September 6, 2012

What on Earth Are Poms???

What on Earth Are Poms???

“Do you pom?” “How long?” “How many?” “Alone or together?” “Where?”

Do you hear other academic writers asking questions like this?

Do they confuse you entirely? You are not alone!

Why do we in Academic Ladder like Poms?

Academic writers all over the world are adopting The Pomodoro Technique® and you hear about it in our Academic Writing Clubs and outside them. Our Academic Ladder Newsletter featured them in September 13, 2006 article: Academic Writing: Use a Timer to Make Yourself Write and the Pomodoro Technique® web page also includes a book to download for free.

You know we love timers in Academic Ladder! We know, from hundreds of academic writers and from the research, that writing in brief, regular sessions generally results in writing more, with less stress.

We also know that those sessions are more reliably successful when they have both a minimum time and a maximum time. Minimum time we understand. We can tolerate even painful writing for 15 minutes. But for many of us, maximum time matters too. It is important, says Robert Boice’s research, to stop writing before you feel ready, so you stop while still engaged. The step to Poms is natural for many of us.

What Are Poms?

Francesco Cirillo developed The Pomodoro Technique® as a productivity strategy for workers in an office, not primarily for writers. It is built around work units of 25 minutes separated by 5 minute breaks. After four such sessions (two hours,) you take a longer break.

Everyone loves the origin of the name. Cirillo used his kitchen timer for the sessions. The timer was shaped like a tomato. He is Italian. Pomodoro is Italian for tomato. Hence, The Pomodoro Technique®. He refers to each session as a Pomodoro; hence, “I wrote for 4 Poms.”

Basic, Rigorous, or Chatty Poms

Many of us use simply the concept of timed, 25-minute writing sessions. But the practice can involve much more, and the theory is quite intriguing: nothing less than shifting our sense of time is Cirillo’s goal. Time runs backwards toward 0 from 25. We no longer focus on becoming, which leads to anxiety: “The time slipped away; I got nothing done.” Time instead is boxed into units (pomodoros) which are manageable and a source of data about the actual effort of an activity.

Rigorous practitioners of The Pomodoro Technique® plan the day’s activities on a sheet, and use it to track both activities and unexpected tasks. They record observations of the day’s activities on a second sheet: what was accomplished and how many Pomodoros it took, and the nature of interruptions. With experience, they build skill in estimating the Poms a particular activity will require.

The Pomodoro Technique® has a few rules. Once a Pomodoro starts, it must finish the full 25 minutes. Any interruption should be marked on your sheet and deal with it at the end of the Pom. If an activity lasts more than 5-7 Poms, break it down. If it lasts less than one Pom, add it up.

How do members use Poms in the Writing Club Chat Rooms? To provide additional support, members go into chat rooms for their group or for all members at their stage, or for all members in the Club. Often others are there; they coordinate starting times and then take breaks to chat and cheer. Naturally, that takes its own self-discipline but many make it work well.

What kinds of timers?

You can’t go wrong with a real timer (tomato-shaped or otherwise.) The ticking subtly reinforces the fact that you are working. Online timers designed particularly for the Pomodoro Technique® include FocusBooster, Chromodoro, and Pomodorable.

To Use The Pomodoro Technique® as a ……. You would use ….. And the value is …….
Work strategy: “Basic Pom” Your Timer in 25 minute sessions and 5 minute breaks Starting is easier knowing there is a limit. Stopping is required, keeping you engaged.
Interactive support: “Chatty Pom” An online chat room or messaging with a colleague or coffee shop with a friend. Enhanced accountability and group support, when others expect you to report after each Pom.
Full program: “Rigorous Pom” Worksheets to record activities, times, interruptions, and data. Invert our usual dependence on time, which becomes

So try it!  Let us know how it goes for you!

Written by Susanne Morgan, Ph.D.

The official website and book:


At 2:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How many POMs is realistic in one day?

At 2:21 PM, Blogger Gina Hiatt, Ph.D. said...

Re: "How many Poms is realistic in one day?"

Track your productivity and also your level of feeling burnt out, over a period of a week or two. Do you avoid working for days after doing 5 Poms in one day? Are you capable of doing 4 Poms, but you notice your productivity is much lower in the last one? There is no point in pushing yourself if it results in exhaustion or avoidance the next day. The amount you write during the week will be increased if you optimize your time working.

The main point of a Pom for academic writers is to write. Focused writing is very different from the way people ordinarily work, allowing interruptions either from the outside world or from their own thoughts to divert their attention, interspersing writing with reading, etc. There's nothing wrong with writing while you're reading, as a matter of fact, it's a good thing to take "active notes" about how what you're reading should be incorporated into your work. But in the focused writing session, you start when the timer starts, and all you do is write until the time stops. You get an amazing amount done that way, but it can take a toll on you if you don't take breaks and monitor whether you can feel your brain cells getting fried.


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