My work has always involved a lot of writing, whether it’s historical research, a grant application, a project proposal, a newsletter article, or a report to the board. But writing is hard work, especially if it has to be a good product, which means several revisions. I’m rereading On Writing Well (the 30th Anniversary Edition–yikes! have that many years passed) and William Zinnser reminds us that, “the professional writer [that’s nearly anyone in our business] must establish a daily schedule and stick to it.” Over the years, I’ve kept track of the habits of prolific writers and they seem to write in the mornings, which is the schedule I’ve adopted. Nevertheless, I’m still challenged by “sticking to it.”
To my rescue came the “Pomodoro Technique“ developed by Francesco Cirillo, a time-management method that relies on an ordinary kitchen timer (which are sometimes designed to look like a tomato or pomodoro in Italian). Set the timer for 25 minutes and while the clock is ticking, stay focused on your work. When the time is up, take a five-minute break and then return for another 25-minute session. It’s designed so that the sessions are short enough to encourage you to stay at the task at hand (“I can write for 25 minutes!”) while including routine breaks to be sure you don’t burn out (and really get discouraged). It’s been the primary way that I stay productive and thought it might be useful for others who are also trying to stay disciplined.
And while the kitchen timer is still on my office desk, I now use Focus Time, an app on my iPad, because it allows me to categorize my work as well as provide a timer that’s visual, not just auditory (plus I can choose the sounds for the ticking and ending). This year I’m also expanding my writing toolbox by using Evernote and a Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 along with Scrivener, all unusual tools that take time to learn but once mastered, can be immensely helpful. I’ll share my experiences in future posts.