Daily Writing Tip 8 of 100, Use the Pomodoro Technique

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – Use the Pomodoro Technique

Source – Anti-Procrastination for Writers by Akash Karia

My final and personal favorite technique to stop procrastinating and start achieving maximum productivity as a writer is the Pomodoro Technique.

If you have never heard of the Pomodoro Technique you have to learn about it.

You can read about it here: Pomodoro Technique Homepage

I wrote a blog entry about it here four years ago.

Pomodoro is Italian for tomato. That odd name comes from a tomato-shaped kitchen timer used by the original author Francesco Cirillo. The tomato isn’t necessary (I use a silver-colored twist dial timer).

The technique is simple:

  1. You decide on your next task and then set the timer for 25 minutes.
  2. While the timer is running you do nothing else and think of nothing else but the task at hand.
  3. When the timer goes off, you take a five minute break.
  4. Then you repeat the process… either on a new task or you return to the same one if it isn’t finished.
  5. Every four Pomodoros (each 25+5 minute work session is a single Pomodoro) you take a longer break

You keep track of how many Pomodoros you accomplish during a day and work on increasing that number.

It works really well to help you focus, avoid distractions, and get through difficult projects – like getting that story written.

I don’t use the technique as much as I should – it does work.

The biggest problem I have is getting through the twenty five minutes without interruption. Even when I silence my phone and hide my email – I have real live people interrupt me on more than half my Pomodoros. It’s very frustrating. Something I have to work on.

One piece of advice that I do have…. A lot of people use software timers or phone apps to do their timing. That is very tempting and good for a backup. However, I think a real, live, mechanical kitchen timer (though it doesn’t have to look like a tomato) works better. The slight ticking noise it makes becomes associated with working diligently and reminds the mind to focus.

Pomodoro

My Pomodoro timer, Moleskine, and Ivory Pilot Prera fountain pen.

What I learned this week, November 30, 2012

 

D Magazine: Why Does Dallas Hate Cyclists?

Bicycling in Dallas is too difficult and too dangerous. Bicycling magazine called Dallas the worst city for cyclists—twice (in 2008 and 2012). As a result, only heroes do it. And the solution is simple. We need only change the way we think.

When the story you are reading is published online, there will appear, without question, comments from people who will assail Mike McNair and hurl insults at cyclists of every stripe for getting in the way of their cars. A number of years ago, golf commentator David Feherty wrote a story for D Magazine about getting run over on his bike by a car in Dallas. He did a turn with Krys Boyd on 90.1 KERA to talk about the experience and his long rehabilitation. Online and on air, a sizable number of people said: “Screw the cyclists! They are a hazard and should get off the road!” Words to that effect.

That attitude is the first thing that must change if Dallas is ever to achieve its world-class ambitions. Bicyclists are like children. They are slow. They are sometimes unpredictable. They weave and wander and clearly think the world revolves around them. They infuriate. But they are our future. So we should not only tolerate them, we should encourage and coddle them.


Great News. The Dallas Museum of Art had free admission when it was first opened, and I was working downtown. While it is worth the paid admission, making it free enables a person to enjoy the place on a more informal basis. I used to go there and look at one piece of art only – really think about it. Hard to do that when you pay ten bucks to get in.


Museum Tower is an “attack” on the Nasher Sculpture Center’s garden, building and art

As Nasher Sculpture Center landscape architect Peter Walker sees it, the intense light reflecting off Museum Tower, the 42-story, $200 million condominium complex across from the center, is an “attack on the garden and on the building and on the art.” According to Walker, “What the reflection does is very much like putting light through a magnifying glass, it essentially burns everything that it sees.”


Writing in my Moleskine Journal outside the Mojo Lounge, Decatur Street, French Quarter, New Orleans

Anyone with free time in North Texas tomorrow, Saturday, December 1st, think about coming down to Deep Ellum for the first

Dallas Writing Marathon


Taps for growler filling behind the bar.

Craft and Growler, down on Exposition near fair park, is open and it’s a cool place. A long way for me to drive for a growler full of beer…. but it’s worth it (my car gets great mileage).



An Idea Pomodoro – timer, pen, composition book.

A freelance writer shares his thoughts and experiences using the Pomodoro Technique to cut down on distractions and squeeze more productivity out of his day.

How a tomato helps me get stuff done


The Idea Pomodoro

For a while now I have been working on using the Pomodoro Technique to improve the amount of work I can get done in a period of time, help control stress, and reduce procrastination.

The basic idea of the Pomodoro Technique is to break a workday up into set units of time using a simple kitchen timer or equivalent:

1. Choose a task to be accomplished

2. Set the Pomodoro to 25 minutes (the Pomodoro is the timer)

3. Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper

4. Take a short break (5 minutes is OK)

5. Every 4 Pomodoros take a longer break

The real benefit of the technique comes when you get in the habit of examining the Pomodoros and see what you were able to accomplish. You can set up a feedback loop where you see what you are getting done, improve your implementation of the technique, apply the improvement, and then see how it works.

I have a way to go before I am a master of the technique. The most vexing difficulty is managing interruptions. But I’ll keep experimenting and plugging away.

What I want to talk about today is the idea of a Specialty Pomodoro. This is a Pomodoro sized and timed chunk of time… 25 minutes, that are set up and used for a specific purpose, rather than simply trying to peel stuff of off the daily todo list.

There might, for example, be a Brainstorm Pomodoro, where a problem has presented itself and you sit there for one Pomodoro and pump out and write down as many possible or harebrained solutions as you can, with no self-editing until the timer has dinged. There might be a Writing Pomodoro – obviously used to pump out text. Or maybe a Plot Point Pomodoro where possible plot points are generated, or a Character Pomodoro… or a Character Name Pomodoro, or a Setting Pomodoro – the list can grow very quickly.

I have come up with a concept of what I call an Idea Pomodoro – which is where I sit down with a Staples Bagasse Composition Book, start the timer going, and simply write down what I want to do, as quickly and with as little thought as possible, until I get the ding.

The purpose of this is to clear my head. There is that feeling of too many ideas bouncing around, too many plans, too little time. This helps clear everything out so I can get back to work. Once an idea is in the book, it is safe, I won’t lose it, it won’t float off to be stolen and used by somebody else. Of course, I have always carried 3×5 cards or a notebook to record sudden ideas, and that’s a good thing (they can be transferred into the Pomodoro) but I found it wasn’t enough. Doing this for a full, intense, Pomodoro feels like a spring cleaning in my brain.

Pomodoro

An Idea Pomodoro - timer, pen, composition book.

My Pomodoro timer is a metal kitchen timer – it feels more substantial and accurate that the tomoto-shaped ones so many people use. I do recommend using the physical timer rather than a computer program – the ticking of the timer seems important and having a real object in the place of a string of bits adds a certain gravitas. The paper in the composition book is thin and you can see the ink on the back side through the paper. Sometimes I use both sides, sometimes I don’t. It doesn’t seem to be important one way or the other. That’s a Pilot Prera fountain pen in the picture.

I like to use the composition book instead of a lined form because I can keep going as long as I need, keeping the limit being time, rather than space. I do find that I can easily fill four or five pages of stuff. Also, I can keep my “book of ideas” with me – all in one place, so I can look at them later and evaluate, act, or discard as need be.

I do use a little code for a hierarchy. Big, top-level ideas are marked with a tick “-“. Smaller, sub-ideas under the big one are marked with an “o”. If I have to go to a third level, I use a hand-drawn asterisk… which doesn’t happen very often.

Later, after my five-minute break or even days later, I can look over the ideas and start building projects or to-do lists. Of course, a lot of the ideas are too ambitious, or too much work, or just plain stupid – and have to be discarded. But that’s cool; I have written it down and can come back to it in the future if the situation changes.

How often do I do an Idea Pomodoro? As often as I need to. It is a spring cleaning of my brain so I do one whenever things begin to feel cluttered. When I find myself jumping from idea to idea and having trouble settling down I know it’s time to carve out the half-hour (including the five minute break) and dump the excess brain dust bunnies out onto a piece of paper.

Does this seem anal – too much work, too much navel gazing? Much ado about nothing? It really isn’t. Once you’ve set everything up it works smoothly and without very much attention. You do get like Pavlov’s dog – the ticking of the timer becomes associated with doing the work.

Speaking of which… there’s the ding. Time for me to take a little break.

Talk to ya later.