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Keep Your Motivation on Track with the Pomodoro Technique

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Two of our recent blog posts on motivation (and several other Walden Writing Center resources created in the past) mentioned the Pomodoro method as a helpful technique for productive writing. The technique was developed by university student Francesco Cirillo,  who was inspired to develop a time-management system based on a tomato-shaped kitchen timer. The heart of the system is breaking down tasks into three 25-minute sessions of uninterrupted work followed by a 5-minute break, and then one final 25-minute work session followed by a longer break after the completion of four consecutive sessions, or about two hours of work. For clarification, the traditional schedule for following the Pomodoro method looks like this:

- 25 minutes work
- 5-minute break
- 25 minutes work
- 5-minute break
- 25 minutes work
- 5-minute break
- 25 minutes work
- 20-30-minute break

The Pomodoro Technique can be a great motivator in any stage of the writing process. Rather than focusing on completing an entire piece of writing or a specific page or word count, you commit to engaging in a part of the work for a defined period of time. A 10-page paper, a research project, or a thoughtful discussion post for a class assignment can seem overwhelming--but pledging to work on a portion of the assignment for 25-minutes is an achievable goal. 

Here are some key factors that I find make me more successful in implementing the Pomodoro Technique:

Tailor the System

I recommend that you experiment with the system and find the time spacing that works best with your own neurology. If 25 minutes of work and a 5-minute break doesn’t quite fit, you may find you work better in 30-minute chunks of time with 10-minute breaks. Maybe you will need to write for 10 minutes and take a 3-minute rest. Don’t be afraid to work the system to meet your working style.

Treat Yourself

A reward system tied to achieving your goals might also be helpful. Some folks are motivated sufficiently by the act of checking items off a to-do list, but I confess that I like a more tangible reward. The short break is a type of reward, but If I have a particularly challenging day where I cannot find the motivation to stay on task, I may add more rewards into my short breaks to keep me interested in pushing forward. In a five-minute break, I can do a quick game or dance party with one of my children, which is not only fun, but allows me to reconnect with family before getting back to writing. Throughout the day, I track how many Pomodoro sets I have completed, and if I have met my daily writing goal, I have a small reward like a square of dark chocolate and a cup of Earl Grey tea. When I meet a weekly writing goal, I want a more significant reward like a 2-hour binge of my latest favorite show or a grown-up playdate (NO KIDS!). What brings you joy? Use that to reward yourself for getting the job done. 

Tackle Distractions

During your work time, set yourself up for success by keeping distractions at bay. Mute your phone, don’t answer the door, find a quiet space or put on sound-canceling headphones, and take advantage of tools and apps on your computer (such as Microsoft’s Focus Assist or the Stay Focusd Chrome extension) to avoid the distractions of instant messaging, social media, and email notifications. If random thoughts intrude that you can’t ignore, quickly jot the ideas down in a notebook to deal with later and get right back on task.

Don’t overthink the Pomodoro system, or you might plan yourself into procrastination. You don’t need the perfect timer, a semester time grid, or a reorganized workspace to get started. Any digital or analog timer will do, so you can start right now. What can you write about for 25 minutes? I hope you’ll report back on how it went, maybe over a cup of Earl Grey.


Lauri Barnes is a Writing Instructor at Walden University, and has worked in online writing centers since 2014. She has over two decades of teaching experience and loves supporting writers through the writing process.  She is an aficionado of coffee, tea, mysteries, data, Star Wars, Doctor Who, all things nerdy and geeky, science, faith, kindness, and hope. She lives in the panhandle of Florida with her husband, daughter, two sons, and their cat.

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"Sprint" Towards Motivation!*

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Sometimes just getting started writing can be the most daunting task. Even though I am an experienced writer, I still struggle when I start a writing project. However, once the first few sentences are on the page, I can generate ideas much more easily, and I experience what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1997) calls flow. In a state of flow, I lose myself in the joy of writing and forget about time and outside pressures.

flowing river

Flow is different than just enjoying an activity like binge watching a series on Netflix or eating a favorite food. You cannot engage in flow as a passive participant. Flow is experienced from the joy of actively producing (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997), and it is something that has been studied in education and writing, but also in sports such as archery, golf, and billiards (Gute & Gute, 2008). Athletes who sprint build muscle recovery ability and increase their resistance to fatigue (Girard et al., 2011); similarly, writers who engage frequently in short bursts of writing develop fluency and the ability to focus quickly on a writing task (Literacy Information and Communication System, n.d.). The flow states kicks in when the writer or athlete has formed the habits, knows what to do, and engages fully in act of writing itself.

So how do you get from the monolithic blank page to an enjoyable state where the writing you have planned becomes a natural expression rather than halting stumbles of a few words that you type and delete in fits of frustration? Although achieving a state of flow does require mindfulness and experiencing a challenge, researchers have found a positive correlation between a perception of encouraging feedback and the experience of flow. This indicates that the more people trust their ability to meet a challenge, the more likely their performances are to meet their expectations (Gute & Gute, 2008). Turning off your inner critic and writing boldly and fearlessly, giving yourself permission to make mistakes that you know you can deal with later, can help open the pathway to flow.

Many writers experience difficulties getting started on writing projects in isolation. Once more, science provides insight into why this may be true, as studies conducted on flow have found that social flow, or flow experiences created in a group setting, were rated as more enjoyable than solitary flow (Salanova et al., 2014; van den Hout et al., 2018; Walker, 2009).

crumpled writing paper

Student writers can apply this research in a practical way. Using in-person café writing groups and social media to create a sense of community in writing, without any judgment on the quality of the work, can be valuable techniques (Mewburn et al., 2014). This is where the social media challenge to “writing sprints” comes in.

In a writing sprint challenge, the goal of the activity is to write for a given block of time and report back only on the number of words produced. Comparing sprint writing to longer intensive boot camp or binge writing sessions,[1]  studies have shown that frequent sprint writing produces more in the long term (Friesen, 2014). In a sprint, writers announce challenges or personal goals on social media such as Twitter, Facebook, discussion boards, etc., and they can be set to any length of time. Some find the structure of “sets” such as the Pomodoro method[2] helpful, whereas others would rather sprint more spontaneously with their writing.

Whichever method you prefer, publicly throwing down the gauntlet in a space where other writers can bear witness to the challenge (in a private writing group, on a class discussion board, or just on a Walden University Facebook page) is a great way to create accountability to just start writing. Using social media to your advantage rather than as a distraction can be a great source of motivation. These challenges can help you produce more writing than you would working alone. So, here’s a challenge: try a writing sprint sometime this week. Set a timer for 10-30 minutes and keep writing until it goes off. Once you get started writing, (especially if you know others are engaged in writing as well), you might achieve the rewarding flow experience that leads to the successful completion of your writing project.

dog running






References

Cirillo, F. (n.d.). Pomodoro technique. https://francescocirillo.com/pages/pomodoro-technique

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997).  Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. HarperCollins.

Friesen, E. L. (2014). Structures, snacks, sprints, and socializing: Strategies to increase writing output for AT practitioners. Studies in Health Technology and Informatics, 217, 788-791.

Girard, O., Mendez-Villanueva, A., & Bishop, D. (2011). Repeated-sprint ability — Part I: Factors contributing to fatigue. Sports Medicine41(8), 673–694. https://doi-org./10.2165/11590550-000000000-00000

Gute, D., & Gute, G. (2008). Flow writing in the liberal arts core and across the disciplines: A vehicle for confronting and transforming academic disengagement. The Journal of General Education, 57(4), 191-222. https://doi.org/10.1353/jge.0.0026

Literacy Information and Communication System. (n.d.). Increase the amount of student writing. https://lincs.ed.gov/state-resources/federal-initiatives/teal/guide/studentwriting

Mewburn, I., Osbone, L., & Caldwell, G. (2014). Shut up & write!: Some surprising uses of cafés and crowds in doctoral writing. In C. Aitchison & C. Guerin (Eds.), Writing groups for doctoral education and beyond: Innovations in practice (pp. 218-232). Routledge.

Salanova, M., Rodriguez Sanchez, A. M., Schaufeli, W. B., Cifre, E. (2014). Flowing together: A longitudinal study of collective efficacy and collective flow among workgroups. The Journal of Psychology Interdisciplinary and Applied 148(4), 435-455. https://doi.org/10.1080/00223980.2013.806290

Van den Hout, J. J. J., Davis, O. C. & Weggeman, M. C. D. P. (2018). The conceptualization of team flow. The Journal of Psychology 152(6), 388-423. https://doi.org/10.1080/00223980.2018.1449729

Walker, C. (2009). Experiencing flow: Is doing it together better than doing it alone? The Journal of Positive Psychology, 5(1), 3-11. http://doi.org/10.1080/17439760903271116



[1] There has been some conflation of the term “writing sprint” with what is actually a “writing binge” where writers spent an intensive multiday period writing on a single topic.

[2] The Pomodoro method was pioneered by Francesco Cirillo (n.d.), where tasks are chunked into 25-minute blocks of time, with a short break allowed, and then another 25-minute block of time, followed by a short break, and this pattern continues until 4 of the 25-minute blocks have been completed, and a 20-to-30-minute break is allowed.

*The terrible, punny title of this post was crafted by the current project manager of the blog. Lauri should not be held responsible. 




Lauri Barnes
 is a Writing Instructor at Walden University, and has worked in online writing centers since 2014. She has over two decades of teaching experience and loves supporting writers through the writing process.  She is an aficionado of coffee, tea, mysteries, data, Star Wars, Doctor Who, all things nerdy and geeky, science, faith, kindness, and hope. She lives in the panhandle of Florida with her husband, daughter, two sons, and their cat.

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Motivation to Revise

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You did it! You finished a draft of your document—huzzah! And now it’s time for the often-skipped, less desirable part of the writing process: revision. You might be wondering, ‘why should I take time to revise when I just spent all this time writing a draft in the first place?’ Well, I’m glad you asked! Here are some motivational arguments for and approaches to revision!

Why Revise?

Revision is an opportunity to take the great thing you wrote and make it better. And it can always get better! So, if you like your work to really shine, revision is for you!

Not feeling like you have time to revise? Or maybe you just feel like your draft is good enough already? Revision is still for you! Doing a quick re-read can still help ensure that you hit all the main points requested by your assignment prompt. It can also ensure that you remember to cite everything and avoid plagiarism. Plus, even small steps at revising can help you communicate more effectively and hone your writing skills!

How to Revise

It can be tough to open up that paper you just finished and say, ‘alright. Now let’s revise!;. It can feel discouraging. Or at least less than super exciting. But it doesn’t have to! Here are some revision strategies to help motivate you.

1)    Make a paper review appointment. By making a paper review appointment, you will have the opportunity to have someone else look over your work and provide feedback and next steps for revision! This takes some of the mental work and discouragement away from the revision process 😊.

2)    Try a reverse outline. Make bullet points of the main points in your document in a separate document or side comments. Look these over and compare them with your assignment—do you answer all the questions? Do you repeat yourself anywhere? These are good areas to revise if so!

3)   Take a break. Make sure to build in a day or two away from when your draft is due so that you can take a break from it and come back with fresh eyes. It can be really motivational to look at something fresh and remember all the great work you did, and things you want to fix or change will jump out at you more.

Still need more motivation?

If you’re still feeling the revision blues, check out some of these resources and other approaches to revision:

·       In particular, I recommend the Writing Goals module to help focus your revision ideas

·       Review some steps and tricks via our revising webpage

·       Watch our Strategies for Revising, Proofing, and Using Feedback webinar

 

What helps you revise? Let us know in the comments!




Claire Helakoski lives in Michigan with her family. Claire has worked at Walden for over 5 years and you can read many of her previous posts on the blog, as well as find her over at WriteCast as a cohost. 


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Consider Your Future Audience When Writing Gets Tough

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Have you ever come across a piece of writing, whether it was a novel or poem or even an academic paper, that impacted you in a memorable way? Maybe the author described something with words so beautiful it brought a literal smile to your face, or maybe they expressed an idea in a way that never occurred to you before and it changed the way you think about life. 
character reading with light coming from book
I have. It’s part of why I love reading all kinds of literature, and it’s part of why I love writing. It’s also part of why I love teaching writing. The written word can change people’s lives; it can even change the world.

At the same time, writing is hard. Really hard. It’s especially difficult when you’re working within a variety of constraints like keeping up a scholarly tone, sticking to the conventions of Standardized Academic English, needing to include a certain number of sources, and following APA style. Shouldering all of those expectations on top of the already exhausting tasks of coming up with ideas and thinking about how to best communicate them, it’s easy to lose sight of the potential that your writing has to make an impact.  
crumpled writing paper
Yet it’s that very potential that can serve as a motivation to push through that difficult writing process. It’s that very potential that can get you through the outlining, and the drafting, and getting feedback, and then making even more changes based on that feedback. Remembering that your writing matters is a great tool for manifesting motivation. 

Whenever I’m at an impasse with an essay or article that I’m working on, whether it’s because I have writer’s block or I’ve just spent so much time with the piece that I’m sick of it and want to give up, I  think about who is going to read it. I call to mind what I want them to feel as they make their way through my words and ideas. Sometimes I even picture an actual person in my mind’s eye: I imagine their head nodding along in agreement, or their eyes widening with inspiration, or a smile growing on their face as they enjoy what I’ve put so much effort into creating.
woman reading by water

It might feel silly or awkward at first, to dream of your writing having such an impact. Maybe it even feels a little arrogant to think that something you created could mean that much to someone else. And it’s certainly true that not every piece of writing we produce is going to be our best work. Nevertheless, I encourage you to give it a try next time you find yourself searching for the inspiration to keep going with a draft: Imagine your classmates seeing a topic from a new perspective because of what you brought to the table in a discussion post. Imagine your professor delighted by how clearly and logically you articulated your point. Imagine your written work actually changing the world. 
man reading in a field
There are a lot of methods out there for drumming up the motivation needed to get through a writing project, and each person has their own set of tools that works for them. For me, the prospect of simply being done with a piece, of being able to check it off a list, is not always enough to get me across the finish line. I believe that there can be a greater significance to my work than that, and I’ve found that I can use that belief to re-energize myself when I’m struggling. 

I hope this strategy resonates with some of you out there, too. I’m excited to hear what other tools you’ve found helpful in your quest for motivation, and I look forward to continuing to bear witness to your world-changing work! 

Grete Howland is a writing instructor who's been with the Walden Writing Center since 2019. Before joining the Writing Center, Grete taught English and creative writing to middle and high school students. When she's not working with words, Grete loves paddle boarding, running, wine tasting, and hanging out at home with her husband and dog.

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Are You Hitting the Pandemic Wall Too?

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When Kacy shared with me her vision for the blog in 2021, I was excited to hear about the focus on motivation. As I mentioned last September, productivity usually isn’t a problem for me. I wrote that September post earlier in the pandemic, and when I look back now, I realized I’m in an entirely different headspace now.

As we head into the one-year anniversary of COVID lockdowns, I’ve hit what I’ve heard others refer to as the pandemic wall. The term “the pandemic wall” comes out of a Twitter thread from NPR host Tanzina Vega (she talks about “pandemic burnout”), and it refers to “the particular and sudden feeling of spiritual and emotional exhaustion with life during covid times” (Judkis, para. 7 ).

brick wall

I find myself thinking about the pandemic wall a lot lately, as my friends, family, and I are finding everyday tasks--both at work and at home--harder and harder to complete. My motivation seems to have vanished.

In reflecting on my waning motivation, I realized that the tools that I had relied on in the past to help fuel my motivation just weren’t available to me anymore. Last fall, I talked about how finding the right environment can help my motivation. In the past, when I was feeling restless and unproductive, I would often find a cozy coffee shop where I could get some writing or work done. Finding a different space to center myself was what got me through my master’s degree, and it’s been something I’ve relied on during my 10+ years as a remote worker.

book, notebook, coffee, pen

Of course, in this time of COVID, going to a coffee shop just isn’t an option; it’s not realistic or safe, and so opportunities for finding a new environment to help with my motivation are limited. I suppose I could try moving from my home office to my kitchen, but of course I also don’t leave my house during my down time, so I’m pretty sick of my kitchen right now too. That strategy that had worked well isn't available to me right now, but I also realized I’ve unknowingly found a few workarounds.

Recently, I’ve started using an app called Tomato Timer. The app uses the Pomodoro technique of alternating between focused work sessions and frequent breaks (“pomodoro” is Italian for tomato). I find it incredibly helpful and satisfying to watch the app count down the time until my next break, and I often find myself trying to work a bit faster to get a project done before the timer ends. The Pomodoro approach helps me push distractions to the side, since I’ll have a break soon in which I can easily get more coffee, check Twitter, get more coffee, walk around a bit, and get more coffee.

three tomatoes

The other strategy I’ve started using is a daily meditation habit using the app Headspace. I’ve always wanted to be more mindful, and with my inability to focus recently, I thought now might be the time to start building my meditation practice. I’ve incorporated Headspace into my nightly routine before I go to bed, and I’ve started using short 5-minute meditations during my Pomodoro breaks. It’s been a helpful way to reset my focus, and while I’m still a novice, I’m going to continue to build my meditation practice.

person sitting watching sunset

I in no way want to imply that the Tomato Timer and Headspace apps are solutions for the impact of the global pandemic we are still experiencing: we can’t time manage or meditate our way out of a global pandemic. And, honestly, we should all be clear with ourselves that our productivity probably won’t be the same as our pre-pandemic levels. It’s okay to feel unfocused and to struggle with motivation—that struggle is not a personal failing on your part; it’s a result of the world we live in right now and is not your fault.

It has been helpful for me, however, to reflect on the ways I’ve replaced my old strategies for finding motivation with new ones. Maybe that same reflection can be helpful for you too. If you’ve felt unfocused and unmotivated recently, consider where you’ve found motivation in the past. Is there a new way you can replicate that strategy? What resources or tools do you have at your disposal, however small they might seem? What support system can you lean into? How might technology be a tool?

Share your thoughts in comments to this post, and good luck out there, everyone. We will eventually be able to visit our local coffee shop without worry.






Beth Nastachowski has been with the Writing Center since 2010, and she currently manages the center’s webinars, modules, and videos. She spends her time running after her son, husband, two cats, and dog in St. Paul, MN. 

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