Mandatory Honesty…

…for twenty-five minutes at a time

My colleagues have made compelling arguments that writers need to simply write. This is, admittedly, hardly a revolutionary position – the problem of “butt in chair” is well-known in writing and in all creative endeavors. The fact that we’re still able to express new perspectives on this problem speaks not only to Monique and Jeff’s curiosity and bravery but also to the stubborn intractability of the creative struggle.

As a writer, I’m no less filled with fear, indolence, and self-doubt, but I am perhaps more eager to believe in systemic fixes for these problems of the human heart. One such fix that’s worked for me is an approach to work known as the Pomodoro Technique®, which is at its core simply a series of commitments to focus on a single task for 25 minutes. There are more details, of course, and you’ll find a complete explanation at the website of its creator, Francisco Cirillo, but for me the brilliance and power of the approach lies in this commitment. No multitasking, no checking email or the news, no cop-outs – just do one and only one thing for a short while.

Twenty-five minutes is a magical duration: about the length of a 70’s sitcom, it’s not long enough to be scary, it’s not even a half-hour—but it is long enough to make real progress. (Just think about how much trouble Laverne & Shirley got into in one episode!) Pomodoro® further mandates a 5-minute break at the end of the work session, which is about enough time to reflect on how much fun that was, do some stretches, get some coffee, and let your fingers and brain relax from the swirl of creation. (Speaking of which, hang on, time for my break.)

The mandatory breaks are just as important as the work periods, as they give you the endurance to complete a series of four work sessions, at which point you take a thirty-minute break. During this longer break, there’s time to look back on what you’ve just accomplished and be amazed – it’s a positive feedback loop that not only feels great but also charges you up for the next round of four sessions.

There is one final requirement, though, an ingredient without which I’d have nothing but unchecked boxes on a post-it note: honesty. You must honestly commit to the singular focus, and hold that focus through discomfort, doubt, and distraction. You must have the self-awareness to see when you’re straying from it (like I just did, wanting to stop composing and search for the image I’d like to have two paragraphs up), and the discipline to get back on track. And then, when you’re done, you must honestly give yourself the credit you deserve for successfully engaging with the perennial and intractable problem of human communication, one bite-size chunk at a time.

Check out his website, give it a try, and let us know in the comments how it’s working for you. is not affiliated with, associated with, or endorsed by the Pomodoro Technique® or Francesco Cirillo

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