#AcWriMo. Shut up and write! By our Social Sciences Correspondent

After having described the difficulties I face when attempting to write from home, and realising that I can only spend so much time in coffee shops before (a) they ask me to leave or (b) I consume way too much caffeine and cease to be able to use a pen, I’ve been exploring how to become more productive while sitting at my office desk in the university.  The problem always seems to be one of priorities: when I’m in my office, I find it incredibly hard to prioritise writing the dreaded academic papers.  Emails constantly interrupt me, and I tend to be fretting about all the non-paper-writing tasks I should be doing.

I bought an egg timer

Image credit: Ian Barbour, Flickr Creative Commons

With this in mind, I signed up for a ‘Shut up and write’ session here at Nottingham.  I remember we had these at Warwick, and although I never actually attended one, I do recall my friends at the Research Exchange being quite enthusiastic about the idea.  Essentially, you apply the Pomodoro technique® (a registered trademark by Francesco Cirillo – more here), the idea being that you write for a certain amount of time (in Nottingham’s case 20 minutes) and then take a short break (5 minutes).  Apparently, it’s all about being more productive – something I definitely aspire to!

The session I attended last week was scheduled to last for two hours, more or less, and entailed a few minutes of the facilitator introducing the technique, followed by four rounds of the timed cycle.  Here are my thoughts:

  • I’m not sure being in a room full of strangers was ideal. I didn’t know anyone else there, and other people didn’t seem to know each other either (although perhaps they were just concentrating really hard), so it all felt a little socially awkward to me.  On top of this, the facilitator spent the entire session sitting very still and definitely not doing any writing.  Honestly, I don’t know how she managed to stay awake!  Her stillness made me feel a little like I was in an exam, which was somewhat unnerving.
  • I’m a pen and paper kind of girl. Everybody else was using laptops.  So there was much tappity-tap-tap and clickety-click-click throughout the session, and one guy seemed to be intent on beating the life out of his keyboard.  I did consider putting headphones on, but I’m quite fussy about listening to music while writing, and also I was a bit terrified of noise leaking from the headphones – the facilitator had said there was a ‘two strikes and you’re out’ policy on disturbing the peace, so I was worried about being the dunce, unwittingly making too much noise!
  • I’m also quite fussy about my physical environment when writing (not just any coffee shop, you know!), and I find it useful to be able to see something of the world while I’m working. Unfortunately, the room we were using had only internal windows, and I began to get that very particular headache associated with the lighting required in such spaces.

I’m aware that everything I’ve described so far sounds a little negative.  However, I did manage to get A LOT of words written, so clearly the technique was working its magic despite my misgivings.  And since that session, I’ve used the technique again – you guessed it, in a coffee shop!  I’ve discovered that I respond really well to the principle of short bursts of activity, where writing’s concerned.  My problem really lies in not letting myself wander off to the tasks that really can wait, and making sure I’m writing in an environment in which I feel comfortable.  As I said, I struggle to write in my university office, and I’m still trying to get to grips with how to manage that.

So what do other people think?  Are there lots of Pomodoro technique writers out there?  And how much does our environment influence our ways of writing?  And the biggest conundrum I seem to face: when my line manager sends me an email, how many minutes am I allowed to ignore it for?!


Post by Bernie Divall, Social Science Correspondent

picture of BernieBernadette Divall (Bernie) is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in maternity care at the University of Nottingham’s School of Health Sciences.  She is currently working towards establishing a panel of service users who will inform research undertaken within the maternal health research group.  Right now she is enjoying the glow of having recently passed her PhD, which centred on narratives of identity, specifically clinical leadership in midwifery.  Away from the world of funding bids and publication worries, Bernie spends her time raising three children, tap dancing, feeding people, crocheting tiny animals, and generally being sociable.

This blog is not affiliated with, associated with, or endorsed by the Pomodoro Technique® or Francesco Cirillo.

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2 thoughts on “#AcWriMo. Shut up and write! By our Social Sciences Correspondent

  1. I started using this technique only a week ago and it is working wonders! I can’t concentrate for more than that length of time in one go so breaking up my time has really helped my productivity levels. I always find things pop into my head like ‘Buy Yankee candle for Kate’ or ’email back supervisor’ and by doing the pomodoro technique i can banish these invasive thoughts until my 5 min break then i speedily deal with them!

  2. Bernie says:

    Hi Sarah, you sound just like me. It’s the problem of having a full brain. I agree, anything that helps with productivity is ace! How did you find out about shut up and write?

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