Tomato Testimonial

Like most of the other bloggers on this site I’ve been having trouble meeting my writing goals lately (and non-writing goals for that matter).  In fact it’s been hard to even get started lately.  I won’t bore you with the specifics of the excuses.  Like most excuses they feel valid at the time but criminally lame after the fact.  I’ve had success in the past with written schedules but the latest attempt was less than successful.  All seemed lost.

Last week though Tim wrote a post right here on Writing is Cake about the Pomodoro Technique.  He heard about it at a presentation at Iginite Phoenix, an event you should attend if you’re nearby, failing that check out their site and youtube channel.  At any rate something about it peaked my curiosity enough to check out the Ignite preso and the Pomodoro site.  I’ve been using it for a few days now and I can’t say enough good things about it.  Let me tell ya people, this is a great time management protocol.  It sounds a little gimmicky at first and I suppose it is with jargony terms and phrases.  But when you get good results who cares?

The planning/time management phase is simple enough.  You make a sort of master ‘to do’ list called an Activity Inventory.  From that list you pick items that go on a ‘To Do Today’ list and estimate how many pomodoros the task will take.  Pomodoro being an indivisible unit of 25 minutes with a 3-5 minute break at the end.  Simple right?  But it lets you prioritize tasks in any number of ways.

Even more important for me is it lets you break down any task into smaller goals.  Not only does this lessen the sense of being overwhelmed by tasks, it means you always have a sense of making progress.  It keeps you you positive, in the moment, and focused.  And speaking of focus…my problem isn’t so much procrastination.  I can usually get started alright but staying on task is brutal.  Distraction is my demon and he is legion!  Dealing with distractions is built into the system.  Not by ignoring them but by acknowledging them.  If you feel a distraction brewing you actually write it down and make a decision whether to address it or move on with the task.  Of course most of them are easily put off and you’ll quickly be amazed how much work you get done in 25 minutes when that 25 minutes is only work.

So give it a try.  Read Tim’s post, check out the Ignite video, check out the Pomodoro site  If you’re not sure if it’ll work start small.  Try a two or three pomodoro task and see how it feels.  I’m hooked and I’m pretty sure you will be, too.  Thanks go to Tim, Greg Head, and Jeff and the Ignite Cadre.

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Habitually Focused – The Pomodoro Technique

The human brain is a wondrous thing, capable of amazing feats of creativity and logic.  The complexities can be both boon and bane, the latter when distractions are present.  Last week, at the Ignite Phoenix event, I learned about a simple technique that can help when focus is needed.  It’s called Pomodoro, named after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that was first used by technique creator Francesco Cirillo.  The technique revolves around 5 simple steps:

  1. decide on the task to be done (writing it down helps to confirm the focus)
  2. set the timer for 25 minutes (over time this act will train the brain that it’s time to focus)
  3. work on the task (and only the task) for 25 minutes, until the timer rings and mark an x next to the task
  4. take a 5 minute break (reward the brain for staying focused)
  5. repeat (and after completing 4, take a longer break like 15-20 minutes)

The individual 30 minute units are called “pomodoros” and the x marks show a measure of progress that is also a form of reward for accomplishment.  The timer sound reinforces the “no distractions” rule and also provides a bit of white noise.

I can certainly see the applications for this in my writing regimen, where anything that reinforces focusing habits is firmly in the boon column.

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Zombies: a series – Surviving An Uprising (Ignite Phoenix presentation)

I recently had the awesome experience of giving a presentation entitled “Surviving The Next Zombie Uprising” at Ignite Phoenix II. The format revolves around a 20 page presentation, with the slides automatically clicking over every 15 seconds. The five minutes feels like it goes by in a blur as you hit the main points on each slide.

After my topic was selected to be included, I had about a week and a half to put together the slides. I approached it like a screen writing project at that point, breaking down each section into “scenes”, each of which was to move the “story” along. I also tried to keep one of Jeff’s favorite mantras in mind at all times: “Enter late and leave early”. So, for instance, I did not open with “Hi, I’m here to talk to you about zombies”; instead, I chose to lead off with “Why have we had no global zombie uprising to date?” I felt that this imparted a hit-the-ground-running feeling right from the start.

After roughing out the first draft, I made two editing passes through the material and added in some “breather” slides, where I could pause. These were done as large graphics with a catchy title which I hoped would elicit a laugh from the audience allowing me to regroup my thoughts for the next sequence. Although I talked it out several times to myself, something I also do when working through dialogue in a screenplay, there was no substitute for the live experience. Reviewing the video, I definitely see several “scenes” that could have been tightened up.

Since it is a bit hard to see in the video at times, I have included the slide deck.

View the video on Blip TV.