If I Only Had More Time

This post will be more about methodology than technology.

If you have ever attended a presentation by Robyn Conley aka The Book Doctor, you most likely received a button sometime during the presentation. It is supposed to serve as a reminder to keep your butt on the chair and write. This is important because so many things can interrupt good writing time. Facebook and Twitter aside, there are important things to be done. Like washing those gym clothes you haven’t used since that time…two or was it three months ago. Or watering those brown plants. Or dusting light bulbs. Or just random self indulging web surfing. You justify these things because you write a little here and there. When the end of writing time comes and you only cranked out four sentences during the last ninety minutes, you wonder where did all that time go?

Writing is hard and we often look forward to the next break to give our brains and keyboard worn fingers (or in my case ink stained) fingers a rest. You’re thinking there has to be a way, a complex productivity system, a bloated Windows application, a spiffy iPad app, a nifty Android driod-something, that will magically force brilliant writing.

Guess what? The answer is no.

But… (Just when we think we have the perfect excuse to be lazy, a big but gets in the way.)

There is a methodology call Pomodoro . It was created long long ago in a century almost forgotten, the 1980’s. For my generation, it was the time of high school and big hair. But I digress. An individual named Francesco Cirillo created it. The goal is to focus your concentration on a single task in 25 minute blocks.

It goes something like this. You schedule a block of minutes, 25 by default, and work on a single task during that time block. If you finish early, take a break and then start a new 25 minutes time block. If you run long, take a five minute break, and start a new 25 minute time block to finish out the task.

I don’t confess to be a Pomodoro guru but I have played around with the concept. Several apps exist for this methodology. You can Google Pomodoro on your PC or MAC and download a timer or use a web base solution. Or you can search in the Android Market or the App Store. Each will present you with a list of choices. I have an app on my Android phone and on my iPad. A good timer will allow you to configure the Pomodoro unit and break time. Or you can opt for the Luddite version and grab your favorite vintage oven timer. Choose a timer that is simple, accurate, and most importantly, one that you will use.

I’m not a purist so I do change my time intervals around. Sometimes I’ll go in 15 minute time blocks or stretch it out to 45 minutes. You can adjust it to match your task, mood, or the environment you are working in. But once that timer starts you mind needs to be on your task and only that one task. The alarm will tell you when it’s time to break.

To me this is one of the great mysteries of the universe. If you surrender to a timer you mind frees itself and the task at hand gets worked. If you try to keep it all in your head, then your like a sugar charged, caffeine infused seven year old with ADHD. You have enough energy to power a third world nation, but nothing gets done.

All I can say is it works for me when I need to get things done at my day job. Work for 25 minutes, take a 5-10 minute walk outside, and then start it all over again. Give it try, don’t be afraid to be creative. If you’re working on a draft, write for 25 minutes and then take a 20 minute walk. While you’re walking, work out the next scene in your head, or use the time to reconcile conflicting plot points. After the walk, spend the next 25 minutes writing it all down.

You can combine a New Years resolution into this methodology. Write for 25 minutes and then hop on the stationary bike for 10 minutes. Exercise, lose weight, and finish that novel all at the same time.

Same goes for editing. Line edit for 25 minutes. When the timer goes off, put the pen down and spend the next 15 minutes reading over the next section. When the 15 minutes of reading is up, reset the timer to 25 minutes, pick up the red pen and start chopping words like you just received a deluxe set of Ginsu Knives.

My point is, we’re not all wired the same. Find what works for you and stick to it. As long as your spending writing time writing, then life can’t be anything but good.

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2 Comments

Filed under Methodology, Writing

2 responses to “If I Only Had More Time

  1. Richard,
    I’m brilliant and didn’t know it….for some time I’ve been using your advice, “grab your favorite vintage oven timer. Choose a timer that is simple, accurate, and most importantly, one that you will use.” Problem is….I may set the timer, but doesn’t stop the phone from ringing, doorbell chiming, or my stomach from rumbling. As you say, it still takes determination to keep your buns in the chair!

    • The phone is easy, unplug it or turn off the ringer. You can also keep some snack food near your computer to deal with your rumbling tummy. As for the doorbell, that’s a tough one. You could park a disgruntled pit bull on the front porch or a sign in your yard that reads, “Property Condemned by Order of CDC” but that may upset the neighbors.

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