During my recent conversation with Leah Hieber, the Davis High School teacher who shared her adventures in her second career as a science fiction and fantasy writer, she shared one strategy that has been essential in her writing success: The Pomodoro Technique.
I was thrilled. That’s because I’ve been using the same technique for several years to stay on task with my own writing (and other duties).
Here’s how it works: You pick a task — writing an article or studying, for example. You then set and start a timer for 25 minutes. Once the seconds start ticking down, you commit to only work on that task. No interruptions, including checking email or internet browsing, are allowed.
When the timer beeps, you take a five-minute break. If you haven’t completed your task, start another “Pomodoro” — set your timer for another 25 minutes. After doing a few of them — four is the standard for most — take a longer break, like 15 minutes or more.
The technique was developed by an Italian man named Francesco Cirillo, who used a timer shaped like Pomodoro. (Italian for tomato. Hence the name.) But really, any kitchen timer will work.
I have been using The Pomodoro Technique for many years now — and I’m using it to work on this column. The Pomodoro Technique’s strength, in my opinion, is in its simplicity. You don’t need any fancy planning tools. Just a timer — the one on your mobile phone will work — the task you need to finish and the commitment to focus on nothing else for those 25 minutes.
There’s plenty out there on The Pomodoro Technique, including on Cirillo’s website. But here’s my recommendation if you’re new to this: Commit to completing one Pomodoro — a single 25-minute session — a day. It might not feel like a lot, but it’s a good way to get a feel for what it’s like to have a single period of focused, uninterrupted time to work on just about anything. It might not be a lot of time, but that feeling you get about seizing back control of your workday has huge benefits.
Work up to doing multiple Pomodoros — with the prescribed breaks I mentioned earlier. After a few years doing this, I consider it a good day — where I feel I’ve made good use of my time — when I’ve completed about eight to 10 Pomodoros. Some days, I only do a few. Other days, when I’m really focused, I can do a dozen or more.
Keep in mind that not every task works perfectly with this technique — but the idea is figuring out how to make those 25-minute sessions work for you. For me, that might mean committing a Pomodoro session for reporting a story I’m working on. That may involve completing multiple small tasks, such as setting up an interview or doing online research, but as long as it relates to the story I’m working on, I feel that I have honored the commitment I made for that session.
Give it a try this week. Figure out a task you really want to get done — it can be something that you’ve been putting off or simply something that you need to get done soon — and then do that task for the 25-minute Pomodoro period.
What great timing, I just finished this piece and I’ve completed another Pomodoro. Time for a quick break!