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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Taking Charge of Procrastination

"Door #3"
Oil on linen - 8x10"
purchase info

Do you find the hardest part of painting is getting started?

I can get to the studio and masterfully kill a good 2-3 hours before I ever pick up a paint brush. A lot of it "looks" like work, sorting through reference, cleaning brushes, checking frame inventory, etc...but it is definitely about avoiding diving in.

Pomodoro into the Deep End  

I just discovered a very cool procrastination buster. Some of you may have heard of it as it was developed in the '80's. (Ok I'm a little out of the loop).

It's called the Pomodoro Technique. Follow the link if you'd like more info, I won't get into all the details here, but I gave it a test drive tonight and found it to be surprisingly effective.

Here's the dealio: A "pomodoro" is a block of 25 minutes of focused, uninterrupted work (you must be vigilant with this) followed by a 5 minute rest. You decide in advance how many pomodoros a task will take, or in the case of painting, how many pomodoros you want to commit to stringing together.

For example, with the above painting I decided I wanted to commit to 4 hours of focused work, so 8 pomodoros. I downloaded an app that has an interval timer, set it to run for 8 cycles of 25 and 5, and dove in.

Here's What Happened

First of all, and most surprising, I came out of the gate instantly focused and engaged. Something about the commitment to the time chunks put me in the mindset that I had to get after it.

I noticed that it was challenging to break when the timer went if I was "in the middle" of something, but I honored the system and stopped for 5 minutes each time. After 3 cycles I realized the break was beneficial even if it interrupted the flow as it gave me time for valuable contemplation and a brief check out from intense focus in a more structured way.

At 6 pomodoros (3 hours) I began to ignore the break and paint on through. In the end I wound up painting a total of 6 and a half hours with only a couple of breaks in the last two hours. The good news about that is it was because I was on a roll and totally engaged - so the technique got my momentum going, yay!

I am going to play with this some more as well as read the book because I think there might be a key value in honoring the technique exactly as it was developed, and I'm curious what the creator believes about that.

I'll report back in on my progress. Would love to hear how it goes for you guys if you decide to give it a try.

About "Door #3"

When we were in NYC we rented the top floor of a brownstone instead of staying in a hotel. This room was halfway down the stairs and I loved passing by it each day. I found the warm tones created by the little table lamp, the old brass door hardware, and the radiating shadows all super captivating and just a little mysterious.

"Door #3" - detail


  1. Thanks. I had heard of this method as a way to help computer programmers become more productive and had wondered if ii might apply to painting. Stapleton Kearns sets a timer for an hour and avoids phone calls, etc., until the timer goes off. The heaviest piece of equipment in a painter's studio is the brush.

    1. I love your last line Dave, some days it is so remarkably true. I'm thinking 25 minute sprints might be good at the start to get you in action and then longer sessions once you're rolling. Gonna keep playing with it.

  2. Liz, I have tried it too, and I liked it. Since the 30 in 30 challenge, I have been less productive, so I think I'll get out the kitchen timer again. Love your painting!

  3. Hi Liz,
    This sounds like a great technique. Thank you for sharing. Since the 30 in 30 Challenge, I've been working on a newsletter. Would you mind if I wrote about this on a future newsletter or blog post? I will, of course, credit you and place a link to your blog.

    1. Hi Susan, yes, please feel free. I am happy when others share my content provided they credit the source.

      The more that can gain value from it the better! :-D

  4. Thaks for that technique as I so often need it.....I have been less productive since the 30/30 the door and the warmth of the wood.

    1. Interesting, a few folks have written to say they have been less productive since the 30/30. I'm curious, does that mean 'relative to the 30/30' or less than you were prior to it?

  5. Just now i am on my computer avoiding the studio, and my paintings. Sigh! Thanks for an insightful and timely post. I will give it a try. Love your door painting. Beautiful!

    1. Sighing right back there with you Ross. It is an ongoing part of painting for all of us I think. That's why I love it when I find tools to help manage it.

      let me know how it goes....

  6. Thanks Liz! Definitely going to try this out!

  7. Lovely warm painting, Liz. And wonderful blog post. I noticed today it's the 17th and I've only painted 5 paintings. Part of the reason was catching up on errands neglected because of the 30/30, and working on a larger piece. But I really want the momentum of the 30/30 back. I think it is the commitment we make with ourselves, and pomodoro is all about that. Going to dust off that timer!

  8. Hey Diane, I agree it is totally about commitment. But also balance.

    I realized I was not happy painting full on all the time so I don't. Now the trick is to make sue I actually get my butt in gear on the days when I do. :-)

    Glad to hear you're getting the timer out!

  9. Love the painting Liz! There is something about a trail that disappears into the woods, a window you can just see through or a closed door that kickstarts the!!