Using the Pomodoro Technique to Write


Using the Pomodoro Technique to WriteAre you having trouble developing a habit of writing?

The Pomodoro Technique can help. It’s a time management technique developed by Francesco Cirillo. Writers using this technique can break down their work into focused, uninterrupted blocks of approximately 25 minutes.

After one 25 minute block of writing, it’s OK to take a short two to three-minute break; that’s just enough time to check email or a social media feed. After four Pomodoros, writers should take a longer 10-20 minute break; that’s enough time for lunch.

Users of the Pomodoro Technique record their progress in a log book and if they are interrupted during a Pomodoro, they should consider that Pomodoro void. The thinking behind this technique is the experience of flow and focus while you write.

In other words, you can avoid distractions and procrastination. Tracking each Pomodoro means users gain a better understanding of how long your writing project is taking and what’s interrupting their progress. This kind of tracking will also help you develop a habit of writing everyday.

To get started all you need is:

  • A timer
  • A Pilot G4 pen (any pen will do)
  • A notebook
  • Something to write about
  • Somewhere to do it

There are a number of digital Pomodoro timers available for Windows and OS X. My favourite timer is the discontinued My Little Pomodoro for OS X and/or a cooking timer I bought in Tesco for a fiver.

There are a number of free alternatives like Simple Pomodoro Timer for iOS, PomoToDo for OS X, PomodoroApp for Windows and Pomodoro Productivity Timer for Android.

The advantage of the digital apps is that they make it easier to record your progress. That said, Cirillo’s book advocates using a simple cooking timer. It’s possible to buy one of those in a supermarket for a couple of euro and use a simple notebook (Moleskine anyone?) to record your progress. Amazon even sell a dedicated Pomodoro timer for approximately $19.99.

How I use the Pomodoro Technique to Write

I record my the progress of my writing projects in a Moleskine logbook, and I work within blocks of 27 minutes. I increased the Pomodoros to 27 minutes because it takes me a minute or so to warm up. I’ve come across other users of this method who work within 40 minutes blocks or longer so it does come down a little to individual working styles.

I date each entry, briefly describe the activity and write an X for each Pomodoro spent on said activity. There’s no need to undertake this level of recording or use the admittedly overpriced Moleskine notebooks. Some of the aforementioned apps allow users to export and track their data on a chart or spreadsheet.

I’m guilty of occasionally stopping and resuming a timer rather than voiding a Pomodoro altogether. That’s only because I’ve small children. I try to get around this by regularly setting myself goals to see how many Pomodoros I can complete in a day or a week or a month, depending on the project I am working on.

Writing at Home and in the Office

Cirillo describes – and I can vouch for this – how experienced users of the Pomodoro technique feel their Pomodoro is nearing an end without even having to look at their timer. The best thing I can say about the Pomodoro Technique is that each Pomodoro feels like a self-contained block of uninterrupted writing time within which Facebook, Twitter and almost all other distractions fade away. It also helped me develop a habit of writing everyday as a Pomodoro almost always feels achievable.

My major criticism of the Pomodoro is that it is not very conducive to an office environment where unplanned distractions, such as a colleague or boss dropping by your desk or the phone ringing, are part of a normal working day.

GTD Godfather David Allen has lots to say about this and that’s probably why I use the Pomodoro Technique when I am writing at home, rather than in an office environment.

Your mileage may vary.

Do you use the Pomodoro technique to write? Please let me know what you think in the comments section below.


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7 thoughts on “Using the Pomodoro Technique to Write”

  1. I like the Pomodoro Technique more and more. It’s a great help when doing cumbersome, monotonous tasks, that typically stretch over several hours. Like accounting, video editing, etc.

    It can also be good for creative work, and help reduce “fear of the white canvas/paper” and get one started on it.

    A higher level goals and projects system is needed to direct it all though. For that I loathe GTD. I like using Pivotal Tracker, for an agile approach. But recently switched to test KanbanFlow.


  2. Great post! To keep me focused I use:
    – A stopwatch hung around my neck… lest i forget im being timed (hours blocks)
    – Music
    – I block distracting sites on my host file
    – I make a list before starting to keep me on track

    Next time im going to try: “Pomodoro”! My worry is that in those 2-3 min breaks… ill work!!

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