Have you ever had the experience of sitting down to complete a task only to find yourself overwhelmed by what needs to be done, unsure of where to start or what to prioritize, and with a looming sense of dread that this task may drag on much longer than you expected (or that your deadline, self-imposed or not, permits)?
Distractions, procrastination, and the overwhelming nature of deadlines are all part of the life of a writer or author. Writing a book is no small feat, and when you add to it the tasks and subtasks required to query or self-publish, publishing a book seems almost monumental.
Enter the Pomodoro Technique, a time management technique that has proven to be a game changer for countless people in a variety of careers and industries. I’ve been using this technique to frame my workday, boost productivity, and prioritize and organize routine and extraneous editorial tasks. In this blog, I’ll explore what makes the Pomodoro Technique tick and how writers can harness its power to enhance their writing time and creative output.
What is the Pomodoro Technique?
First developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s, the Pomodoro Technique is a time management method that revolves around focused work intervals, known as “pomodoros” (named after the little tomato-shaped kitchen timers that were initially used as the method’s timekeepers), followed by short breaks.
The basic structure, and the way I have found works best for me, consists of 25-minute work sessions, each followed by a five-minute break. After completing four work sessions, or pomodoros, you can take a longer break of 20–30 minutes. While there are a lot of theories about “deep focus” or what it takes to work deeply, the Pomodoro Method is aimed at individuals who want to enhance concentration in shorter bursts, reduce burnout, and improve overall efficiency.
The Pomodoro Technique for editorial work
In general, I stick to the suggested four pomodoros of 25 minutes each with five-minute breaks in between. Once a slate of four work sessions are complete, I take a 30-minute break. For me, a productive but not overwhelming workday consists of 12–14 pomodoros. Some of my routine tasks take less than one 25-minute session, so I group those tasks with other shorter tasks to create a complete pomodoro work interval.
At the end of every workday, I take time to look at my to-do list for the next day (I use Todoist—the free version—to keep track of everything), and I assign pomodoros in the form of the tomato emoji 🍅 to each task. I add in my projected longer break times (I don’t add the five-minute breaks so my schedule doesn’t become too cluttered), and I drag and drop each item so that they are organized by priority from top to bottom. So my to-do list may look something like this:
Manuscript review 🍅🍅
February week 1 content creation 🍅
Blog post 🍅🍅
Check email 🍅
Update project spreadsheet ½ 🍅
Prep for tomorrow ½ 🍅
Applying the Pomodoro Technique for focused writing
The beauty of the Pomodoro Technique is the ease with which it can be implemented. I probably overplan, but it is possible to get started if you simply have time set aside to write, you know what needs to get done, and you have something with which to keep time. To get started, consider these five steps:
Make a to-do list (similar to what I’ve done above) or set clear goals. Before starting a pomodoro session, define specific tasks or goals that need to be accomplished. It could be outlining a chapter, drafting a certain number of words, or editing a particular section or set of pages. This level of clarity is what enhances focus during each session.
Use at least one pomodoro for a writing sprint. Perhaps the idea of sitting down to write for an hour feels daunting. Why not break it up into two 25-minute sessions or just commit yourself to one session for the time being? Silence notifications, get comfortable, and immerse yourself in dedicated writing time. The time constraint shouldn’t be stressful, but it should create a sense of urgency. The clear stopping point will prevent the temptation to force yourself to continue beyond what may be helpful (thus, avoiding burnout). Of course, it’s important to note here that if you want to create longer pomodoro work sessions (say 45 or 50 minutes), that’s fine too! If you know that once you’re in the writing zone you’ll need a longer session, create one for yourself.
Embrace the breaks! We all know how bad sitting and excessive screen time can be for our health, so it's important to take the breaks (no matter how short) as seriously as we do the time we're working or writing.
Track progress with a running to-do list or task planner. Don't just delete your pomodoro tasks as you finish them. Having a way to go back and view what you've completed can bring a real sense of achievement and progress, which goes a long way toward making progress and avoiding burnout.
Adjust the method as needed for your particular situation.
So if you’re looking for a new way to approach writing tasks this year, if you’d like improved focus, enhanced productivity, and decreased burnout, I highly recommend trying out the Pomodoro Technique for yourself. It’s structured and effective, and I can personally say that it has helped me to overcome procrastination (which for me primarily takes the form of prioritizing nonessential, “easier” tasks over essential and more time-consuming tasks) and ensure that when I sit down to work it’s a meaningful use of my time and energy.
Grab your timer and get started!