Recently, I told a fellow writer that I was struggling to write. It was all very frustrating, I explained, because I’m excited about this current series, I like my characters, and I’m attempting to have several completed works finalized before putting the first book out in the world.
But with everything going on, with the constant onslaught of bad news, my partner home from work for the foreseeable future, and the unpredictable and often totally debilitating anxiety that has become a constant companion in these challenging months, I cannot seem to get words down on the page. I’m certain it’s a struggle we’ve all experienced, if we’re not personally going through it now.
What about the Pomodoro Technique, she asked me. It was off-handed and casual and I didn’t think much of it until a few days later, when, curious, I typed it into my Pinterest search bar to see what came up. The Pomodoro Technique wasn’t a new concept. It circulates around the writing world with relative ease, and as I’ve never struggled to get the writing done (just the rest of it) I’ve been casually familiar without ever really understanding what it was, beyond a time-keeping system to ensure maximum productivity.
And that’s exactly what it is: a time-keeping system to ensure maximum productivity. It’s called the Pomodoro Technique after the developer, Francesco Cirillo’s, kitchen timer, which was in the shape of a tomato (pomodoro being tomato in Italian) and it’s as simple as this. Work for 25 minutes. Break for 5 minutes. Times 4. Longer break (10-20 minutes) repeat. It’s that easy. And yet, it’s the only thing that seems to be working for me right now.
I must confess, I haven’t managed to do a complete four section cycle with proper breaking and such, but the idea of 25 minutes on is the most important part to me. When the anxiety gets bad, I’m easily distractable. I open pages, I pick up games, I doodle, I call my mom. Somehow, the day has disappeared and not only do I not feel any better, but I’m no closer to completing my task. But for 25 minutes. I can work for 25 minutes.
There is productivity belief that if you set the bar too high on a day’s project and don’t meet it, you will feel like a failure, thus making you less productive the following day. But if you set a small goal and reach it, you’ll feel like a success, which will then inspire you to complete the next goal and the next.
The Pomodoro Technique leans into that system. Where I normally put “write 2,500 words” on my to-do-list, or “finish Chapter 11”, I now write in sprints of 25 minutes, moving as fast as I can because, again, it’s only 25 minutes. I leave off in a middle section and I’m excited to get back to it, racing through because I know I don’t have to sustain for too long and because each completed 25 minute section feels like an epic victory.
In two hours, I’ve worked, really worked, effectively, so even if those are the only two hours in which I manage to get anything done at all, they’re more productive than a day of meandering, wandering off, and indulging in my anxiety. It is not a cure, but it is an effective system of management that means I still accomplish my goals and complete the day with a feeling of success.
Time management can work in many different ways. I downloaded a Pomodoro Technique app for free and turned off the god-awful ticking sound, so I just get a nice ding when my time is up. For those 25 minutes, I don’t check my texts, don’t answer emails, don’t go looking for stock photos for my covers. I work. I break. I work.
Perhaps this technique won’t be as effective for everyone, but I’ve been putting off trying it for years and I’m not entirely certain why. Of course, I’ve done timers and sprints, but that 25 minutes seems to really be the sweet spot of getting stuff done without getting overwhelmed. If you’re struggling to focus or, like me, managing the anxiety of a global pandemic and the upsetting of the natural routine, perhaps it will work for you too. Consider giving it a try—sometimes it’s the simplest solutions that yield the greatest results.