pomodoro technique

Writers and the Pomodoro Technique: Everything You Need to Know

Introduction

The first thing that every writer learns is that in order to become a good writer, you need to write. Practice makes perfect. This isn’t all though—you also need to keep writing and stay productive. Some people might be able to function and get their writing done when they don’t have a deadline, but others can’t. They need something to help them stay on track.

Productivity Matters

How do you stay productive? There are many methods, including bribing yourself with a special treat or purchase once you hit a certain word count, as well as forcing yourself to sit in your office until something gets done. The problem with these methods is that they don’t force you to concentrate. The Pomodoro method does. Keep reading to learn more about this revolutionary focusing technique, and how you can use it to get all of the writing done—with or without a deadline.

What Is the Pomodoro Technique?

In order to fully explain how you can use the Pomodoro technique as a writer, we first need to go into some detail about the technique itself.

History of the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro technique dates back to the 1980s and was created by Francesco Cirillo. (Who worked as a developer at the time.) He later went on to become an entrepreneur and author—specializing in the field of time management after his technique took off and grew in popularity.

Cerillo named the productivity technique “Pomodoro” after the timer that he used when developing it. That timer was shaped like a tomato, and Pomodoro means “tomato” in Italian. His timer was round and red, and it looked like a tomato. The name stuck, and Cirillo’s Pomodoro method is now used throughout the world.

How the Technique Works

When you stop to think about it, the Pomodoro method is actually quite ingenious. To explain it simply, you break your day up into time slots and use the Pomodoro to track them. Ideally, you would work on something non-stop for 25 minutes (with the Pomodoro set for that amount of time) and then, when the timer dings, spend the next five minutes on a break. This gives your brain a rest and refreshes it for the next task, which also lasts for 25 minutes. After a set number of these Pomodoros (as the focus periods are called), usually four of them, you then take a longer break, perhaps a half hour or 45 minutes before getting back to work.

The reason why this method works so well is that you’re forced to focus for that specific length of time. You know that you only have a set period of time to get something done, so you work on it intently. As a result, you’ll accomplish a lot and manage to be very productive.

On top of that, many of the people who use this technique regularly state that they feel more refreshed once their work days are over. They don’t have that brain fatigue that many others have. It’s believed that the small breaks in between the pomodoros are what help with this, particularly when the person gets up from their desk chair and takes a true break. Everyone’s brain deserves a rest, especially when they’re busy writing all day.

Phases of the Pomodoro Technique

Another great thing about the Pomodoro technique is the fact that it involves phases. You can’t just sit down at your desk, start the timer, and begin typing away. First, you need to plan things out. Here’s how the phases break down:

Phase One

This is the planning phase. What do you want to do today? What do you need to do today? Make a list of all of these things. From there, rank everything on the list. What order does it need to be accomplished in? You need to follow this list in order to plan your day out properly.

Phase Two

In this phase, you’ll go through and assign a time period to each task. Some of the larger ones may take more than 25 minutes, so you’ll need to assign more pomodoros to them. You might even have some that take up four pomodoros (four twenty-five-minute blocks). If you have more to do then you have pomodoros in the day, then you’ll need to shuffle some tasks around and work on them according to priority.

Phase Three

Finally, you have you have your day planned out. You just need to set that timer and get started. You can do this in the morning before your workday begins, or get everything situated the evening before. It’s up to you.

Tools of the Pomodoro Technique

The tools that are involved in using the Pomodoro technique are actually quite simple. All that you need is a list of the tasks that you need to do, a pen or pencil to mark off the tasks that you’ve completed, and a Pomodoro, or timer.

Here are some timer options:

  • A traditional egg timer
  • The stopwatch mode on a smartphone
  • A specific app designed for the Pomodoro method

Not only this, but you need to limit interruptions. Cerillo advocated for doing this in the following way:

Tell the person who’s interrupting you that you’re busy and can’t currently help them. You’re in the middle of a task, after all. Then you look at your schedule and find a time to call them back. Once you reach that “call back” Pomodoro, do what you’re supposed to—call that person back. This limits your interruptions and keeps you on task.

Writers and Productivity

As a writer, you no doubt understand the need to stay productive. There are so many different things that can take up your time. You might find yourself coming up with excuses on how to develop your characters or come up with scenarios that you need to “think through” (read: procrastinate) before you can move forward with your writing. Here are some of the largest things that keep you from being productive every day:

Planning

As we already mentioned, you need to plan out everything. Your characters need names and back stories. You need character development. You also need to work on that plot, come up with ideas for various settings and situations, and even develop how that character will sound once it’s on paper.

Rather than work on these things in your office, writing them down on paper, it’s all too easy to say, “I’m thinking and planning” and then go work in your garden or your workshop. Or go to the store and “think” about your plot while shopping, walking through a museum, or sitting in front of the television. The problem here is that you aren’t actually getting anything done. Are you thinking about how the plot will work out and how the characters speak? Or are you procrastinating on that task? You’re probably doing the latter.

You aren’t getting anything done.

This is a problem.

The Issue of Writing from Home

Another problem stems from the fact that many writers work out of their homes. They might spend their days at the office and then work on their writing in the evening. Or they could be lucky enough to write from home full time, but this doesn’t mean that you actually spend that time writing. Instead, you’re dealing with interruptions—the phone is ringing, your dog wants out, your kids are making a mess—and then you suddenly find yourself doing laundry or washing the kitchen floor instead of writing. These chores are a great avoidance technique that prevents you from actually doing what you want to be doing—writing.

Yes, writing from home is sometimes a blessing and a curse, even if you work a day job and only have the evenings to develop your characters and plot.

Thankfully, we know of a great method that can help you be more productive—the Pomodoro technique.

Using the Pomodoro Technique

Writers can definitely benefit from the Pomodoro technique. Here are some ideas on how to make it work for you.

Your Planning Periods

Rather than set up your day based on a lengthy to-do list, you should instead spend some of it planning out your characters, plot, and scenes. These periods (or pomodoros) should take up part of your morning. Use those 25-minute time slots to write down as much as you can about your characters. Actually, think about how they’ll look and sound. You can do the same for your scenarios, your plot, and more. Since you only have 25 minutes to get everything done, you should have no problem actually planning things out.

You may find that you need more than one Pomodoro in order to plan out everything. This is fine. As long as you’re actually doing this and not getting distracted by everything else in your home, then you’re on the right track.

Freewriting

Many writers also do something known as freewriting. It’s a common practice that appears in schools, where students are told to just write something off of the top of their heads. Some of these students manage to write out entire essays on specific topics during these freewriting sessions, while others just put down words and sentences that don’t entirely connect. Either way, it’s great practice. You can take advantage of this as well, using your freewriting pomodoros as a warm-up of sorts for what comes next—the actual writing.

Actual Writing

This is where you’ll get your real writing done. You might find that it’s an offshoot of your freewriting practice or something else altogether. Either way, you’ll use these pomodoros in order to advance your plot, put your characters in your designed situation, and even describe all of that scenery that you worked out earlier. Your actual writing (called this to differentiate it from your freewriting period) might take up a good part of your day. It should since this is basically where the “magic” happens.

Editing Your Work

Finally, you may find yourself setting aside some pomodoros to do some editing on the work that you’ve completed. These will be the last pomodoros or time periods of the day, and they’ll let your brain wind down in a rather relaxing way. After exerting all of that energy on being creative and putting words on the page, it will be nice to just go over them, make any necessary changes, and see where you’re at. By this point, you’ll probably be a bit proud of everything that you’ve written that day, even if it needs heavy editing. All that matters is that you did it.

How Many Pomodoros?

You’re probably looking at all of those planning and writing pomodoros in the last chapter and trying to determine which of them matter the most. How should you break your day down? The fact of the matter is that there is no right or wrong way to do this.

It’s Up to You

It really is up to you. Some people find that they need to spend half the day in the planning phases, with a little time freewriting and writing. This is probably how it will be in the very beginning when you first start on your book. You’ll have to spend some time getting to know your characters.

As things progress, you’ll find that you spend less time on planning and more on the actual writing. This makes sense since once your characters are developed, you will find that they just need to be written onto the page.

Finally, once you reach the end stages of the writing process, you’ll spend more time on editing and less on writing. This is natural and is how things will usually work out.

The Answer to the Question

So, the answer to how many pomodoros? As many as you need in order to write your book.

Conclusion

By now, you should understand the basics of the Pomodoro technique. You know how it works, and how you—as a writer—should make it work for you. With it, you’ll be much more productive every single day. Your writing will get done and it will (hopefully) meet your own personal standards. As long as you keep this up, before you know it, that novel will be completed!


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