Saturday, October 29, 2011

Pomodoro Technique - Surviving NaNoWriMo

This is my first year participating in NaNoWriMo, but as a computer programmer I'm no stranger to huge deadlines that require long-term focus to get done.

When work is mounting and time is dwindling I turn to the Pomodoro Technique to get me through the "hell weeks" with my sanity intact. It's simple. It's easy. It's powerful. And it strikes a good balance between pedal-to-the-medal activity and all-work-and-no-play-makes-John-a-dull-boy.

All you need to make this work is a simple timer. You've probably got one in your kitchen or on your phone. Either of those will work great. If you don't have one, I'll put some recommendations at the end of this post.
Step 1) Set your timer for 25 minutes. Put it somewhere you can see it. Start typing.
Step 2) When the timer dings, stop typing and save your work.
Step 3) Set your timer for 5 minutes and take a break. When the timer dings, go back to Step 1.

That's it. Like I said it's simple, but it works.

If anyone tries to interrupt you, point to the timer and tell them you'll be free in 11 minutes, or whatever your timer says. Then go back to work. There are very few things that can't wait a few minutes.

One of the keys, is to stop when the timer dings. Stop right then. Immediately. If you're in the middle of a sentence that's even better. It will help you get back into writing when you return from your break. Don't be tempted to keep going. You'll wear yourself out.

When I stop immediately, I've found that I get a burst of productivity when there's about five minutes left. When I don't follow the "Stop Immediately" rule I don't get this burst of productivity.

During your breaks, don't work on your manuscript. Sure, you'll end up having thoughts about your story, but try to make your break count. Stand up, walk away from the computer, stretch a little. Chat with a friend. Handle any of the interruptions that popped up. Anything except writing your story.

Then make sure to sit back down when the timer dings.

This technique does wonders for me. I hope you find it useful as well.

More Information

This post just scratches the surface. Go out to to learn even more about this amazing idea.


If you need a timer there are a lot out there.

On Windows or Mac I've used FocusBooster. They have an online version and a desktop version. I've also heard good things about Tomighty.

On both Android and iPhone there are built-in timer applications. They will work just fine.

If you want to download an app. On Android, I use Pomodroido. It's easy to use. It keeps track of how many sessions you've done and you can "level up" as you do more.

Since I don't have an iPhone, I don't have any recommendations here. All I can do is point you to this review by The Next Web that looks useful.

* Ooooo! Now I'm hungry for a tomato sandwich. The tomato picture was taken by photon_de and can be found on Flickr.


Canda said...

Great idea. I use a timer at work for the big jobs and crunchlines I have. I never thought of using it in sprint writing!

Donna K. Weaver said...

Brilliant. I'm so going to do this.

kbrebes said...

I'll try it! I love tomato sandwiches, too! *Hot*Off*The*Vine*

RaShelle Workman said...

This is great! There's also a WriteOrDie blog that I use every year. I love it. ;D

Danyelle Ferguson said...

I've used this during NaNo before. I had no idea there was an actual name for it - and more to it as well. Awesome! Thanks!

Jordan McCollum said...

I downloaded Focus Booster months ago and didn't get a whole lot out of it. BUT with your encouragement, I used it again for NaNo, and it definitely helped! Sometimes the 25 minutes is too long for a frazzled brain to focus at the end of the day, so I'd take it down to 5 minutes with a 1 minute break. That worked nicely because I knew I could write hard for 5 minutes, and I'd range 150-350 words.

Thanks for sharing!

John Waverly said...

I'm glad this technique has helped you guys. We're over halfway through the month now, I hope you are all doing well.

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