A New Year’s Resolution

I have a theory that the key to a successfully kept New Year’s Resolution is to aim low.  One New Year many years ago, my husband and I formally resolved to hang up the bathmat after a shower – and we’ve been doing it every since.

Big projects are harder: losing weight, doing more exercise, cutting down the booze, giving up Candy Crush – finishing the book.

The trouble with academic work, particularly the important stuff, which is research and writing, is that it is so huge and amorphous.  All those filing cabinets (real or virtual), all those words to write, all those versions of the same chapter already written – gah!  It needs to be broken down into manageable gobbets.

Walter Stevenson Davidson - my boy! Portrait by Ferdinand Mulnier in Mitchell Library, Sydney

Walter Stevenson Davidson.Portrait by Ferdinand Mulnier in Mitchell Library, Sydney

So here’s the plan.  As the blogosphere is my witness, I have resolved to spend a minimum of one Pomodoro a day working on my book.

The Pomodoro Technique was invented, if that’s the word, by an Italian student in the 1980s, who discovered that he got more work done if he broke it up into gobbets of 25 minutes, using a tomato-shaped kitchen timer.  During that 25 minutes, he would work on just one thing, without interruptions (now even more important in our on-line world).  When the timer rang, he took 5 minutes break before starting again.  After 4 Pomodori, he took a longer break.  Repeat as necessary.

roma tomatoes

The beauty of this system is that everyone has 25 minutes to spare. What’s more, since the hardest part of writing is often getting started, I find that once I set the timer and sit down at the computer, I usually get absorbed in what I’m doing and will happily spend more time there – though the 5 minute breaks are important. ‘You have to respect the tomato.’

My other theory about New Year Resolutions is that it’s madness to start them on New Year’s Day, possibly hung over, certainly in the middle of the post-Christmas stupor. So I started my new regime a few days ago, and so far, so good. Does it really only take 40 days to establish a new habit? I’m not sure yet, but I shall keep you posted.

I still have a lot of bathmats to go.

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10 responses to “A New Year’s Resolution

  1. Heh!!! worth a try in the face of the multitude of projects I have on hand.

  2. I love it Marion! My own personal breakthrough, though, is a new laptop that is ready to go as soon as I lift the lid. No more waiting five minutes for the clunky old beast to warm up. And because it is a laptop, I can use it in a reclining position, so much better for my aged back, which cannot sit at a desk for more than ten minutes.
    So there it is. Collapse on the chaise and off I go, at a moments notice. I have even abandoned the lifelong habit of writing then first draft with pen and paper – that’s just for notes now.
    Happy happy
    X

    • Thanks, Sally. With me it’s my aged tailbone, but ditto! I’m everlastingly grateful to my iPad plus the Notability app, which allows me to sit in a comfortable armchair and read and make notes on my files.

      But I still do a lot of scribbling with a biro in a notebook, partly because I do a lot of writing on the train. If I can transfer my scribble to the computer before it becomes illegible even to me, that typing process represents the first edit.

      My latest discovery is Scrivener. It’s a writing program designed for dealing with large projects, like novels and monographs, and it’s great for breaking up a great wodge of text into smaller gobbets (technical terms!) which can then be easily moved around. I’m still figuring out how to import all my research into my Project, but I can see this will be worthwhile too.

  3. I have to try this Pomodoro Technique – I am not sure that I have 40 days to establish it as a habit though!

  4. We’ve been doing the same thing here in the States, but I never heard of the “Pomodoro Technique” – it’s just “Twenty Minutes a Day”. It actually works – as you say, everyone has 20-25 minutes SOMEWHERE. I use a calendar (I have 3 projects going right now), and check off my 20 minutes per gig. If nothing else, you feel a heck of a lot better!

    • Hi Eve – that’s interesting. I came across an article about Pomodoro in the New York Times a year or so back (which of course I can’t now find), but the strategy doesn’t need a name in any case. As you say, it works (although I’m not sure I could juggle 3 writing projects simultaneously). And there is absolutely no doubt – it makes me feel so much better once I have one pomodoro under my belt! Happy New Year.

  5. Did ‘Pomodoro’ — the Italian student — live with dependants? It seems some scholars have the autonomy to what they wish with 25 minutes. Although it offends cultured sensibilities, the truth is that there some scholars are without such luxury and must drop what is at hand to attend regular domestic needs of loved ones.

    • I think Eve’s argument is right, Neville, and everyone has 20-25 minutes in the day somewhere, no matter how busy we all are. I agree though, sometimes it takes real effort to find it, and there are few people like Anthony Trollope, who claimed that he wrote 7000 words every morning before heading out to his day job to run the Royal Mail!

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