I’ve had a rough couple of weeks lately, with many distractions from my writing. I find that distractions tend to accumulate, causing inertia on so many levels it’s hard to comprehend, but one of the measurable ones is the drop in my daily word count – or daily editing progress. Usually it’s my husband who finally confines me to my chair and tells me to stop whining and get back to work, but even then it can be very daunting to get started.

Tobias Buckell posted this link in his blog a few weeks ago, and it struck a chord with me. Yes, it’s aimed at computer/software programmers, but the concentration difficulties are very similar. I’ve tried the “work for X amount of time, take a designated break, get back to work” method before, but it almost always falls apart after a few cycles because as I’m taking a break, I get distracted by something (ooh, shiny!) and it ends up being two hours before I remember I ought to have been working. What can I say? I’m blond, and not afraid to admit it.

The difference here, to me, is that John Richardson recommends setting a timer for work time and break time. And not just any time – 48 minutes of work, and 12 minutes of break. I’d argue that other combinations would work, but the point of this is specificity.

It’s easy to say “I’ll take a ten minute break” and let it turn into 15 or 20 minutes… or two hours. If I’m taking a 12 minute break, I’m taking a 12 minute break. I know I won’t look at the clock at the right time, so I set my kitchen timer, clip it to my pocket so I can hear it even if I wander over to the mailboxes, and it calls me back to work at the right time. I get 12 minute intervals throughout the day to do things like tidy up the living room or rotate the laundry, so even the thoughts about the non-writing tasks I need to complete don’t intrude on my working time. 12 minutes is enough time to do two small chores AND brew myself the next cup of tea. It’s a long time, really, and sometimes I find myself ready to get back to work before my break is done. Then I feel like I’m getting luxury time to just sit and do nothing, without shirking any of my various home or working duties.

Also, when the writing’s not going well, all I really have to commit to is 48 minutes of typing. I can handle that. I’d probably waste that time watching morning talk shows anyway, and not doing anything productive, so I might as well waste the time pretending to work. If, by the end of that time, I only have 200 words – or 20 words – and I’m still struggling, then so be it. I’ve written, and I can go on about my day guilt-free knowing it would have been horrible to punish myself by sitting at the desk trying to put together words that just wouldn’t cooperate. But usually by the time my timer beeps that first time, I’ve found my groove again and can’t wait to get back from my 12 minute break to keep working.

It’s funny how that works – how your brain can forget why you were so excited about a project, and needs to be reminded.

On the days when I’ve used the timer method (and I’ll admit it hasn’t been every day – I’m still getting used to it) I find that I get more done in general, not just more writing, and that’s a fantastic payoff no matter which angle you come at it from.