Monday, March 31, 2014

My Revised Pomodoro Technique

A few years back I found out something interesting about myself. I was bombarded with work, and as I sat at my desk and tried to crank stuff out, I got tired. (No, we’re not to the interesting part yet.) After I got tired, I took more breaks. When I took more breaks, I was more productive.

More breaks equals more work output? Now that’s interesting.

What Is the Pomodoro Technique?

I spoke with another writer friend about this, and she enthusiastically told me about the Pomodoro Technique. This technique centers around limited time chunks and breaks. And they’re serious about this. They want you to time yourself, write down the tasks you’re going to accomplish, and everything.

I do this. But not like they suggest. And that’s where this technique is really great, because you can adapt it to what works for you. First, though, learn the principals so you’ll be better able to figure out which ones work for you and which don’t. 

Here are the basics:

  • Get a timer to have at your desk. You’ll be working in 25 minute increments.
  • Document the things you want to accomplish each day. From that list, figure out what you can do in 25 minutes.
  • Set the timer and write. Focus on what you’re writing. If you think of something else, jot it down on a piece of paper, forget about it for now, and continue writing.
  • When the timer goes off, get up. Yes, up. Walk around. Take a quick, five-minute break.
  • Then, do the whole process again. When you’ve done this four times (which equals two hours of work) you take a 30-minute break.

The Way I Adapted

First, I hate the idea of a timer. I do keep the clock in front of me readily visible and I also have my own version of a timer:

If you’re not lucky enough to have a hyper dog to interrupt you, I pity you. It really is good for your writing. J

Next, this works perfectly with my cluster posting technique, so I combine the two. I’ll take half a day to do several blog posts for one particular blog using this method. The whole time, of course, I’m thinking of all the other things I want to write, so I jot them down in a separate file and get back to them later.

When it comes to getting up for five minutes, I get out. Outside. I look at the pretty flowers out there (even when they’re fake), I feel the sun on my skin, and I take a moment to offer gratitude to the Lord. That way I feel like I’m taking a real break. This is great when it’s summer and awful when we’re experiencing a polar vortex.

Not a Daily To-Do List But an Editorial Calendar

Another way I adapted this technique is by keeping an editorial calendar for each client, each handwritten and in a different color. It might sound old-fashioned, but it works for me. I have a hard time keeping everything straight with a daily (or even 25-minute) to-do list.

Instead, I write posts in one large Word doc for a certain block of time (half a day, for example) and then I schedule them. I write in my editorial calendar so I can look at what’s coming up and what I need to focus on in the weeks and months ahead. A calendar keeps me forward looking rather than just “what I need to do today” or this minute.

Change Up the Breaks

I also adapted from the technique when it came to breaks. I don’t adhere to their schedule, but instead pay attention to my own body. If I’m tired and pushing through, I’ll stop and take a break. Or, I might take a nap instead of lunch. Or do a craft break and then come back to the computer.

I do whatever I feel I need to in order to let my mind wander or get a break from the work. This helps me focus that much more when I get to writing.


Cherie Burbach has written for, NBC/Universal,, and more. Visit her website, 
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