Songwriter: if you procrastinate, and can’t stick a consistent songwriting habit or practice routine, don’t despair.
This simple strategy will help you renew focus on finishing that song-in-progress, or on sharpening your songwriting skills.
What is the Pomodoro technique?
The Pomodoro Technique is a method for focusing on difficult tasks — like your songwriting — for 25 minutes at a time. After each 25-minute “Pomodoro”, you take a 3- to 5-minute break.
The name “Pomodoro” comes from the Italian word for “tomato” – because it uses a kitchen timer, and those sometimes resemble tomatoes (see picture above).
Preparing for your first Pomodoro
All you need is a simple countdown timer — either a kitchen timer or the timer app found on any smartphone.
In my own practice, I find an analog kitchen timer much better to use than a smartphone. Smartphones teem with potential distractions that could stunt your long-term growth as a songwriter.
If you must use a timer found in a smartphone app, please put your phone in Airplane Mode while you work. Put the phone somewhere out of reach and outside your field of vision; even seeing it can interfere with your ability to focus.
Once your phone is silenced and out of sight, it’s time to start your first pomodoro.
How to do your first Pomodoro
Write the date at the top of an index card or a piece of paper.
Before you begin your first Pomodoro, you’ll need to decide your task for that period of time. Example tasks could include:
- Study Pat Pattison’s classic Writing Better Lyrics
- Practice the Travis fingerpicking pattern
- Work on a first draft lyric for that new song you’re writing
Once you’ve decided your task, write it down on a piece of paper. Wind your timer to 25 minutes. As the timer ticks away in the background, work on your chosen songwriting challenge without interruption or distraction until the timer winds down. Try to really focus and lose yourself in the work.
When the full 25 minutes are complete and the timer rings, write an “x” to the right of the task. Congratulations! That “x” means you’ve completed one Pomodoro’s worth of work on the task you decided.
Now for your reward.
It’s time to celebrate!
Once you’ve completed one 25-minute period of focused work, aka a Pomodoro, it’s time to take a break for 3-5 minutes – go ahead and do something enjoyable, relaxing, and not related to what you were studying or writing. In those five minutes you might choose to:
- surf Facebook
- check for texts
- eat a square of dark chocolate
- get a cup of coffee
- scratch your cat behind the ears
Then, when the break’s over, you either move on to the rest of your daily life or you perform another Pomodoro on a chosen task. If the new task is different from the one you did during the last Pomodoro, write the new task down. Writing what you’re about to do should help you gather your focus. As before, when the next Pomodoro is finished, draw another “x” beside it.
How to set a daily goal
By tracking your successes and taking enjoyable breaks, you’ll soon begin to look forward to songwriting challenges. Bit by bit you build confidence, skill, and new songs to sing.
Completing just one or two focused Pomodoros per day on your songwriting is a great start. Even just one Pomodoro every day adds up to about three hours of focused work per week.
Over time, these efforts add up: Your songwriting skills grow, you piece together new songs over multiple sessions, and your focus deepens. Eventually, you’ll be able to complete more and more Pomodoros each day.
To maintain daily progress, be sure to track your completed pomodoros. I log mine in a daily Moleskine calendar so I can see how much time I devote to this craft. Even if the latest song I wrote came out sounding horrible, even if I’m stuck on a song-in-progress, even if I’m having trouble wrapping my brain around a new composing technique… no matter what, looking at those rows of completed Pomodoros is encouraging.
Check your weekly scoreboard
Another advantage of tracking your daily Pomodoros is that you can look back and review a weekly scoreboard of time spent studying and creating. This can be very rewarding.
Celebrate the good weeks where you logged consistent pomodoros, and when you miss your daily targets try to figure out what went wrong. There’s always room for improvement. Reaching true consistency can take a while, so celebrate every small victory and keep trying. Even one Pomodoro per week is better than zero.
Songwriting is a long learning process with many ups and downs, but when the going gets difficult you can always take pride in the number of Pomodoros that you devote to songwriting studies.
By working a little at this craft each day, you start a daily habit that can grow gradually longer over time. Then, at the end of the day, the end of the week, and the end of your life, you can look back and feel good about the time you spent on this craft of songwriting.
Next time you find yourself procrastinating, grab your timer, wind it to 25 minutes, and do one Pomodoro of solid, focused work on a song or on your songwriting skills. Your effort will be repaid with the deep, lasting satisfaction of devoting yourself to a creative discipline.
I first became aware of The Pomodoro Technique through Dr. Barbara Oakley’s free Learning How to Learn course on Coursera. I found the Pomodoro helped me overcome procrastination and focus, so I then checked out The Pomodoro Technique’s official website and downloaded the book.