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Productivity at home - focus for 25 minutes at a time

I was really excited to learn the science of how our brains are wired; it fits perfectly to the ergonomic research we know; to avoid sitting for periods of longer than 25-30 minutes at a time for the health of our back, bodies and metabolism!  The POMODORO technique for focus and avoiding procrastination recommends that our focused effort is really only good for 25 minutes, then we should take a break for 5 minutes to let our brains switch to a 'diffuse mode' of learning and problem solving.  Moving the body during this 5 minute break will improve our posture, metabolism and neural pathways!

I found some fabulous free programs on Coursera ( . With my 15 year old daughter also home now and adapting to a new way of learning, I thought we would both find some useful strategies in the "learning how we learn" course.  

The POMODORO technique made a lot of sense for both of us.  Dr. Barbara Oakley explains in her video that we have 2 modes of learning; the common focused method, that most of us are familiar with (and some of us have trouble maintaining), but we also have a 'diffuse' mode of learning, which requires us to relax into a more resting state away, from the task.   

The green lines in the diagram indicate the neural pathways required for a new idea or thought, but the usual thought travels the same neural path we are accustomed to.  In order to get to the new thought, we need to use a more 'diffuse mode' or broader way of looking at a problem to allow the brain to find the solution we need. This is where a break is required.  By resting the usual neural pathway, it can allow a new pathway to become activated.  With repetition, the new pathway becomes more common (and the info easier to remember).  With this diffuse learning mode, the secret is taking a rest from the focused mode to allow the brain to process the idea or problem differently, and other neural networks to form in the brain.  Apparently we cannot think in both modes at the same time, so the break is necessary! 

In her explanation, she also highlights the value of metaphors and analogies in learning. She uses an analogy of a pinball machine as the brain, and the bumpers as the neurons, and path of the pinball as the neural connections.   

The POMODORO Method is what Dr. Oakley recommends.  It's the technique of setting a timer for 25 minutes, focusing on your task, and staying on task.  If you are a big procrastinator, it may take time to build up to this, but like anything, with practice it will get easier!  

Here's her quick 3 minute explanation of the Pomodoro technique here: 


 Mindy Gulas, R.Kin, CSEP-CEP, Ergonomic Consultant



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