Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Supercharge your Writing with the Pomodoro Method by Julie Phend



Have you made a New Year's resolution to write more often and get more done? Here's a trick to make it happen. You can supercharge your productivity by adapting the Pomodoro study technique to your writing practice. Hang on to see how it works.


Take a Break:

Research shows that people are more productive when they take regular breaks. 

“What?” I hear you scoffing. “Taking breaks will make me a more productive writer?”

Yes, it will. If your breaks are regular and intentional, and your time on task is uninterrupted.


I discovered this accidentally while writing on days when I do laundry. I set a timer for as long as the load will take. And then I write, challenging myself to see how much I can do in that time. When the timer goes off, I get up, fold the load, and put the next one in. Then I’m back at my desk writing against the clock until the next load is ready. Oddly enough, I noticed that those days are among my most productive, despite the constant interruptions.

 I wondered why.


The Pomodoro Study Technique:

I learned the answer when I heard Christopher Maselli speak at a writing conference about using the Pomodoro Method to write faster and better. The Pomodoro Method started as an academic study strategy, alternating blocks of time: 25 minutes of intense study followed by a 5- minute break.


Maselli has modified the strategy for writers, using productivity research to underpin the plan.


The Research:


Maselli cited research by a group studying employee productivity. 

The study found that the most productive workers took frequent breaks. Looking into brain research to discover why, they learned that the human brain functions in spurts of high energy (about an hour long) followed by shorter periods of low energy (about 15 minutes.) Furthermore, these studies show that the brain has a unique focus when it is intensely engaged for 52 minutes of work, followed by 17 minutes of rest.


This was an “aha” moment for me. Most loads of laundry dry in about 50 minutes in my machine, so I was writing in the sweet spot of intense focus between breaks for doing the wash.





Pomodoro for Writers: 

Maselli has adapted these findings to the practice of writing. Here's how it works:

  • Turn off all distractions. 
  • Set a timer for 52 minutes. During those 52 minutes, write as much as you can. 
  • When the timer goes off, stop—even if you're in the middle of a sentence. 
  • Set your timer for 17 minutes and leave the room. 
  • Do something entirely different: fold a load of laundry, take a walk, make a quick phone call, meditate, do some yoga. 
  • When your timer goes off, your break is over. Go back to your desk and write for another 52 minutes.


Maselli notes that most writers can only manage three or four sessions in a day because the writing focus is so intense. But at the end of that time, you will find that you've done at least as much as when you've spent a whole day in front of the computer.



Intense Focus:

The key to this strategy’s power is that the periods of writing (work) are focused. No distractions are allowed. For 52 minutes, you are intensely engaged in your writing. It's just you and the page.


But when the timer goes off, you must get up and do something else. You want to harness the periods of peak productivity.




But what about Flow?

Some writers insist this method will interrupt the flow of their thoughts or prevent them from “getting in the zone.” However, even when the writing is flowing, the brain will slow after about an hour. If you give it the break it craves, your brain comes back to the page rested, focused, and eager to get back to work.


How do you achieve a distraction-free environment?

Avoiding distraction is crucial to focus. Here are some tips to make sure your work periods are distraction-free.

  • Ban your phone. Research shows that the average person looks at their phone every twelve minutes. That’s a lot of distraction, not to mention temptation. Disable it by turning on the “Do not Disturb” feature or putting it in airplane mode.  Better yet, put it in another room. 
  • Set your computer to hide notifications and turn off all sound. 
  • Do not open the Internet, even for research. (You can research at a separate time, adjusting topics to Pomodoro periods for peak productivity.) 
  • Close your door. 
  • Tell your friends and family that you are working. (One writer friend told me she wears a special scarf when she is writing. When the scarf is on, her family knows she is not to be disturbed.)


Why not try it?

Give the Pomodoro Method a try and see if it makes a difference for you. Then come back to the Grog Blog and let us know how it worked.


For more tips on improving your writing productivity, check out Chris Maselli’s website:


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