one of us doesn’t send words within a few hours of when they’re expected, we get a text making sure we’re okay!

Playing “Words” Bring out the Best and Worst in Me.

I am grateful and amazed that my friends and family keep playing with me, even though I fairly frequently beat them, sometimes hard. And instead of hating me, (though my Dad has reported that sometimes he hears my Mom calling me names under her breath), they congratulate me on those 90 point words, praise me for how I play, and keep coming back for more.

Something I can (mostly) feel good about too is that they also keep getting better, which keeps me growing, and shows that I’m teaching and sharing my knowledge of and love for words, and the game, with others.

I also have one or two players who frequently beat me quite soundly, which keeps me humble, gives me empathy for what it feels like, and continually challenges me to do better.

I’ve never been someone who cares all that much about winning or losing. And I don’t think of myself as highly competitive, except against myself. I always want to do better and beat my record. But I have found that this game tends to bring out my competitive side, and I behave much more assertively in this space than I do in life.

I often find myself apologizing for drawing the high card, getting the better word, or otherwise doing something that might, however unintended, make the other person feel bad. Even with “Words” I sometimes feel sheepish if I win by 100 points, (which, by the way, happens much less often, now that most of my opponent/friends are on to me and learning, literally, how to beat me at my own game).

But still I find that a different personality comes out when I play. Though I still care more about the friends I play with than winning, or even my score, I do get more competitive than I usually am. I’m always trying to beat my best score, my average score and other stats.

The game shows you your own stats on various details of the game, and when I found out I was only playing 90 something percent of 2 letter words, I set out to learn, and play,  more of them, and somehow I reached 100%. I also keep trying to increase the number of “unique words played” and of JQXZ words, which means sometimes straying from the tried, true and convenient to challenge myself to expand my game-related vocabulary, and use more of my regular vocabulary as well.

The Good and Bad of Playing, and How it Affects my Work.

The downside is obvious, especially when I’m working from home. It’s far too easy to let my ‘breaks’ expand into my work time. I try to at least turn off notifications on my phone, so there isn’t the siren song of the game calling me when I’m supposed to be doing other things.

But I do think playing a few words makes for great short breaks throughout the day, which can, when used right, actually increase productivity. I also think my mindset when I play – that of continually wanting to rise to the challenge, learn new skills, and keep trying to beat my own records – may also help me face the challenges and unknowns involved in running and marketing my new business.

I’ll try to view it as a game, a fun challenge, something to keep doing a little better at, a little at a time. Just like I’ve found that meeting new, small challenges in my daily workouts – learn how to turn on the balance beam, increase the minutes I jog instead of walk, and so on have helped give me confidence that I can meet other challenges, in life and work, meeting challenges in the game can also stretch my brain, and my comfort zone, and what I feel is possible for me to do.

A Very Few Words about Strategy in Words with Friends

It’s important to have fun, with words and with friends, to gain vocabulary, and to be balanced rather than to over-analyze all the strategies just to win. It’s about learning and connecting, not just scoring points.

But that being said, let’s be clear that this game is definitely a lot about strategy. A good vocabulary and feel for how words work helps. And you will gain a special vocabulary specific to the game itself. That’s really important.

But you really do need to have a strategy also for how to place your words to maximize special spaces on the board, block your opponent, etc. At the risk of getting beaten more often, I’ll share some tips about that next time, including some from an expert or two that have thought out the whole strategy part more than I have or intend to.

So until next week, have fun and I’ll see you on the screen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Meaning in the Mundane: Three Musings on Daily Life – Part 2

2. The resilience of green, growing things.

I don’t know if I could say I have a purple thumb, because I don’t know what that would mean, though I love purple enough that nearly everything else in my life is purple, plum, mauve, lavender, lilac, violet, or something in that category.

All I can say is that my thumb has not been known for being green. In fact, I have for most of my life had trouble keeping any plant alive.

So I feel like I’ve grown (pun maybe intended) as a plant person over the years, because I now happen to have two house plants and two outside plants that are all alive, some after several years. There have been some rough moments, but with help from two or three “plant doctors” in my life, I’ve managed to keep them alive for an impressive amount of time compared to my history.

One thing I’ve learned when it comes to plants: if all else fails, cut off all the brown parts, even if it means leaving only nubs sticking out of the soil, give it water and sun, and wait for it to use its own ability to renew itself.

My most recent addition to my tiny plant family is a small mint plant I’ve been keeping, only partly successfully, by my kitchen sink.

At first I had to experiment with the container to keep it in, and how much water to give it. Too many brown leaves told me I wasn’t getting it right at first. But I cut off the brown parts, encouraged that they would soon be replaced by the miniscule, infant leaves I could see beginning to sprout. Plant procreation right under my eyes. Amazing.

Another amazing thing about this plant is that I can purposely cut off leaves, literally for my consumption, and feel confident that they will soon be replaced by new growth.

The plants in my life have proved to be, not only resilient but forgiving, giving me a new chance again and again, and in the case of this small, fragrant adornment, almost as many mint-sprigged cups of tea and recipes as I like.

I can take, and it continues to generously give of itself, without ceasing to exist. I give back by watering it, admiring it, and celebrating its generous nature with these words.

I think we can also be like that to a degree. Though we can’t cut off parts of ourselves and regrow them (except hair), we can come back from things we thought we might not survive, and continue to grow and thrive. We can also give to others, within limits, without depleting ourselves. In fact we do better when we give, allowing for new growth, sprouting leaves of our own kind.

3. A clean, blank calendar.

Last week I made the observation that this week would bring a new week, a new month, and a new year, all at once. That’s a lot of beginnings.

Though I don’t make new year’s resolutions, I usually can’t resist the pull and possibility of a whole new year stretching out as a blank slate on which to write goals I’d like to accomplish in this seemingly vast stretch of time.

I know the time will go by faster than could seem possible, and there are limits to what I can accomplish, but it is both motivating and inspiring to write down goals, and set out the steps to achieve them.

But this year I find that it is not only the clean canvas of a new year that inspires me, but an actual uncluttered calendar as well. I use my calendar to write down, not just appointments, but goals, to-do lists, business records, small steps achieved, personal reminders, and so on. So by the end of the year I have a convenient record, but also my usual inky mess.

I haven’t figured out how not to do this, but a completely clean calendar to start with rested my eye and my mind, and made me want to fill it carefully and mindfully, not to mention a little more neatly if possible.

But this pure, free space didn’t last long. Before even the first day of January I have (neatly) made notes on squares representing two days of the first month. But I will try to use the calendar, and the time it represents, joyfully, purposefully, efficiently, and well.

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Next time I will try out yet another subject, a surprise, to honor the suggestion of a valued reader.