The one thing many writers are better at than writing is not writing. Whether it’s because we feel we’re too busy to write, we get caught up in mental knots of fear and negative self-talk, or we simply struggle to concentrate, it is too easy to procrastinate on our work in progress.
An effective tool to break this cycle of avoidance is the Pomodoro Technique. This is a time-management method that uses timers to help you focus for small chunks of time, called pomodoros, that add up so you build your word count and make real progress.
What Is the Pomodoro Technique?
Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato. The Pomodoro Technique’s name comes from the tomato-shaped kitchen timer the creator, Francesco Cirillo, used to segment his studies in college when he struggled to focus.
It is based on the principle of breaking tasks up into manageable amounts of time with rest periods to refresh energy and promote sustained concentration. For writers, the Pomodoro Technique helps you “get in the zone” quicker and write a surprisingly large number of words in a surprisingly short amount of time.
For writers, here’s how the Pomodoro Technique works:
Set a writing goal: This could be writing a certain number of words; figuring out part of a scene; or, if you’ve been struggling with concentration, simply focusing on only writing for a set amount of time.
Set a timer for 25 minutes: Work exclusively on writing during this time period.
Set a timer for 5 minutes: Take a break, stretch your legs, or get some tea.
Repeat: For every 4 Pomodoros, take a 15- to 20-minute break.
Why Use the Pomodoro Technique?
Any writer will tell you half the battle with writing is actually writing. The Pomodoro Technique is effective because it makes the task of finishing a book or other writing project feel manageable and bite-sized.
The Pomodoro Technique will help you . . .
Combat resistance: The struggle to sit down to write is natural and normal, and it’s one of the hardest obstacles to overcome. Pomodoros reduce the effort it takes to get words on the page. This is because committing to writing for 25 minutes feels a lot less scary than writing 10,000 more words or taking on the concept of actually writing a whole book.
Gain a sense of progress: It is easy to become discouraged and even give up when you hit writer’s block or another obstacle. A measurable goal that exists outside of quality can be a powerful and effective way to complete a shitty first draft and then an okay-ish second draft and finally a pretty dang good third draft and so on.
Perfect is the enemy of done, and our friend the tomato timer can lend us a sense of forward momentum.
Be intentional: Approaching your time with strong intention can help you feel in control of the writing process—and less at the mercy of your own whims and endless distractions.
Pomodoro Tips and Tricks
There are many ways to adjust your pomodoros to better suit your specific needs.
If you have . . .
Trouble starting: Set your timer for 15 or even 10 minutes. A mini focus session will seem more doable than a 25 minute one. The point is to start writing and getting that forward momentum.
Trouble focusing: Set your timer for 40–minute chunks because it can take you longer to “task switch” and transition into the writing zone at the start. This method is very helpful if you have ADHD.
Trouble finishing: Front-load the hardest tasks first so you give your future self a better chance to reach THE END. For example, if your goal is to write a very emotional scene and also pick a name for a minor character who appears later on, write the scene first.
Trouble flowing: Starting with the easiest task first will help you get into a flow state. In this case, name the minor character, then write an outline for the scene, then write the scene.
Our Favorite Pomodoro Timers
Here’s a list of our very favorite pomodoro timers.
Tomato Timers: This one is my personal favorite online pomodoro timer because it has a dancing tomato that celebrates with you when you reach the end of your pomodoro. It also has space for you to add a to-do list so everything is in one place.
The Original Tomato: Francesco Cirillo has his own online pomodoro timer, which has a clean design, is straightforward, and is easy to use.
Zen AF: This is an app for the iPhone that shows a beautiful, watercolor-esque brushstroke that grows along a circle as you move through your time chunk. When you reach your time limit, a koi fish or a pretty tree appears.
Pomodoro Timer Lite: This Google Play app has the visual effect of a kitchen timer. It also has an area for you to type your task, and it reminds you to celebrate at the end of your pomodoro.
Visual timers are physical timers that show the amount of time decreasing as the minutes tick by. These work especially well for authors who have ADHD and deal with “time blindness,” difficulty conceptualizing how much time has passed.
Visual timers give an external cue that helps writers stay on task, and they give you a dopamine hit as you watch the amount of time grow smaller, feeling that accomplishment.
These timers also works well for those of us who are deadline motivated and find we can focus best as time is running out.
Here are two timers I use:
Secura Visual Timer: This timer goes up to 60 minutes. You turn the dial to set your time chunk, which then is shown in a color (there are multiple colors to choose from). As the time left decreases, the amount of color decreases.
I use this timer every day for writing and for work tasks.
Kadams Visual Timer: This timer uses lights to show you how far you are in your writing time. You set the timer (it can go up to 24 hours). It shows a green light until you are a certain length through your time (mine is set at 75 percent). Then it changes to yellow. When your time is up, it flashes a red light.
You can use it with or without a corresponding sound that goes off when it switches colors.
Writing Accountability Coaching
Writing is often seen as something you do all by yourself, but it doesn’t have to be. If you are struggling to make progress on your work in progress, Writing Accountability Coaching can be your answer.
In this type of author coaching, I work with writers to help them:
Establish writing routines and schedules that work for their real lives
Determine their writer’s blocks and obstacles and figure out solutions
Rewrite negative self-talk and limiting beliefs that keep them from the page
Set attainable writing goals and problem-solve how to reach them
We meet once per week to check in and address any obstacles. Then I reach out to you throughout the week to make sure you are getting your words in.
If you are the kind of person who can’t finish a project unless you have a deadline (🙋♀️), this kind of interactive assistance is for you.
Pssst. You are also invited to join us every Wednesday evening for a 60-minute writing sprint at Dot & Dash’s Writing Accountability Group on Meetup. We get together, put on a timer, and write on our separate projects. The group accountability aspect helps with focus and productivity.
Try it and see. Register for the Writing Accountability Group here.
Erin Servais is the founder and managing editor of Dot & Dash, where she and the team provide author coaching, book editing, and sensitivity reading services to women authors.
Dot & Dash empowers writers through positive-minded and collaborative author services, giving you the trusted guidance to go from outlines and ideas to polished and published.
To learn how we can help you reach The End, schedule a chat with Erin.