Monday, January 2, 2017

The Pomodoro Technique and Productive Writing Time

Photo by Paul Downey, via Flickr


A lot of the writers I work with struggle with keeping up a productive writing schedule. And if I’m being honest, I sometimes struggle with the same time management difficulties when I’m faced with a big editing project. It can be hard to sit down and write when you have a million other pressing obligations, when you’re facing writer’s block, or when you’d just rather do something else. Procrastination happens to the best of us.

So when I’m finding it hard to be a productive writer or editor, I turn to the Pomodoro Technique to get me back on track.

But what even is the Pomodoro Technique?

In the late 1980s Francesco Cirillo developed a time management technique that uses a timer to break down work into intervals separated by short breaks. So, twenty-five minutes of working followed by five minutes of play. Rinse and repeat until the work is done. Cirillo named his technique and the intervals after the Italian word for “tomato” because of the tomato-shaped kitchen timer he used to time his intervals. And it’s really that simple.

The idea is that frequent breaks improve mental agility. So while you can use the Pomodoro Technique for just about any kind of work, it’s especially useful for writing and editing because it keeps your imagination from getting stagnant and your mind from burning out. Plus, if you know that you only “have” to write for a short period of time before you can do something else, you’re more likely to just sit your ass down and get it over with.

There are also proven health benefits associated with getting up and moving around every once in awhile instead of sitting in a chair typing for hours on end. A lot of the time I use my break pomodoros to do squats, tricep dips, or lunges around my office. It gets my blood flowing, freaks out my interns, and makes me feel smug about my physical fitness while still making progress on my nerdy indoor goals.

You can choose the length of your working and playing pomodoros according to what works for your schedule and workload. I usually stick to the traditional twenty-five minutes of editing interspersed with five minutes of reading for fun, exercising, doing laundry, or playing fetch with my dog, but you can break it down into even smaller or larger pomodoros. An hour on, ten minutes off. Thirty minutes on, thirty minutes off. Assess your scheduling needs and pomodoro accordingly!

I recommend the Pomodoro Technique to authors who are struggling with procrastination, buried under other obligations, or just overwhelmed with the amount of writing they need to get done. Breaking writing and editing down into manageable chunks will help to make the work go by faster and keep track of your progress. And I often find that within a few pomodoros, I hit my stride and don’t want to stop for breaks anymore. Once the writing is flowing, you don’t have to force yourself to stop for break pomodoros anymore. Just ride out the productivity as long as it lasts, and then start cycling through breaks and working pomodoros again.

You can even pair the Pomodoro Technique with a site blocker for maximum focus. I personally use this free browser plug-in, Strict Workflow, to make it easier to stick to my writing or editing while on my computer. The site blocker makes it so you literally can’t access particular websites during your writing pomodoro. If you try to visit Facebook, for example (that black hole of wasted time and energy that is the enemy of any productive visit to the Internet), the site blocker will instead reroute you to a message that tells you to get your lazy ass back to work. It makes it so you literally can’t procrastinate during a working pomodoro.

The Pomodoro Technique isn’t for every writer and editor, but I highly suggest you try it, especially if you’re easily distracted, if you live with ADD, if you have a hard time staying motivated, or if you’re overwhelmed by your to-do list. I used it to write this blog post, and got the whole thing done within two working pomodoros with a break in the middle to walk my dog for ten minutes. Now I have a complete, polished blog post and a happy dog. Everybody wins!

Jessica d’Arbonne is an acquiring editor at the University Press of Colorado. She is an alumna of the Denver Publishing Institute and Emerson College. You can follow her on Twitter @JessDarb.


  1. That would be a really great reminder to take a break once in a while. Sometimes you get lost in a zone and you look up and 8 hours have passed and you've been needing the loo for four of them. :)

  2. I need the reminder to get off social media and actually crank out some work. Time is so timeless when you get to be my age. LOL. Welcome to the BRP again, Jess!

  3. Great ideas, and I agree with both of the above, though when I'm in a zone, I don't want to break the spell. Those zone-outs don't happen often anymore. Social media is lethal. I get out and walk the dog, and for in-the-seat distraction, I play Spider Solitaire and do Sudoku puzzles. Those little breaks work for me.

  4. Great tips, and I do take breaks to get the blood moving and stretch some muscles. Old bones and old muscles need movement. LOL

    However, I do hesitate to take an hourly break when I am deep in the midst of a creative surge.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Sorry -- discovered an error after (of course) hitting the publish button. Corrected comment is below.

  6. I've started experimenting with a Pomodoro app that puts the timer on my Mac. The one I'm using is called Be Focused, but there are plenty of others. The nice thing about the technique is it really does encourage you to remain focused on one thing. And since multitasking is the bane of all things things productive, I'm looking forward to seeing if I can stick to it.

  7. As a professional procrastinator, I find the Pomodoro Technique a bit challenging. However, it sounds like a great idea for those of us who sit too long and find ourselves in dire need of that stretch and movement of old bones and muscles Maryann mentioned. The idea of awakening creativity that has been lulled into a nonproductive trance by simply increasing blood flow to the brain makes sense. Time for a break!

  8. I do get up and walk around at least once per hour when writing. It's so not healthy to sit still in a chair like that. But when it comes to other work like cleaning, yard work of anything physical, I work best without taking breaks.

  9. Yes, it works for me. A giant egg-timer, 40 minutes on, break, another 40 etc. I didn't know it has a name though :-)


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