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Can a Focus or Pomodoro Timer Improve Your Productivity as a Writer?

focus apps

I don’t know about you, but sometimes the harder I work the less productive I actually am. As a writer, I just seem to reach brain saturation if I try to work too long without a break. I accomplish more if I allow myself to take short, frequent breaks.

It turns out I am not alone. A University of Illinois researcher published a paper about how brief mental breaks and diversions may actually boost focus. In this study participant split into groups, each group focused on a task. Some groups worked continuously for 50 minutes and some took breaks. The groups who took the break performed better. One theory is the brain struggles with continuous stimulation and that a break helps restore the ability to focus.

I prefer a flexible version of the Pomodoro Technique. In the gym, I enjoy the variable intensity of interval training where I train hard for a work period followed by a recovery session. The workout goes by so much faster than if I spend the same time exercising at the same intensity. The Pomodoro Technique feels to me a bit like interval training for my brain.

What is the Pomodoro Technique?

The Pomodoro Technique applies interval training to your work, tasks,  or chores. Francesco Cirillo developed it in the late 1980s while he was a university student. The name comes from the tomato-shaped kitchen timer he used to track his work sessions. To use the Pomodoro Technique, you:

  1. Choose a task to focus on like writing a blog post or a chapter of an ebook.
  2. Set a timer for 25 minutes and stay focused on the task throughout the allotted time.
  3. Take a five-minute break
  4. Repeat, some practitioners like to repeat their Pomodoro sessions four times then they take a longer break like 20-30 minutes.

The technique works either with a timer and paper or a smartphone application.

Other Focus Techniques

If the Pomodoro Technique doesn’t work for you that is fine and dandy. There are multiple ways to structure work intervals or sprints. The best method may depend on your preferences or the task at hand. I spent a week using the Pomodoro Technique, I found it helpful for research, studying, and mundane chores that I tend to procrastinate. However, when writing it sometimes broke my flow and I ended up stopping the timer to continue working.

Fortunately, many timer apps let you control your rest and work intervals. You may prefer shorter or longer focus sessions.

Five Few Focus Timing Apps

1. Focus Keeper

This Pomodoro themed app even rocks a cute tomato design. Focus Keeper is a  simple timer app allows the user to customize the time for focus sessions and breaks. Users may also set goals.

2. Be Focused

Be Focused interface is similar to Focus Keeper with a more subtle design. It comes in either a free or upgraded version. The free version displays advertisements within the app.

3. Forest

If you like nature-themed gamification with your focus timer than you may prefer Forest. This app lets you grow a virtual tree while you work, if you stop before the end of your session the tree dies. The developers said they donate to Trees for the Future based on the actual focus sessions users complete.

4. Tomato Timer

For those that prefer a web app, Tomato Timer offers a simple solution. I prefer phone timers just because I already always have multiple browser windows open while writing and researching.

5. Your Phone’s Timer

If you like to keep things simple your phone’s built in timer can prompt your focus sessions and breaks. Alternately, you can do much of the same with a plastic timer just like Francesco Cirillo did.


I prefer to use timer’s to motivate me to focus on research and writing. When I proofread, I use different techniques including some of the apps mentioned in this previous WriterAccess article.

As a writer, I am always interested in tools and techniques that help me work productively. I enjoy reading the tips offered by other writers on the Writer Access blog. If you are also interested in ideas to enhance your productivity, visit the WriterAccess blog!


Sam S WriterAccessSam S is an active blogger who manages two publications. Her flagship site covers fitness, food, and lifestyle. She also maintains a book and entertainment blog. In addition to her blogs, Sam is an active guest contributor. She contributes on-going columns for a few publications. These on-going gigs include a weekly consumer tech column, a comparison shopping guide series, and a bylined series on social media marketing and personal branding.

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By WriterAccess

Freelancer Sam S

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