Developing an Addiction to Academic Writing via S.M.A.R.T. Pomodoro Tomato Squashing Challenges? Hmm!


I just submitted 105 pages and received the comment “excellent scholarship.” Yay!


Before diving back into thesising, I thought I’d take 15 minutes to come here to WordPress, choose one of the draft blog posts that I never published, edit it, and publish it.

Below are the results of that endeavor. I hope it inspires reflection or helps in some way.

Also, I wanted to leave a message of encouragement that someone from an online forum shared with me to help you know that you can do whatever research/writing task that is before you (click on the image to enlarge it, for better viewing, in a new browser window):


Please enjoy the blog post below!




Post Content

A few months ago I realized something about my work habits: Instead of instigating writing addiction (see Bolker), in contrast the way I was working was instigating/reinforcing writing aversion. Well, on second thought perhaps that wording is inaccurate: If this makes any sense, It’s prewriting and revising that I was averse to, and not writing per se.

Anyhoo 😉 . . . I had an epiphany one day about a likely, contributing explanation for why I was inadvertently hurting myself with my own work habits with the result of fostering writing aversion within myself: I’d been doing pomodoros (wisely, I felt, because it’s physically and mentally healthier than just working hour after hour after hour, and it gives you sometimes much-needed, true feedback about your rate of progress or lack thereof). However, I realized, I hadn’t been doing smart pomodoros, as in, literally, S.M.A.R.T. pomodoros.

Pomodoro technique + S.M.A.R.T. task methodology. That should work and be good, right?!??

The “T” (Time-bound) and the “A” (Attainable)

Here were my initial thoughts on blending the pomodoro technique with the S.M.A.R.T. task methodology: What if you let the “T” in the S.M.A.R.T. methodology be 25 minutes (since it’s a pomodoro task and pomodoros are typically 25-minutes in length). And for the “A” in S.M.A.R.T.: what if you were to break down all of your larger goals into specific tasks such that every task you list could be completed in 25 minutes? You could maybe even challenge yourself by attempting 35 minutes worth of work per pomodoro: If you did THAT, perhaps then you  would create inspiring challenges and create the experiencing of victory all along the way (instead of that constant “I’m-still-not-done-yet-with-my-big-overarching-goal” sensation of dread). On top of that, another benefit to this is that you would more reside in a state of (psychological) flow during writing, as discussed incredibly helpfully in the “How To Stay Focused and Get Things Done” video presentation. For me, that would be HUGE: Experiencing flow while writing would be SO MUCH OF AN IMPROVEMENT over writing in such a way as to instigate/reinforce prewriting and revising aversion.

So much for the “T” and “A.” I spent a few more moments thinking this through–what a S.M.A.R.T. pomodoro technique might look like. Then I gave it a go. Below are my reflections.

The “R” (Relevant), the “M” (Measurable), and the “S” (Specific)

It turns out that the “R” and “M” in S.M.A.R.T.-goal setting are really important. For me, “R” (relevant) would mean that a task is very clearly a strong link in the chain of getting me done with the writing. “M” and “S” would mean that I list the DELIVERABLE along with the quite specific description of the task. A deliverable could be an outline, a sketch (i.e., a writing sketch of a paragraph), a paragraph in a revised state . . . what have you. But there needs to be some REAL, TANGIBLE measure indicating success. It can’t just be “I focused the whole time during the pomodoro tomato.” Focus is good. Focus + result is better. All this to say that I planned to measure my progress by whether a  tomato yielded a highly relevant (useful and germane for my project) deliverable (something concrete) each 25 minutes.

Trial Run #1

I tested this out. 🙂

First I did a little investigation during which I discovered that in my list of pomodoro tasks, each task was huge! HUMONGOUS! I wasn’t completely doing this on purpose: I really thought I could get many of those tasks done in, like, 4 pomodoro tomatoes (i.e. 2 hours). But I was underestimating many of these. And that was adding to the sense of dread, I realized upon reflection: Always being WAY OVER your number of previsioned pomodoro techniques can really start to consciously or subconsciously feel bad–even if it was a setup to begin with and you’re the author of it all!

Oh, boy: Every task in the list was at least a 5-tomato task or 6-tomato task and most often a 10-tomato task, not including interruptions and errors. My goodness!

The way I was configuring my pomodoro tasks and task list in Orkanizer, it would take a loooooong time for me to EVER feel a sense of getting anything done. That can get demoralizing and become a downer REAL FAST when doing the isolating work that thesising often can be.

So I changed things: I broke my tasks down into subtasks that could be done in 1 pomodoro tomato, “for reals” as my students would say. In that way, every 30 minutes instead of thinking . . .

“I’m stiiiiiiiiiiillllllll working at the task of ____. I haven’t achieved it yet, O. M. G., and it’s been so-and-so many hours of work. O. M. G! I’m so ______ (fill int the blank.)”

. . . instead, the precise same rate of progress could mean accomplishment and thus encouragement and joy. Posthaste I configured my tasks in the Orkanizer pomodoro manager to be finishable in 25 minutes and set my number of previsioned tomatoes to 1. (And from hereon out, all prevision numbers would be set to 1, right? 🙂 )


Did this matter? Did this work?

It worked for 2 tomatoes in a row that first attempt (and this now meant 2 tasks and 2 deliverables!). And it was indeed true: Over time (with more and more use of this strategy), I began to feel very different about the same progress that otherwise would have seemed like “Yeah, I guess that was one more step, but I’m still not done with the task I’m working on. Just 7 tomatoes to go, and then victory. Hoorah?”

And I was SO proud of myself because I had set each pomodoro goal a little high (about 35 minutes of work for the 25 minute). That gave me a different type of challenge and motivation in addition to just needing/wanting to be done with the thesis. It activated curiosity and challenge and my schoolgirl’s “winner” mentality: “I betcha I get this 35-minute-long task done in 25. Betcha. Oh, watch me. Bet!”

Aside: I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve read about how graduate work is a different animal than secondary or college work, and thus typical high-achievers might find graduate work especially challenging, psychologically-speaking, when they hit walls they must overcome. Being un-used to encountering walls, and all. Nowadays, as a novice researcher/writer, more often than not I’m in a psychological state of “This-is-another-new-thing-or-skill . . . am-I-actually-doing-this?” So with the slightly-overestimated pomodoro goal, it was a little nice getting to use my schoolgirl “I can do it, just watch” mentality a little. 🙂

Anyhoo: That first attempt at the strategy, I was working so hard for that deliverable and the reward I’d set up for myself that in the middle of the first pomodoro tomato I developed a technique for speeding things up! (I was also trying to avoid reinforcement of writing aversion at all costs, because I can’t afford it!). And, the rewards kind of matter (i.e., make a difference): I was surprised by that! I’ve tended to have the mentality that just getting done is reward and motivation enough. But these small rewards added something to it all: Instigation/reinforcement of writing affinity. INTERESTING!

I’ve tried this again and again since that first attempt, and I can honestly say that when I’ve “needed” it, it’s transformed things for me. I don’t have to work this way ALL the time, but when I look around and notice that I’m close to HATING the writing process, I realize: Uh oh: I’ve been stressing myself out with these huge, global, globs of writing goals. Time to work smartly.

S.M.A.R.T. pomodoros may not work for everyone. For me, the afforded change lies mainly in my attitude towards prewriting and revising. I think the big take-away for me is not that people’s pomodoros should necessarily be S.M.A.R.T. pomodoros, but that the way one works should work FOR oneself.

A Final Thought: The Writing Reward System and Its Nature MATTERS!

Working on Developing My Writing AddictionAs I alluded to above, if you reward EVERY achieved pomodoro challenge, it can instigate and reinforce writing affinity. My rewards (of course earned every 25 minutes unless the timer runs out on me) include things like my favorite-est, most-est delicious-est tea, hearing favorite and nostalgic songs on Spotify (see the image above), stretching or doing a few crunches to get a little exercise in (makes me feel good to take care of myself), etc.


Are you a writing addict? How do you ensure that you are developing writing addiction or writing affinity? Does the writing deadline suffice for you so that the ideas of writing aversion, the pomodoro technique, S.M.A.R.T. pomodoros, etc. all seem like time-wasting hogwash? It’s fine if it does: Someone told me as much! Please post your comments! They will help, and we’d love to hear from you.

Well, as always, many blessings and happy writing. Take care!


6 thoughts on “Developing an Addiction to Academic Writing via S.M.A.R.T. Pomodoro Tomato Squashing Challenges? Hmm!

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  4. So true Mickey. Writing a dissertation requires dedication and effective planning from the beginning. For, it’s difficult for a student to succeed without a clear roadmap.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts here.

  5. Hhhhmmm… Developing an Addiction to Academic Writing? It looks like, it’s a very rare case. Usually, students hate it. This tool must be very effective.

    • Ha! So true. Yes . . . addiction is VERY strong word in this case, thus the inclusion of writing affinity. More conceivable, yes? 🙂

      Of course, you have to have the ability to produce academic writing for any such method to work. It’s a hard-won ability, and I think that’s why many don’t like it. You can only learn through practice and improving poor(er) writing. Tough when there are stakes. Tough when you don’t get the feedback that would actually tell you what’s poor(er) about your paper, why, how to fix it, and how to do what’s better next time around. James Hayton has EXCELLENT webinars about why academic writing fares so much better if you accept that it is slow. That’s why the “A” (attainable) in the S.M.A.R.T methodology is so, so crucial, in my opinion.

      The concept of writing addiction is from Bolker’s writing on the topic of dissertation writing. For me, writing addiction really ends up more being that I’m developing a Pavlovian response to my rewards and the natural high that comes from attaining realistically set goals all writing session long. So you’re setting a reasonable writing goal, aiming a little higher, reaching the original goal or the higher goal, watching the page fill in, experiencing your favorite beverage, snack, music, weather (if your break = a walk, for example), etc. or the exhilaration of doing 5 minutes or so of physical exercise that you know is improving your health and body . . . If your writing sessions are like that, for the main part, writing session after writing session, it’s nice. You are experiencing pleasure through the various senses, Pomodoro after Pomodoro for the most part, and it’s just a different experience than writing under the stress of vague goals or high self-pressure, usually due to outside pressures. When you miss a Pomodoro deadline, you really miss having your treat (because you’ve grown accustomed to it!), so you double-down so you can get the “goods” again. This reframes the writing session: Missing a reward is a cue to work differently or set a more reasonable goal. It’s a reinforcing cycle if you have these attitudes toward it all.

      If you’ve procrastinated, not done the necessary pre-writing (outlining, note-taking, quote-excerpting, book and article collecting) and there’s now hardly time for all that, I can’t see this going well at all! It would be a recipe for disaster. A recipe in a pressure-cooker. 😉 😛

      Thank you for your comment, and godspeed with your endeavors.

      Take care!


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