Get writing!

I met with one of my professors a few months ago just to have a cup of coffee and chat a bit about things. One of the topics we came upon was how my thesis was going (a question, I think, most graduate students dread when getting into their final months of writing). I had mentioned I was still hashing out some ideas and trying to organize things together to show to my advisor to make sure things were on the write track before getting writing. You know, to avoid wasting time writing something that my advisor may eventually recommend to remove, after seeing my thesis outline. His reply really stuck with me. He said:

你要開始寫,否則你會不知道你在缺甚麼東西。
(You better start writing, otherwise you won’t know what you’re missing.)

And I remember thinking, “well, what if it doesn’t get approved?”. Regardless, I took the advice and started writing. Now, after a few months of writing I totally understand what he meant. I can now know what exactly it is I am missing, be it a specific resource or even an idea that was never really flushed out. There’s a risky cliff, I believe, that most students find themselves on before writing. There’s certain assumptions being made about what kind of materials they have on hand and what the sources say, but this oftentimes overlooks what kind of materials they actually have and what the sources actually say.

There’s a lot of discussion online about whether or not you should just start writing or wait, or what. In my experiences it seems always be ready to write, but also always be ready to discard and rewrite as well. Plus, it always helps to get in a little more writing practice, too!

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GNDN and the Pomodoro Technique

GNDN is a favorite acronym of mine which stands for “Goes Nowhere, Does Nothing”. That’s kind of how I feel when I don’t have any specific set goals or timeboxing set in place. Instead, I wander around the internet for a bit and effectively don’t get anything done until I hit crisis time. I’m someone that really needs a set time to work on things, otherwise I often wander about without accomplishing anything useful.

Enter the pomodoro technique and Focus Booster.

What is the pomodoro technique? Well, simply stated, it is a technique in time management where periods of work are broken down to 25 minute chunks, with a short break in between.1 There’s more on Wikipedia here. There’s also an entire website devoted to the technique, including their own timer, but I don’t think there’s any need to get that complicated. Just find a cheap (free!) and simple timer and get to work. The less complicated the better the process works, as you’re not wasting so much time setting things up and planning your time.

My preferred pomodoro tool is Focus Booster.2 The time is set into nice default chunks of 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes of break time. I find this to be the most suitable for my needs, and haven’t adjusted the time. The 25 minutes actually goes by pretty quick–and it’s hard to believe I’ve been working straight for so long with no distractions! The only downside is I often end up working into my break time, and sometimes need to make up for it (I feel this break time is important to keep your energy up for another 25 minute session).

When I first heard about the pomodoro technique, I figured it wouldn’t really work, and if I’m dedicated enough I should be able to focus on getting the task at hand done. Turns out I was quite wrong, and with a very busy schedule, this technique keeps me focused.

Has anyone else tried it? Does it work out well for them? Any other methods you’d recommend instead? Let me know in the comments below!

Footnotes

1. You’re also supposed to take a longer break after four or so sessions, but I end up continuing through as usual, oftentimes because I rarely have four hours to devote to pure focused work.
2. Focus Booster has recently had an update. I still prefer the older version, and while the new version is shiner, it still gets the job done. There’s also a huge slew of browser add-ons and websites. Of course, any old fashioned egg timer works just as well.