Tag Archives: writing

Increasing Writing Productivity: Trying Out the Pomodoro Technique

Pomodoro App

The Pomodoro App I use

In need of boosting my writing productivity, I’ve been trying out the Pomodoro Technique. You can find more information about the technique here, but I’ve been using the technique in the most simple way: you set a count-down timer for 25 mins., work through this time period on the task at hand, then rest for 5 minutes. After resting, start again. Every time you finish a 25 working cycle, draw a tomato.

I’ve known about this productivity technique for years, but never tried it properly until recently. What didn’t work for me before was I used a timer on iGoogle, so every time I needed to check for references or journal articles, the timer on the screen distracted me. I gave up very quickly.

I remember a friend who completed her PhD saying that the technique really worked for her, so a couple of weeks back I decided to give it another chance. I downloaded a free Pomodoro app for my phone. I also lowered the phone’s volume so that it’s still loud enough for me to hear, but not give me a jolt when the timer goes off.

This time I found the technique surprisingly effective. Because I know there’s going to be a break after 25 mins., I’m able to focus on the thesis better by reminding myself that I can surf on the internet or procrastinate later. It also gives me a great sense of satisfaction to see how many tomatoes I’ve drawn each day. Drawing tomatoes helps me monitor my working hours. I’m not an early riser so I always assumed I was more productive in the afternoon. But I realized that my ideas are actually sharper in the morning so it’s easier to write within the first two hours after I wake up.

25 mins. might not seem like much, but as I accumulated 25 mins. throughout the day, I was surprised at the number of hours I could work on the thesis without distraction. These 25 mins. are like sprinting, so they are quality research and writing time. When I count the tomatoes I’ve worked through the day, it helps to get rid of the guilty feeling wondering whether I’ve written enough.

This method also counters the need to have substantial writing time blocks. It’s always better to have the afternoon or the morning free for writing, but when little tasks like doing the dishes or running errands pop up in between, it can feel as if your writing time is being broken up. I use the Pomodoro technique every time I work on the thesis, so even if I have to leave my work miday, I still have a grasp of how much time I’ve spent on writing.

If I’m finding it really hard to concentrate, I disconnect the internet. I get distracted easier in the afternoons. This is the time when subconsciously I start measuring how much more work I’ve got to do before the end of the day. I lose motivation to do the corrections and have to fight hard to resist procrastination. The gesture of disconnecting the internet itself–unplugging the cable or clicking off the wifi–somehow helps to embed the action into the brain. It’s a bit like quitting a bad habit. So when I want to search for something and find that the internet is off, I remember I’ve turned it off for a reason. Resisting one or two urges to use the internet usually helps me get into full writing mode.

What techniques do you use to boost writing productivity?

Why I Left Facebook… Well, Almost.

Can one leave facebook completely?

Can I leave facebook completely?

(Photo above from mkhmarketing.)

I’m not slamming down facebook.  In fact, I enjoyed many of the simple pleasures it offered. I was excited when I reconnected with my primary school best friend whom I thought I would never hear about or see again. I’ve done my fair share of raising pets, growing plants, and expanding my restaurant. I’ve also shared news links of social issues I thought were important, posted photos of me having a good time, all the while waiting for the “likes” to increase. I’ve also written a few “thoughtful” posts that generated a long thread of discussion that satisfied my vanity.

So why am I leaving facebook? I’m not leaving it for its privacy issues, a topic that plenty of others have discussed. I don’t think facebook is completely evil. It is a great social media tool that has become indispensable for raising awareness of issues. I’m leaving it because it has sabotaged my productivity.

The watershed moment came at the beginning of this year.  I was nearing the end of writing up my thesis around January. My university holds two graduation ceremonies a year, one in the summer and one in the winter, so graduates have a choice of which one they want to attend to fit their schedule. Revising my thesis in the middle of the night, I couldn’t resist checking facebook in what was probably the fifth time that day, and I saw a couple of friends who graduated that day had already posted their graduation photos on facebook.

Throughout the years I’ve had plenty of friends who’ve posted their graduation photos, from master’s to Ph.d.’s, and I would always congratulate them by either leaving a “well done!” comment or clicking “Like.”

But that evening I panicked. Browsing over my friends’ smiling faces, dressed in their graduation gowns, apparently having a good time with their families and loved ones, I was envious and jealous, and for the first time I didn’t feel like congratulating them. I wanted to be there with my family and friends. I wanted to wear the ph.d. graduation gown (even though our department gown is kind of, um… an ugly combination of orange and blue). But most important of all, I wanted to be the one posting a graduation photo, not revising my thesis in the middle of the night and cursing myself for logging onto facebook.

I did not want to see another graduation photo. “They all look the same anyway,” I thought.

So this is when I realized facebook was not only sabotaging my productivity but also turning me into a sour grape. By this time I was already a facebook addict. Even though I’d quit playing harmless games that involved buying clothes for my pet or exchanging ingredients so I could cook another dish for my restaurant, I couldn’t resist the temptation of checking facebook whenever I got stuck in my writing. I would, of course, turn to my notes or read another journal article in order to find the answer to the conceptual problem I was trying to solve, but most of the times it was the immediate satisfaction of checking facebook that provided a quick relief of angst, and tempted me to log on several times a day. If this sounds like a drug addiction, it’s because it felt like a drug addiction.

Scholars researching digital media describe people’s short attention span in our digital age as “a butterfly mind.” This usually refers to how information made accessible by the internet makes us “jump” from one website to another, or from one link to another, consequently shortening our attention span. Applying this description to my relationship with facebook, its availability as a form of a “break activity” contributed to my compulsory habit of logging in. Because it provided distraction, subconsciously I wanted to log in more and more in order to escape the stress of facing an unfinished sentence or paragraph. Every time I told myself I would check my friends’ updates for just 10 minutes, the short break ended up being half an hour to an hour.

I certainly feel that my attention span has shortened considerably compared to when I was a high school student writing an essay. I could spend undistracted hours writing, revising, and editing. Maybe a high school essay is simply easier to write than a thesis, but I do miss that unrelenting concentration.

So I’ve left facebook. Well, almost. I’ve managed to stick to my plan of logging on to facebook only once a week. I’m wondering whether I should start making it once a month. Last week I almost forgot to check facebook on my “facebook day.”

I don’t think I will be able to leave facebook completely though. I still want to know what close friends who I don’t get to see often are doing, and I also want to use my account to save contacts I meet at conferences. I live away from home, so I also use facebook to see what my cousins have been up to lately. But not relying on facebook for communication has made me realize that, the people I interact with most on facebook, are the people I interact with most in daily life anyway. Not the guy who I used to have a crush on in high school.

So why blog, you might ask? Isn’t blogging going to distract me from thesis writing? I started blogging to create an outlet for my post-viva trauma, but also to sharpen my writing skills. My examiners told me I articulated the concepts that are fundamental to my argument clearly in the viva, but these concepts are missing from the thesis. I’ve been thinking about why my work gave this impression, because from my perspective the concepts they’re concerned about are clearly in there. I think there was probably a problem with my writing style. I wasn’t able to communicate my ideas and argument to my examiners effectively. Blogging language is not the same as thesis/academic language, but keeping an audience in mind helps me think about how to communicate more efficiently and clearly.

Two friends about my age–and I’m not that old–have never used facebook, and probably never will. I used to tease them and secretly made fun of them for their stubbornness and for being out of the loop. Now I applaud them for never having started.