The Pomodoro Technique® for Writers

110_F_62995971_5ICUFanuBUpaUrHXMXqz2QhaYHcBsxpnCreated in the 1980s. Picked up by business in the 1990s. But still largely unknown among the general public. And writers need to know!

As a student, Francesco Cirillo struggled with time management. We’ve all been there. As an undergraduate, I worked 40-45 hours a week while taking a full load of classes. Oh, and I had a social life (of sorts). I had to be efficient or I’d not make it. (Spoiler: I did graduate…and then graduate again…and graduate again…and graduate for the last time.)

Cirillo found that if he timed himself with a kitchen timer (He happened to have a tomato-shaped one, thus the name Pomodoro™) alternating between short bursts or sprints of focused work with much shorter breaks, he actually got more done. He kept track of his pomodori (the unit for the 25-minute work sprint), and after every fourth one, he took a 25-30 minute break.

The Pomodoro Technique® is “deceptively simple”, as one site called it. And yet it is genius. For me, using PT was not so much a stretch. As a cooker, timers rule my life anyway. So what’s the big deal with doing it with writing, too?

However, when I first heard of it, I had to order the tomato timer. It’s too cute. I mean, I’m all in! No way am I using my oven timer. I don’t write in the kitchen. Then I began to wonder who I knew was also PTing.

I hunted around, and I got a few friends to answer questions about their use of the Pomodoro Technique®.

Tracie Banister, author of Blame It on the Fame and In Need of Therapy, claims that the Pomodoro Technique® helps her limit Internet time gobblers and to focus for larger amounts of time. She modifies the times so that if she writes longer, she takes longer breaks.

Isabella Anderson, author in Merry and Bright and author of The Right Design, likes it so much she wrote a post about her plan to use the Pomodoro Technique® during NaNoWriMo.

Isabella and others use the timer on the phone or have downloaded timing apps to use on their computers or tablets instead of a physical timer. Some of the timing apps block you from Internet sites during the pomodoro™ period. Clever, eh?

Isabella began using the Pomodoro Technique® during edits for The Right Design. It was a way to stay focused and not feel overwhelmed by the editing task. Twenty-five minute bursts break down the “daunting task” to one that felt manageable. She credits it with keeping her on track and less grumpy.

Isabella, like most of us Pomordorans, is self-taught, and, in fact, she independently happened upon the strategy before she knew there was an official name and procedure. She used it and will continue to use the technique because it works for her.

There are lots of Pomodoro Technique® helps on the Web so you can teach yourself. But, there are also books to purchase and classes to take to extend the use of the technique. So just what is the basic Pomodoro Technique® and how do you do it? I also wrote about my perspective on what works or doesn’t, what you can do in the five minute breaks, and modifications I use.

What it is
The directions for the easiest implementation of the Pomodoro Technique® are quite simple, though there are advanced techniques that you can get in courses. For what I need, the basic method works swell. A pomodoro™ is one time unit (usually 25 minutes). Here’s how to get started.

1. List writing or editing tasks to accomplish for the day.
2. Estimate how many pomodori (plural form of pomodoro™) will be needed for each task and write it down next to the task. This takes practice and is part of the advanced course work.
3. Set your timer for the number of minutes you will work (as said above, usually 25 minutes).
4. Work on the task until the timer rings.
5. Set the timer for 5 minutes and take a break (see below for ideas).
6. After four pomodori, take a break of 15-30 minutes.
7. Repeat.

What works:
a) Changing pace often so you stay focused.
b) Changing pace keeps fatigue at bay.
c) One is aware of time passing so there’s a deadline, an urgency that many respond to.
d) People report accomplishing more.
e) PT is easy to do with little or no cost.
f) PT keeps the time-sucking web at bay.
g) You can do Internet necessities in pomodori instead of using break times.

What doesn’t work:
** If you are really rolling with a scene, you don’t want to quit and lose momentum. Decision point: Keep going or stop?
** Interruptions are sometimes hard to handle.
** The timer startles me and hubs hates the dinging interrupting him.
** Because the timer is noisy I can’t use it when I go to the computer at 4 a.m.

What you can do in 5 minutes:
We all need to take breaks for our health: mental and physical. The breaks should be mentally relaxing as a BREAK from intellectual tasks.

–Desk exercises (a ton on-line)
–Stand up and do some kettle bell exercises
–Run in place for 5 minutes (many reports found running 5 minutes a day adds years to your life)
–Answer e-mail/Facebook posts
–Post tweets
–Go to the bathroom
–Grab a beverage and drink it in 5 minutes to stay hydrated
–Walk outside or around the house (I wear a pedometer during waking hours–up those steps toward 10K)
–Groom the dog
–Clean out your purse or a kitchen drawer
–Order prescriptions from the pharmacy
–Throw load of laundry in
–Put the butter out to soften for a recipe
–Feed the dog
–Make an appointment or reservation
And other stuff like that.

Modifications I’ve made:
~ If “in the zone”, I keep going until a logical break point.
~ Decide how many pomodori I will do each day; typically 6-8
~ I muffle the timer so it doesn’t startle me.

Interested? Read more:
Trying PT


Author: Sharon Arthur Moore

Sharon Arthur Moore is an intrepid cook, who has lived in every region of the country except the Pacific Northwest and loved every single one of them.

11 thoughts on “The Pomodoro Technique® for Writers”

  1. I just started doing this last week for my NaNoWriMo writing! I have heard about it before, but didn’t really get around to trying it. I estimated that my book for this year’s NaNo was going to be 115,000-125,000 words, and I don’t write on Sundays, so I was aiming at over 5,000 words per day to make sure I would get it done by the end of the month. But I have found that when I am trying to get a lot of words written per day, I tend to get more words written when I have smaller chunks of time available than when I have a longer time, and get bored/distracted/fatigued. And it worked wonderfully!

    I have a Pebble watch, which vibrates, so no problems with disturbing other people with the timer. I worked on 20 minute intervals with 5 minute breaks, and then a break of 30-60 minutes after every three intervals. (If I actually had that much time.) I found it easier to ignore distractions (I’ll do that during my next break) to stay focused on my writing. I forced myself to stop immediately when the interval ended, not even finishing the sentence, so it was easy to pick up again with good momentum. While I am a proponent of ending my writing in the midst of an exciting scene so that I can get back into it easily, I’m not very good at actually doing it, and tend not to stop until I am at a slower or more difficult turn in the action. The timer forced me to stop when the momentum was still going. It turned out that it worked well for my family too. Instead of being irritated if one of them wanted my time and attention (and then feeling guilty for either not giving them attention or for leaving my writing) I would take a look at my timer and say “I’m taking a break in seven minutes.” That made them happy, and I could either take my five minute break to help them/chat, or take a longer break if they needed more time.

    I found it really worked well for me. I hit my highest-word day of NaNo with over 13,000 words written in one day, and it wasn’t a day that left me with brain fatigue by evening. And I still made dinner and cleaned the bathroom.

    1. You are a writing machine! Wowzer! I love this technique. I, too, write more and am less tired. I have been so bad (in the past) about sitting forever. This is not only more healthful, but to get more done per hour is very motivating to stick with it! Good for you to get so far along on your massive novel. It’s guess it’s either fantasy, science fiction, or historical. Those are the big boys! See you at NaNo end!

  2. Thanks to you, I ordered my ‘pomodoro’ yesterday. Your article was so inspiring I decided I had to give it a try even before the pomodoro arrived. I think it works for me. I love the idea of dividing my writing into twenty min spurts and short breaks.

    1. Good for you, Elizabeth! There are so many variations of this, but I wanted to do the original from which the others sprung. Thanks for coming by. Apparently, you think it works for you. Any struggles and/or successes you care to share?

  3. I didn’t realize this had a name! I learned about this years ago (in business) as a reality check on how much work was actually being done. Nice. Thanks.

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