Using the Pomodoro Technique To Increase Writing Productivity
Posted on April 12, 2014
Having problems reaching your writing goals like I was not too long ago? Feel overwhelmed at accomplishing writing a sentence let alone an entire work? Perhaps you could benefit from trying out a time management style that I heard about from the Self-Publishing Podcast guys called “The Pomodoro Technique“.
Created by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980’s, the time management tool breaks project productivity into manageable intervals. In Italian, pomodoro means tomato, and Cirillo created the term after a tomato-like timer he used when first developing the method to improve his study habits. He set his original intervals at 25 minutes with small breaks following the end of the timed intervals. You can visit Cirillo’s website for a quick and humorous video that explains how his “Pomodoro Technique” can be effective as well as to consider purchasing his book.
For me, I always had a hard time producing consistent word counts. When I could produce a lot on one day, I would feel exhausted the next day. I’ve admitted before that my desire for perfectionism tended to gum up my creative works as I would edit and re-edit to achieve the “perfect” words. So I had no finished work to show for my efforts. My jealousy and depression rose when I would hear of other writers achieving word counts of over 3,000 words a day, and I would lament why I couldn’t do the same.
After hearing the SPP guys mention the use of the technique, I looked into it and realized that using the timed intervals with breaks could be the answer to my problems. Instead of smaller intervals, I make mine over an hour. My timer on my computer stands at 90-minute sessions. I made a promise to myself to guarantee two 90-minute writing sessions a day without fail. That’s only a total of three hours, and that doesn’t sound so intimidating. Here’s how I use it:
Prepping – Because I want the timed session to consist of my writing, which also allows me to see what my word-pacing is, I do some prep ahead of time. That could mean re-reading sections to get the mood and tone back in my head. I may do some light research if there was some information I needed to know prior to the section I am about to write. I might revisit the plot beats I’ve drafted just to see where I think the story is headed. On my desk, I make sure I place everything I might need around me, such as Orbit Fresh Mint gum (I chew about two packs a week) and a glass of water (it’s important to stay hydrated). I keep a notepad and pen by my side to jot down anything I know I will have to go back and change later to help me keep moving with the story during the timed interval. Then I hit the button to start my timer.
Interval Writing – One of the best writing tools I’ve ever used is Scrivener (I’ll do a separate post about it later). If you don’t already have it, Literature & Latte offers a 30-day trial. They always offer a 20% discount to NaNoWriMo participants, so every November and April (with Camp NaNoWriMo) under sponsors, they tell you how to get that discount. If you complete the 50K words for NaNo, you earn a 50% discount on Scrivener. When I use Scrivener, I use the full-screen function, which allows me to see only the manuscript and blocks out the rest of the screen. The function allows me to really focus. Another tool I use to focus me is over-the-head headphones. Funny enough, sometimes I don’t listen to any music at all. Just wearing them makes me feel more isolated and therefore focused on the manuscript in front of me.
The “Pomodoro Technique” solved one of my biggest issues of desiring perfectionism. I no longer spend all my time writing and re-writing things to get it “just right”. Instead, I’ve learned how to use placeholders – blank spaces, underlined words or terms to change later, or even leaving a message for myself such as, “Write full description later.” In using placeholders, I no longer worry about things being perfect and am able to push my momentum forward.
After The Timer – When the timer goes off, it’s important to stop wherever you are. That means, if you’re in the middle of a sentence, you don’t finish it!! I know that’s a hard concept, but there’s a reason. Momentum is one of the hardest things to replicate in terms of writing. When you can really produce one day, you might not be able to pick up the same pace the next. But I’ve found that if I stop exactly when the timer goes off, it forces my brain to immediately dive and pick up right where I left off. My momentum comes back within a few sentences in the next timed interval, and I can keep up my pace.
Taking a break is the next important step in using this time management technique. Do not use the break in order to keep working on your WIP. Instead, find something else that you can do that will free your mind. Take a walk. Do some laundry, vacuum, play with your pet, watch something on the television – whatever it is, give your brain some time off. I guarantee that your ideas for your work will still be there. In fact, sometimes I can see my story clearer while on break because I’m not squeezing my brain so hard to produce. For every 90-minute session I do, I take off 30-60 minutes as a break. After that, I charge back into the fray and do another timed writing interval. Most of the time, I find I can pick up with the same momentum almost immediately, and have sometimes strengthened pieces of my story because of the break.
Caveats – Interval writing might work for pantsers, or those without a defined plan of their story. However, in order to take full advantage of the timed intervals, having at least some basic ideas hammered out ahead of time is a necessity if you want to guarantee a higher output each interval. For me, plot beats are a brainstormed storyline that I’ve separated into my chapters where I’ve written them in bullet form. (If you aren’t familiar with plot beats, I covered outlining in a former post. )
Also, I realize I’m writing from the perspective of being able to write full-time. You may not be able to achieve the same timed intervals as I can, and that’s okay. You can still use timed writing intervals and adjust them to your life. Intervals can be for as long or short as you need them (although I wouldn’t try for anything over 90 minutes). What they provide are promises to yourself to focus on your writing for that amount of time. It lets the people who populate our lives know our dedicated writing time and gives them a set end so they know that they can reach us within a reasonable amount of time. But while that timer is on, my husband knows not to come in. I can’t vouch for animals as much as my cat whined outside the door until I set up one of her cat beds underneath my desk. She actually herds me to my desk during the morning to get started on my writing!
My Results – As of right now, the “Pomodoro Technique” has already doubled my word count productivity! I’m averaging a little over 2.5K words each session. I’ve added a progress bar to my navigation menu so you can see the updates as I’m writing episodes for my first serialized fiction piece. I will be relying on the technique much more starting next week as I will have to keep two 90-minute writing sessions to start Episode Two, but will also have to add in two sessions for editing Episode One. I’ve been using a third interval some days to add more words, but typically I’ve been working on setting up my marketing platforms, such as tweeting or building my presence on Google Plus. I may have to tweak how long I make my sessions in order to accommodate my growing needs, but if it helps increase my overall productivity, I really can’t complain.
Cirillo’s “Pomodoro Technique” has many applications, but it’s one of the best tools I have in my toolbox right now. My days are filled with more productivity and purpose than they have been in a while. And when people ask me what I do for a living, I now say with much confidence that I am a writer. I hope that by sharing one of the tools that’s helping me right now, many other writers might find it just as useful.