Writing with ADD: the Pomodoro Technique
Like many folks, it wasn’t until adulthood that I was diagnosed as an adult with ADD. With this discovery, a great many mysteries about my childhood (especially high school) were suddenly resolved. It explained my ability to “hyperfocus” on certain projects, becoming completely absorbed to the point of obsession while my attention would drift about erratically when it came to day-to-day events.
To this end, I believe it’s why it took me nearly 10 years to finish my first book. It’s why I can recall verbatim all the dialogue from movies or TV shows (that I like) after one viewing, or recite an article I read while in sixth grade about a tribe on Borneo. (They eat a soup made from soaking bird’s nests.) Those things landed in my “hyperfocus” window. (Not always exceptionally useful information, I admit.)
By the time I’d learned about my ADD, I’d already had a lot of “work arounds” for life in general. I used lists and “rituals” for daily living to make constant distraction easier to combat.
This past month while recovering from a workplace-related injury, I had a lot of time on my hands to write. However, I wasn’t getting it done. I’d write a few paragraphs and then disappear down some rabbit hole, only to re-emerge hours later wondering where the day went.
I discovered a method to help me train my focus on writing called the Pomodoro Technique. I first saw it referenced in one of the many, many ebooks I’ve purchased about increasing writing speed. I can write quickly—that’s not the problem. My problem was actual “butt in the chair” time. It’s SO easy for me to leave my desk to get a coffee only to end up wandering around my home as I ping from distraction to distraction.
Honestly, I was not avoiding the act of writing. I’d was dying to sit down and tell a story, but my brain (or rather my attention span) had a vastly different agenda.
The Pomodoro Technique is pretty easy. The name just sounds fancy (and possibly expensive). As it turns out—it’s Italian for “tomato”. This is because the person that thought it up had a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato and was Italian. Go figure.
It works like this: (*disclaimer: this is my version of how it works)
- Set your timer for 20 minutes (For me, it’s 23 minutes. That’s about as far as I can park my attention.)
- For those 20(ish) minutes, you sit in your chair and write.
- The timer goes off and you get a 5 to 7-minute That’s when you go grab a coffee, do sit ups or chase the dogs around the kitchen table.
- When the break is up, you do another 20-minute interval of writing.
- Rinse. Repeat.
- At the end of four of these 20-minute sessions, you can schedule a larger break (like 10 to 20 minutes).
The goal of this method is to train yourself to be productive in a shorter span of time and is meant to promote “mental agility” through frequent breaks.
How did it work for me? Pretty well, for the most part. I had some two and three thousand word days there. The result was the final draft in the third book in my Allies and Enemies series. I felt that I had better focus because I could tell myself that whatever distracting thought that bubbled up in the middle of my writing stent (How many seasons of Supernatural have there been anyway? Is house paint flammable? Did I order more contact lenses?) could wait until break time. It was exhausting because I did it for four days straight, which I might not repeat unless I’m under a tight deadline.
Even if you don’t have an actual diagnosis of ADD, the technique might be helpful if you’re trying to make the most of the writing time that you have. I used a customizable app called “30/30” that I found in the Apple store [here]. It’s pretty nifty. If you’re interested, you can learn more about the Pomodoro Technique [here].
(And, in case you’re wondering, I used the technique to finish this blog entry.)