How to Use the Pomodoro Technique as a Freelance Writer

Pomodoro technique
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Have you ever reached the end of your workday, only to feel you didn’t have much to show for it?

Or do you sometimes find you have a hard time staying focused on your work? Does it seem like you work a lot, but you’re often spinning your wheels, instead of completing your most important tasks?

I’ve felt the same way. Since I recently took my freelance writing business full-time, I’ve had to figure out a better way to manage my work hours.

One strategy that’s made a huge difference in my workflow is the Pomodoro Technique. Breaking my work into manageable chunks using this method helps me accomplish more in a day than I thought possible, while keeping me focused and preventing burnout.

Here’s how I use the Pomodoro Technique to improve my writing productivity — and how you can, too.

What is the Pomodoro Technique?

This time-management method was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s.

The idea behind the technique is people can only stay hyper-focused on a task or subject for a finite period of time — generally about 90 minutes. Instead of trying to sit at your desk from 9 to 5 (or whatever hours you currently keep), it makes more sense to break up your day into sections. The technique calls these chunks of time “pomodori,” and each one is known as a “pomodoro.”

Each pomodoro includes 25 minutes of focused time, followed by a five-minute break. Most sources suggest linking three or four pomodori together (with those five-minute breaks in between sessions), and then taking a longer break of 20 to 30 minutes. Lather, rinse and repeat.

Set your timer using your phone, a stopwatch or a regular clock, or download one of several dedicated Pomodoro Technique apps and timers. I’ve used and like this free timer, though I’ve had to mute its annoying ticking sound.

How to get started with Pomodoro

Before launching into your first pomodoro, list your tasks for the day, with the most important ones at the top. Select your two or three most important tasks (MITs): the ones whose completion would make your day a success, regardless of what else you accomplished.

I always make sure I spend my morning hours (or pomodori) writing, whether I’m working on client work or my own blog posts. I try to leave email and social media work until later in the day, as challenging as that can sometimes be.

Here’s a sample schedule for an eight-hour workday, with 12 defined tasks (or pomodori) and a lunch break. Remember, each pomodoro includes 25 minutes of work time and a five-minute break.

9:00-9:30 Write article

9:30-10:00 Write article

10:00-10:30 Write article

10:30-11:00 Long break

11:00-11:30 Check email

11:30-12:00 Blog outreach

12:00-12:30 Search job boards and pitch new clients

12:30-1:30 Long break for lunch

1:30-2:00 Social media promotion

2:00-2:30 Write article or brainstorm new post ideas

2:30-3:00 Write article or brainstorm new post ideas

3:00-3:30 Long break

3:30-4:00 Check email

4:00-4:30 Coursework or nonfiction reading

4:30-5:00 Social media promotion

Document your accomplishments

This isn’t an essential part of using this method, but it’s a great way to see how your efficiency and hard work are paying off.

If you’re using an app or web-based timer, you may be able to track your tasks within its interface. For example, freelancer and entrepreneur Brennan Dunn loves that his app of choice encourages him to write down what he did during each pomodoro.

Tracking could also be as simple as making a check mark next to each pomodoro on your schedule, or writing a few quick notes in a Word or Google Doc. Either way, looking back on your day and seeing what you achieved can help keep you motivated and productive.

What to do with your five-minute breaks

Since many of us spend too much time in front of our computers and not enough time being active, use these five minute breaks to get up, move around and stretch your body. They’re a great time to take a bathroom break, get a cup of water, coffee or tea, or make a quick snack.

Since I have two toddlers and find it hard to fit exercise into my day, I use many of my five-minute breaks to do this no-equipment-necessary workout. I’ve found exercise helps me recharge before starting my next pomodoro, but you might also want to try meditating, journaling or having a quick conversation with a friend.

Avoid checking email or social media during your five-minute breaks. Both tasks can become black holes, and it’s easy to slip into a “just five more minutes” mentality when you’re facing an overflowing inbox.

However, checking your email or Twitter feed means you’re not necessarily taking a break from work (or your computer screen). Instead, use the five minutes to walk away from your work and do something that helps you recharge.

Shoot for progress, not perfection

Using the Pomodoro Technique to manage the structure of your day can help you cross more tasks off your list.

Aim be more productive overall, rather than trying to be perfect. Ending a pomodoro a few minutes early or working a couple of minutes past your timer isn’t the end of the world. Neither is finding that you can only complete one or two pomodoros in a day before having to switch to another strategy to complete your tasks.

If you’ve found yourself at the end of your day with little to show for it, why not give this method a try?

Have you tried the Pomodoro Technique? How did it work for you?

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Gina Horkey is a full-time writer for the web, with a background in personal finance. She recently launched a 30-day email course for aspiring freelance writers to help others break into the freelance w... .

Horkey HandBook | @horkeyhandbook

Gina Horkey
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Comments

  1. I use Pomodoro for marking, but not much for writing… maybe I’ll give it a try!

  2. Hi Gina – I’ve always known that I do my best writing before noon, but I really like how much more focused and intentional the Pomodoro method is. I’m definitely doing to give it a try. Thanks for the great insights.

    • You bet! It’s one thing to “know it” and another to implement it, I’ve learned;-) I’m not perfect at it, but it really helps me to get refocused when I need it most.

  3. Gina, I’m so glad you wrote this post. I’ve never heard of the Pomodoro technique, at least I don’t think I have but what you say makes sense. At work, I often get up to get a glass of water, to check in with colleagues, to go to the bathroom or just to step outside for a breath of fresh air. I’ve often wondered where this wandering around comes from and shouldn’t I just be sitting at my desk getting work done? Obviously, it has to do with the ability to concentrate over a limited period of time. I do a lot of thinking, strategizing and planning even as I am working on different projects, and so these quick mental breaks, which you describe here probably capture well what my body is doing (even without my mental collaboration) when I get up and move around. Thanks, in particular, for posting your daily schedule. It provides a lot of insight on how someone can get in a full day of work while using the Pomodoro technique. Regards, Joe

  4. Thanks for reading and commenting Joe! I appreciate your insights and love how your body already gives your these signals. Now you can feel confident that taking a break is what you should be doing and not feel guilty for not working through. Have an awesome day!

  5. I love the idea of maximizing the hyper-focus! I Coach those living with ADD/ADHD and hyper-focus can be a strength if used the right way. Using this approach at your high energy times can have great results, fending off procrastination. I’ll definitely be introducing this to others and using it myself in my day to day time management. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  6. Nice! This article actually makes me look forward to going back to work tomorrow and trying this out. Both in the office day job, and in my own writing time.

  7. This technique I used when I worked in the shop floor as an Engineer.
    Definitely not in my present vocation of writing. Mind does not respond to creativity on a structured time frame. May be the process is likely to be active during early morning hours when there is enough alfa- wave in the brain to guide.

    • Understandable! I use it more to get started writing, so I do it first thing and to force myself into the “writing mood” when I’m not in it:-) Now that this is my full-time job, I don’t have the luxury to not “feel like writing.”

  8. Great post, Gina – I am not a fan of Pomodoro technique because 30 min. chunks is not enough for me… With time, I have found that every hour, hour and 15 min., my body asks for a break on its own so I just get up, watch life goes by (standing on my terrace and sometimes jumping up and down for the fun of it) and then just get back to the task that I was doing before the break.

    My head starts spinning just watching at your list with different tasks and 30 min allocated for each. I feel I won’t accomplish anything like this, just too many things to do…

    Don’t get me wrong – I LOVED your post. Although the 30-min chunks don’t work for me, I know they work for many and your advice to keep your focus by taking breaks is an awesome one, I second it.

    But in case there is a reader out there thinking “no way i can get anything done in 30 min?!”, I just wanted to share my best practice that focusing on a single task for longer periods (say 4 hours) and taking 2-3 breaks every now and then during those 4 hours is a valid way to do it, too.

    • I hear what you’re saying Diana! I think it’s important to remember to be flexible and do what works for you.

      As I made the transition from my day job to being a full-time writer, there were certain things that I needed to make sure I did – limiting the time for some of them (email and social media).

      If you note above, I have two big chunks of writing time (one in the morning and afternoon). I don’t do six different projects, but rather write until I finish each one if that makes sense?

      Thanks for sharing what works for you!

  9. Great article! I’m going home tonight to see if I can actually get something done using this method 🙂

  10. NancyWriter says:

    I’m grateful that there is a name for what I’ve always called my moments of procrastination. I’ve always worked best this way!

  11. Hey Gina

    I have tried the Pomodoro Technique with mixed success, but your post just gave me an idea to use these chunks effectively. *yay*

    Instead of listing 10 tasks of 30 minutes each, like I used to do, I can dedicate 2 hours for one blog post, and then utilize the 25 minute timer WITHIN this sub-block of time to maximize my productivity!

    Thank you for making us all think 😉

    Kitto

    • Exactly how I like to do it:-) You don’t have to do 10 (or 12) different tasks, but rather just break up your day into chunks that help you to both be productive and take necessary breaks. Would love to hear how it works for you when you try it again:-)

  12. Jo Saunders says:

    Hi Gina, Thanks for the food for thought.

    I am retired, call myself a writer, but have not been published and spend most of my writing time doing emails, FB, MOOCs or other people’s blogs. Am struggling to start my own blog. As to novels, I have completed two, but not really written creative fiction continuously for 2 years. I’ve recently started entering competitions (short stories, novellas, flash fiction and poetry), and write poetry fairly regularly, encouraged by a local writers’ group.

    As you see I’m all over the place, going everywhere and nowhere, and certainly not earning from it.

    Not sure how your pomodoro will help me, although it seems to give a glimmer of light … I suppose I’ll have to set a goal and go for it.

    Food for thought, as I said … and thanks.

  13. Wm. Tillis says:

    I have had to deal with maintaining focus on the task at hand all my life. The lessons learned in high school and college played well out in the working world. Losing focus means that I have possibly lost sight of my goal and therefore interest in the job wanes. The solution is to simply rethink my goal. Other things that compromise focus can be your body asking for additional energy and oxygen for the brain. Sitting for extended periods restricts blood flow. The brain uses fat for its energy source. You may find yourself breathing shallow, depleting your oxygen supply. I have solved this problem for myself by stopping to make a cup of coffee with coconut oil mixed in. The activity involved increases blood flow. It also causes you to breathe more deeply, increasing oxygen. The coconut oil supplies needed high quality fat for the brain. By the time I have returned to my desk, my mind is refreshed with new energy, oxygen and my ability to stay focused has returned.

  14. William Laws says:

    You say pomodoro, I say tomato…. Thank you for this terrific advice and thanks also to everyone for their really helpful comments. I typically get very distracted during my work day and end up pulling all-nighters to meet deadlines – bad for my health, bad for the quality of my work and I despise myself for my lack of self-discipline. I’m really going to give this nutritious approach a try!

    • Thanks William! I sincerely hope it works for you. Sometimes I think we try to force ourselves too much – to be more productive than we should be and not always in the best way (I’m guilty of this too!).

  15. Hi Ms Gina. What is the recommended number of words that one should write within an 8-hour period? Can you give me a range for newbie writers, as well as experienced individuals? Thanks!

  16. How serendipitous! Last fall I bookmarked an op-ed about using this technique for my day job. I was actually looking at apps to use when I came across your post. I’m embarrassed to admit I hadn’t thought of blocking writing time this way.

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