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How “puppy pomodoros” help me get work done

Less than a week ago, I got a new puppy. Needless to say, she’s adorable. She’s soft, cuddly, and rambunctious. I am taking a week and a half off my day job for us to get to know each other, so we’re spending a lot of time together. I’m so grateful to have these early days to play with her, learn with her, and bond as we make memories together.

Koji is a phantom-colored Bernedoodles. She is mostly black, with light brown in her eyebrows, circling her nose, and on her paws. She is awake but laying down during the play phase of puppy pomodoros.
Meet Koji. Photo by Sarah Heidmann

But I still have personal projects I want to spend time on while I don’t have to worry about work. I like to write while I’m on vacation. Being relaxed and the good kind of bored is a great way to get the creative juices flowing.

When the puppy showed up, I knew she was going to take a lot of my time. I didn’t expect to get anything done in the first few days as she learned the routine of feeding and sleeping. I also needed to learn when she needed to play or to go outside to potty. But a few days in, we got pretty comfortable with each other, and I started to think about how to get work done on her schedule.

When she’s awake, she explores, whines, and chews. She really needs attention to help her get out her energy, and to make sure she doesn’t destroy anything she’s not supposed to. Once she expends enough energy playing, she crashes hard. With almost no warning, she’ll lay down at your feet and go to sleep. Then she sleeps for a while, and when she wakes up, it’s right back to playtime.

I knew I couldn’t really get anything done while she was awake. First and foremost, her adorable face is hard to ignore. But also, she is quite active and loves to chew, so I have to keep an eye on her. Therefore, the only time I can concentrate is while she’s asleep. As she goes through her cycles of play and sleep, I have naturally fallen into what I call “puppy pomodoros”.

If you’ve ever dabbled in productivity culture, you may have encountered the Pomodoro technique. It’s a time management method developed by an Italian in which you work in short, focused chunks, with intentional breaks in between. It’s named pomodoro, the Italian word for tomato, because the inventor used a timer that looked like a tomato.

I had tried the technique before, but it didn’t stick. There was a certain monotony of having to start the timer and watch it tick down while I’m working. It always felt forced, never natural. It felt like whenever I wanted to keep working, it was time to take a break, and whenever I wanted a break, I was supposed to keep working. I quickly started to dread the structure of the work and rest periods. I saw the appeal of the technique, but found it difficult to follow in practice.

So I was familiar enough with the pattern that I recognized it in the puppy routine. You get working sessions (naptime) interspersed with active rest (playtime). Normally Pomodoro works in sessions of 25 minutes with a 5 minute break. With a puppy, you don’t know how long your sessions are going to last, so you have to start right away and get as much done as you can.

It helps to make a plan the night before, so during the first nap of the day you can jump straight in and you know exactly what to work on. I made a list of tasks I wanted to get done, in order of priority. The goal was to work through the list and see how far I got throughout the day. It’s difficult to know exactly how much time you’re going to get, or how many working sessions, so you put in only as much time as is necessary for each task, then move on.

A closeup of Koji's face resting on a human's leg with her eyes half-closed.
Eyes closing… work time! Photo by Sarah Heidmann

This has been such a good motivator for me to get things done that I hope to continue this rhythm even once we graduate from the puppy stage. Adult dogs also need play and rest time. (I’m still going to call it puppy pomodoros though.) I want to be fully present to nourish my relationship with my dog, and give her the best possible life. Isn’t that the point of having an animal companion, to love and support each other?

If you don’t already have a furry friend in your house, I recommend getting one. I’ve never owned a cat, so I don’t know if this works for them too. Kitty pomodoro doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but if the method works, the name doesn’t matter. If you have a working routine with a furry friend, I’d love to hear from you!

This post was drafted during 1 puppy pomodoro, and revised during 2 more. It really works!

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