AN Tomato A DAY KEEPS THE WRITING BLUES AWAY - THE POMODORO TECHNIQUE
I am a strong believer that as a writer, consistent structured work will set you free. If you can develop simple systems and a process to organize your time, your inner writer will show up on demand and respond with peak productivity and creativity.
As writers we suffer with so many distractions in our social media dominated world that it is difficult to maintain focus and accomplish our goals. Emails. Cell phone calls. Facebook. Twitter. Linkedin. Instagram. And so on—ad nauseam. And then when you add normal procrastination and writer’s block to the mix, it’s surprising that anything gets written.
For me, the most effective tool I’ve used to achieve maximum time management productivity is the Pomodoro technique, developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980’s.
Named for a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato (Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato) your available writing time for the day is divided into timed increments. In the original iteration, work periods were divided into a twenty-five minute working session and a five minute break. After four work periods, you’d take a fifteen to twenty minute break. Another more recent study suggests that working for fifty-two minutes and then taking a break for seventeen minutes is the magic combination.
I honestly don’t believe the specific combination matters as long as you find a blend of work and break time that works for you. The idea is to find that sweet spot where you can focus intensely with no disturbances for a period of time and then recharge with a break. You have a limited amount of focus and willpower available to you in any work day, and this is the way to optimize it. Our brains are not built to go for hours on end without a chance to reboot. After a few weeks your mind is conditioned to the method and you’ll find your productivity has vastly increased.
After experimentation, I personally work fifty minutes with a ten minute break. I take a thirty minute break after three work cycles.
During the fifty minute period, I do nothing but focus on my writing. No interruptions. No Internet browsing. No telephone calls. No Internet at all except for valid research. If I hit writers block, I simply do something related to the work in process. For example, I ask myself the classic questions of “what if”, “why not”, “who”, “how”, why”, “when” and “where” and apply them to the problem at hand. As long as I work on some WIP related task until my timer goes off, I’ll eventually regain momentum or have a creative breakthrough.
During my break times I usually do some sort of mini-exercise such as a few crunches and push-ups, some dumbbell exercises and a bit of stretching. Then my mind and body are ready for the next work period. The important thing is to get up and away from your work and have a complete break where ideally you are moving your body.
Critics say the method is too rigid. Life doesn’t work that way. The real world has interruptions and sometimes you have no choice but to push through. Of course that’s true. Work life is messy and not always controllable. But remember that Pomodoro is just a method, not a religion. When possible, use it. You’ll like it.