“Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.” -Robert Benchley

Is writer’s block the biggest obstacle to your creative productivity? Do you find it difficult to start writing? Are you easily distracted? Do you constantly check your email or surf the web when you are supposed to be writing? Do you get paralyzed by the pressure of tight deadlines? Whatever the reason, there’s an effective technique that can help you to break writer’s block.

This technique is deceptively simple but works like magic. Set a timer to ring after a fixed period of time, usually not longer than 30 minutes. Work until the timer rings. Take a short break and set the timer again. Repeat this process throughout the day.

Eugene Schwartz, the legendary copywriter, used this technique with great success. Schwartz would sit at his desk and set his timer for 33.33 minutes. Once he started the timer, he did not allow himself to leave his chair or do anything else other than writing. When the timer went off, he would take a break for ten minutes and then set the timer again. He set the timer six times a day, five days a week and did all his writing using this method.

Others have developed variations of this technique:

  • Francesco Cirillo developed the Pomodoro technique that consists of 25 minutes      of work followed by a five-minute break.
  • Merlin      Mann of www.43folders.com has developed      a one-hour system to beat procrastination called “(10+2)*5.”
    It consists of five ten-minute blocks of work alternating with five      two-minute breaks.
    Merlin’s main rule is that you can’t skip the breaks.

Types of timers

You can use a mechanical or electronic timer, alarm clock, or even your cell phone or Blackberry.

Alternatively, you can use these online timers:

Benefits of using a timer

One of the greatest advantages of this using this simple technique is that you can adjust the work and break times. If you have a short attention span, you may want to set shorter work periods. Similarly, if you are too distracted or dull or the task is too challenging, you can give yourself more frequent breaks.

Using a timer gives you these three major benefits:

1. Improves Focus

Setting a timer helps you to develop disciplined focus for a short period of time. It’s easy to ignore distractions and focus on your writing when you can hear the ticking of the timer and know it will ring after a few minutes.

2. Improves Productivity

When you use a timer, you tend to write faster because the ringing of the timer acts as a deadline. You can become more efficient by using the timer to set yourself challenging deadlines and complete tasks faster.

3. Improves Motivation

When you schedule a break after every work period, it acts as a reward for completing your block of work successfully. That’s why it’s so important not to skip breaks. During the break period, you can take a walk, treat yourself to your favorite snack or check your email. Often, the forced break makes you eager to start again. Most importantly, regular breaks can help to minimize the health hazards of prolonged sitting.

Finally, you can use this simple technique not only to defeat writer’s block but also to overcome your resistance to unpleasant but essential tasks such as accounts or housework. You can also use it to schedule regular periods of meditation and exercise. The more you apply this simple productivity method, the more it will help to transform your life.


1. How to Kill Writer’s Block and Become a Master Copywriter in Only 3 Hours a Day by Robert Bruce (www.copyblogger.com/schwartz-copywriting-system/Schwartz)
2. How a Simple Timer Can Magically Improve Your Productivity by Ali Luke (www.dumblittleman.com/2011/04/how-simple-timer-can-magically-improve.html)
3. Procrastination hack: ‘(10+2)*5’ by Merlin Mann (www.43folders.com/2005/10/11/procrastination-hack-1025)
4. 20 Ways to Use (www.ticktocktimer.com/20-ways-to-use/)
5. Download the Pomodoro book free (www.pomodorotechnique.com/products.html)

(20 February 2013)

Rohi Shetty is a medical doctor, Vipassana meditator, writer, editor, translator and blogger. His short stories and articles have been published online and in print.

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