The Pomodoro Technique, Meditation, and Stress-free Writing

Guest post by Bill

I don’t know about you, but I live a pretty busy life. A wife, kids, and a 40-hour work week. I also write eBooks and articles. In 2012, things got so hectic that I had to find some way to slow it down, regain my sanity, and figure out a way to fit everything in to an already full schedule.

In order to cope, I really threw myself into meditation. It all started with a self-induced, 4-week meditation challenge that I originally posted about on the Jobs in Ayurveda website. I’d toyed with meditation before in the past, but never seemed to make it a daily habit–primarily because it takes time and a little effort in the beginning. Finally, I was willing to put forth the effort.

I knew that any habit requires a few weeks to take hold, so I decided I would meditate for at least 15 minutes every day for four weeks. I can’t tell you that it changed my life right away, but I have noticed some significant benefits since I completed the first challenge (I did another free 21-day guided meditation challenge on Deepak Chopra’s website that brought many more benefits than my original challenge).

After 5 months, I can say I’ve internalized the habit. Now I meditate regularly.

But, how has that improved my writing?

A few weeks ago, I got a Tweet from internet marketing guru turned Kindle author Steve Scott. Steve’s got a new book on increasing productivity that’s for sale on Amazon that was available for free download earlier in December (it’s a pretty good book and I’m not being paid to say that). While reading the book I learned about how he uses the Pomodoro Technique to schedule his daily and weekly tasks into manageable pieces.

Before I read this book, I’d never heard about the Pomodoro Technique. Basically, it’s a way to divide your time into 30 minute segments—with 25 minutes of focused, concentrated work separated by 5 minutes of relaxation (If you want to know more, check out this website. You can also download the app for your computer, iPhone, or Android phone). These time segments are called “Pomodoros.”

The Pomodoro Technique is a logical and excellent way for breaking large tasks down into smaller ones (Again, I’m not getting paid to say this. I’m just a fan). It’s also a great way to focus concentrated effort towards each task in short bursts. I have been using this technique for the past few weeks and it has worked great when combined with the “no-matter-what, do-at-least-one-business-task-each-day” method I have been using for years.

For me, the problem wasn’t the 25 minutes of work. It was the 5 minutes of break. Although Scott recommends we stand up and move around during the break from writing, I initially found myself surfing the net, Facebooking, or doing some other electronic-related task. This made me burn out just as fast as if I didn’t take any break at all. And, whenever I actually took the time to walk around, my break somehow took way longer than 5 minutes.

Essentially, a 5 minute break was too short to actually relax. It was often taken up with other un-relaxing tasks.

My solution: meditate for part or all of those 5 minutes.

My stamina, concentration, and writing speed increased greatly once I started using a few minutes of this time to meditate. I did even better when I used a guided meditation, such as focusing on how easily the words are coming to me or how great I’ll feel when I’ve finished this task.

If it can help me, I’m sure it can help you too. Simply concentrating on your breath for a single minute will be enough to rejuvenate you for another 25 minutes.

How can doing less help you do more?

Meditation is simply the act of being in the present. It’s also one of the easiest and best things we can do as writers to increase our production, quality, and peace of mind.

It works for several reasons:

  • Relaxation increases stamina- Bruce Lee said it best, “The less effort, the faster and more powerful you will be.” Relaxing for even a few minutes between tasks gives us a chance to recuperate our energy and apply this newfound strength towards the next task.
  • Lowers anxiety and stress- I understand that some people work better under stress and a feeling of urgency is an important motivator. However, most people work better when they aren’t stressed. Meditation is one of the best ways to lower stress.
  • Improves our efficiency- A clear mind is a productive mind. We all work better when our minds aren’t cluttered with extra baggage and when we’re not thinking about other stuff that doesn’t pertain to the task at hand. Studies have shown that multi-tasking doesn’t work as well as single-minded concentration on each task.

Plus, multi-tasking is linked to depression and anxiety, and even death. Mono-tasking leads to less stress and greater productivity.

  • It actually increases “flow”- “Flow” is when everything is in sync and your efforts seem effortless. This is usually when your work is at its best. Time seems to slip away while you work. We usually don’t like to stop working whenever we’re in the flow but, I’ve found that my productivity actually increases when I take short meditation breaks while I write.

How is that? Because your mind doesn’t take a break when you meditate. The stuff you were working on is still in your unconscious, so, when you’re done meditating and your mind is clear, the ideas are fresher than ever. And you can let your work “flow” on

  • Provides motivation- Every professional athlete knows the power of the mind. The way we view our world is a direct product of our minds. Each of us has a motivation for the myriad things we do each day. In order to change our feelings and perceptions, we have to start by changing our thoughts.

We can use the 5-minute break to think about why we’re doing what we are doing and what outcome we wish to have. For instance, you may just be writing a blog post. But, you’re doing it in order to help someone else with a problem they’re having. Or, to make extra money that will help make you more prosperous. These thoughts are a great way to increase the happiness and fulfillment we get out of our writing tasks.

Example 1­5-Minute Mini-Meditations

Here are a few suggestions for short meditations that you can try out. Start out doing these for a minute and increase the time until you can do it for the entire 5 minutes.

For each of them, you need to sit up straight with your feet flat on the ground and your back away from the back of your chair. Place your hands lightly on your desk, thighs, or in your lap. If possible, close your eyes. If you can’t close your eyes, blur their focus and look straight ahead (This works great if you work in an office and need to appear like you’re working while you meditate). Gently inhale and exhale through your nose.

Rinse your mind

With each inhale, imagine cool water is rushing over the top of your brain. Expel any thoughts through your nose on exhale. You’re literally rinsing the thoughts away.

In, cool, refreshing water. Out, excess thoughts.

You are a light bulb

This one is great for relaxing your whole body. On inhale, envision bright white light filling your body. On exhale, release any tension in your body and exhale any stress, which is like dark smoke. With each breath, think about your body glowing brighter and brighter while it gets more and more relaxed.

In, soothing white light. Out, dark grey stress smoke.

Success comes easily to you

This is an awesome motivator to keep going when you’re starting to feel burned out. As you inhale, feel the calmness of the air surrounding you. Even if you’re outside, imagine that you are sitting in a bubble of calmness. Exhale and surrender to your surroundings. Relax your body.

After a few breaths, think about the perfect outcome you want to happen from whatever it is you’re working on. For instance, I’m thinking about the hundreds of people that are going to read this article and the amazing transformation they’re going to have from reading this piece. I’m thinking about how good it feels to help others. Make sure you also internalize the feelings you will get from achieving your ultimate goal from this task. This will make it feel more real.

Take time to rest your brain

The Pomodoro Technique is an excellent way to work in short concentrated bursts. If you take time to do mini-meditations during your breaks, you can work quickly for hours and lower your stress level. You don’t have to be a Buddhist monk to benefit from meditation. You don’t have to meditate for hours either. A single minute will help you immensely. Taking time to clear your mind between Pomodoros will help you write more efficiently, quicker, and with more clarity.

Bill White is an archaeologist, researcher, and author. He is the research publications director at Succinct Research, a company dedicated to publishing non-fiction writing for heritage conservation and historic preservation consultants. You can follow the Succinct Research blog here, on Google+, and on Twitter.

About the Author

  • http://capturedbloggingtips.com/2013/01/online-vs-offline-networking/ Khaja moin

    I too heard about this technique but didn`t tried it. The reason is I think I will lose that any important point when I take break.
    Anyway I agree that until we try we can`t say about it.

    Prior to writing I think about topics I need to cover and then jot it on a paper. Then I think about introduction, how to impress!

    Then start writing without looking or correcting for any errors. Then I take break, to check for errors and link internally, then I hit publish.

    ~@Khajamoin1

    • http://Www.succinctresearch.com/blog SuccinctBill

      Sounds like you already have something that works well for you. Maybe you can do the visualizations between brainstorming sessions. This technique works well for me because I write between 8 and 10 hours 5-days a week. The breaks work well for me and most other writers I know.

  • http://www.ancadumitru.com Anca Dumitru

    Excellent post, Bill!

    I’ve become a mindfulness practitioner about three months ago when I realized how overwhelmed with stress I was. A friend of mine, a clinical psychologist, recommended me Jon Kabat-Zinn’s “Full Catastrophe Living” and that really changed me. Just like you, I’m a fan and I have included meditation in my daily routine. The benefits are enormous! I feel better, and I have a clearer picture of what I want to achieve.

    I usually do a 45-minute body scan guided meditation early in the morning, but I will now include the Pomodoro Technique during the day, especially while I work.

    Thanks!

    • http://Www.succinctresearch.com/blog SuccinctBill

      Wow Anca, that’s great! I usually do about 30-mins of meditation in the morning and short 1-5 minute sessions throughout the day. It keeps my stress down pretty good.

      Kabat-Zinn is a great author. I’ll need to check out that book.

  • http://theweirdproblogger.com Kingsley Agu

    I haven’t heard of that technique before. But I have been making use of a software Bamidele advised us to use – http://www.eterlab.com/eyedefender/

    Eye defender can momentarily show you another screen every 5 or 10mins so that you can relax during those time.

    Nice write up Bill.

    I will check that technique out.

    • http://Www.succinctresearch.com/blog SuccinctBill

      That will probably help too. Anything that takes your mind off the task for a few seconds is good. The visualization technique works well for me because I like the idea of keeping a positive, stress-free outlook towards life.

      I’ll have to check out that software, too

  • http://www.carnivalgoa.com/casino/ Sam@Goa Casinos

    Each and every option is looking cool to increase productivity which will be good for every freelancer.

    • http://Www.succinctresearch.com/blog SuccinctBill

      Exactly, Sam. We all need every bit of help we can get.

  • http://www.legalherbalonline.com/ Jane Emir

    well, nice post. I think that meditation has a link with stress free writing. If your mind is fresh then you can write more better :)
    Thank you

    • http://Www.succinctresearch.com/blog SuccinctBill

      Exactly, Jane. Meditation’s popularity is growing in the West as we learn more about its healthful benefits.

  • http://snitchim.com Eric

    This all new to me…mabye I am just a workaholic because I can sit behind a computer for a good 8 to 10 hours a days. But mabye I will hit a wall one of these days and give this a shot.

    Until than work must go on!

    Eric

    • http://Www.succinctresearch.com/blog SuccinctBill

      You’re a beast, Eric. I used to hit the wall all the time. I also used to get sidetracked a lot. This is just one way I can keep myself on track and motivated.

  • http://lindseyrainwater.com Lindsey Rainwater

    I have used the Pomodoro Technique on and off for years. I like really getting into the flow of my work, and so I’ll start every day and project off without it. That way if I get into my Groove and I write for an hour straight, nothing interrupts me.

    BUT for those projects that I have trouble sitting down and focusing on (or the days that my butt doesn’t want to stay in my chair) I whip out the timer and use those 25-30 minute chunks, and 5-10 minute breaks.

    On breaks I’ll get a drink, a quick snack to prevent ravenous hunger, I’ll take my dogs outside, or I’ll stretch if I’m wearing the right clothes.

    So the Pomodoro technique is very useful, but for me it’s something I use when I can’t depend on my brain to keep me focused.

    Also, I use BrainSync for meditation. They have guided and ambient tracks, and I really have seen a difference in my thinking and creativity since I started using them.

    Thanks for this in-depth post – I enjoyed it. :)

    • http://Www.succinctresearch.com/blog SuccinctBill

      Sounds like you’re already a pro, Lindsey. I’ll admit it, it’s pretty hard for me to keep this level of intensity up for a full 8-hour day. Also, if I’m really in “flow” I might keep rolling through a couple Pomodoros without a break. But I love using this technique for projects that I’m not too motivated to do or aren’t really that excited about.

      I’m also a fan of ambient music. I’ll have to check out MindSync.

      • http://lindseyrainwater.com Lindsey Rainwater

        LOL! A pro – or just darn good at looking like one. ;)

        And yes, BrainSync is great. Sometimes I will sit back and listen to it with my eyes closed, and other times I’ll listen to it while doing menial tasks like sorting email, folding laundry, or other things.

        I figure positive subliminal messages are better background noise than all the doom and gloom on the TV.

        I’ve found that the Pomodoro technique works well – my biggest issue is restarting the timer. When I’m on a project I’m not excited about, I work like a demon once that 30 minutes is counting down. Then I get up, take a break, and HAVE to make sure I get back to the timer. That is my biggest weakness with the system.

        I found a great free timer for the computer at http://www.xoring.com/Pomotimelist.php for anyone who wants a fun little worksheet timer. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find a good Pomo app for my phone – most are nothing but glorified timers.

        Just another couple cents from me. :P

        • http://Www.succinctresearch.com/blog SuccinctBill

          Hermine found a pretty good pomodoro timer and put a link in her comment below. I think it’s the same one I use on my phone.

  • http://hermineericksen.com Hermine

    I’ve never heard of this technique before but, I like it already. I’m a chronic multi-tasker which often leads to procrastination for me. I think if I used this technique I’d be alot more productive throughout my day.

    Its kind of like interval training at the gym – 3-4 minutes of high intensity training followed by a minute of low intensity.

    I’ll be using this tomorrow.

    • http://Www.succinctresearch.com/blog SuccinctBill

      Multi-tasking burns me out really, really fast. And I make a lot of mistakes when I multitask that just make me have to re-do some of what I just did. It’s annoying. I learned a long time ago that I was a mono-tasker.

      But some folks swear by multitasking. The good thing is Pomodoros will help multitaskers too.

      It’s totally interval training for the mind. Hit it, Hermine!

      • http://hermineericksen.com Hermine

        As promised, tried this today and it worked! I also found a great tool called tomato-timer.com – the bell scares the heck out of me every time the 25 minutes is up!

        I actually managed to get things done without facebooking, twittering or harassing my cats so, I think I’m going to make this a permanent part of my work day.

        • http://Www.succinctresearch.com/blog SuccinctBill

          That’s great!

          I think the tomato timer is the one I have on my phone. Does yours have a ticking sound and a bell that sounds at 25-minutes? If so, were using the same tool. I also use that timer whenever I clean my house or so other chores in order to ensure I take breaks regularly.

          It’s such a simple concept. I can’t believe how well it works.

  • pomodorium

    Pomodoro technique rules ! :)

  • http://www.jatinsharma.in Anurag

    Thanks for the post, I heard about Pomodro but never even wondered to Google it but with this post anyone can learn this best technique in short span of time. Cheers.

    • http://Www.succinctresearch.com/blog SuccinctBill

      Glad to be of service. I’ve only been using the pomodoro technique for a short while, but it has helped me greatly so far.

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