You are your worst critic. That’s how the saying goes.
And I’m sure it’s true for you, right? Especially if you’re a content creator. Whether you’re making a webpage, designing a poster, or making buttons to sell at a convention, one thing’s for certain: We will never live up to our own expectations. And in all respects, that’s a good way to think. It pushes us to do better, to be a better person. The moment we go “Welp, that’s the end of it, I can’t get any better than this,” is either the moment we die or the moment we fail– and personally, I’d rather wait until I die.
Sometimes though, we need a breather from all the self-criticism. It can be too much– you start seriously doubting yourself, wondering if the company that hired you to create stationery designs really thinks you’re good enough, or if the person that bought your print at an anime convention just bought it because it was the only fanart of Outlaw Star they could find. It’s a feeling everyone gets, but with creators, I notice that it’s a lot worse. Welcome to Imposter Syndrome ladies and gentleman, where your doubts are made up and the facts don’t matter.
So how can we minimize this? How can we simply brush the little guy called self-doubt back into the basement where it belongs? In my case, it’s this:
Adapt the Pomodoro Technique. What is it? Why, it’s a great way of studying and working, of course!
I am sure most of you have spent an hour or more at a time, starting at your canvas, stuck between a rock and a hard place. Most likely with no breaks.
The Pomodoro Technique is pretty simple:
- Set a timer for 25 minutes
- Work on one thing at a time (if possible) until the timer goes off.
- Once timer goes off, make a tally mark on a sticky note or some other sheet of paper you don’t intend to lose.
- Take a 3 to 5 minute break. Get water. Coffee. Popcorn. Stretch. Whatever you can do in that time.
- Rinse and repeat until you have 4 or 5 tally marks
- Take a longer break–15 to 30 minutes, or if you’re doing this at a full-time job, take an hour for lunch.
- Rinse and repeat until you feel you’ve done enough for a day.
So you’ve got the basics down, now you’re probably wondering “Okay so how does this help me, a creative? I’ve got deadlines to meet, dangit!”
Settle down. You’ll meet your deadlines with this technique just fine. Here’s how it can help:
- You’re limiting distractions. Chances are you’re working digitally through Adobe or some other program, right? And the computer you’re using it on has internet access… right? Guess what that means? It means you’re ripe for the picking to get distracted and go on Reddit or Facebook. Don’t you sit there and say “Well I’VE never been on either while working!” because you’re a dirty, dirty liar and you know it. Using the Pomodoro Technique minimizes this by dividing your time into manageable chunks. 25 minutes isn’t as long as you think, and hey, neither is 3 to 5 minutes, but dividing your day in this manner keeps you from gluing your face on social media half the time.
- You’re limiting burnout. Burnout sucks. All of us have had it before. The Pomodoro Technique minimizes the risk of this happening. The short breaks you get every 25 minutes keeps you from going completely stark raving mad trying to figure out what color would go best on that poster, or what your client means by “Let’s make it pop!” (Ugh.)
- You can keep track of how long you’ve been revising and brainstorming. The hardest part about starting a project, in my opinion, is getting the ideas flowing. The Pomodoro Technique gives you a better idea of just how much time you’re spending doing research and drawing thumbnail sketches for a first draft, and allows for you to break things down into manageable pieces.
- Reduce physical pain. Got a stiff neck or back? Use those 3 to 5 minutes to get, up stretch, and take a walk to the break room. Sitting at your desk can take a toll, and I’m sure the last thing you need today is a hard time going to sleep because you were as stiff as a board working all day.
A lot of this sounds a little too good to be true, right? Well, for what it’s worth, I’ve started to practice this technique both in my professional and personal workflow as much as I can. Here’s what I’ve noticed since starting in January:
I became almost entirely focused on my projects.
Being in my final semester of college meant that I also had to undergo something all Graphic Design majors at college dread: Senior Thesis. We had to spend the entire semester working solely on one project and we had to make absolutely sure that we were perfectly okay with working on it for three and a half months, enduring harsh criticism and having to deal with the fact that our professor had every right to tell us that our idea sucked, why it sucked, and why he doesn’t want it in the exhibition at the end of the semester. Not just that, we also had to have everything ready to print a week before exhibition.
This meant that I needed to focus, and to put a long story short, that was something I was severely lacking. 9 times out of 10 during class I would spend far too much time goofing off. I didn’t get bad scores, but at the same time, I sure as heck didn’t put in nearly as much effort as I should have. I couldn’t afford to do it this time, and this was how I got started using the Pomodoro Technique. And guess what? It worked like a charm. I started putting more effort into this project than any other beforehand. The short breaks allowed me enough time to get my social media fix in addition to getting a quick snack, and the longer ones allowed me to better overcome creative blocks in the process. There were a few times where I did slip up, but by the end of the day I had a lot more to show to my professor than in the past.
It allowed me to balance everything a lot better.
In addition to senior Thesis I also had three other classes to worry about, and an art show in March to prepare for. There was also my personal life. So I decided to use the technique in not just my senior thesis, but in all my other classes too. Have a set time for everything with small breaks inbetween, in general, made my life a heck of a lot easier. I was still crazy busy, but because I let myself have a break whenever possible every so often, I didn’t feel burned out all the time. There were still some times where it all felt overwhelming, but those days in retrospect were few. Once I sat back and looked at all the work I did during my 3-4 25 minute runtimes, I felt less guilty about spending my downtime how I wanted. I also had more free weekends to do as I pleased.
The quality of work I put out improved.
Before adopting Pomodoro into my workflow I was always used to rushing and doing things at the last minute, all because of my own shortcomings. As a result, I didn’t put in nearly as much effort, and I got subpar grades and harsh critique more often than not. Once I divided my work time and break time into chunks, I saw that my work improved. Being entirely focused on something for a short while, knowing that you would get a break, helped my work look a lot better. I had come up with more time to think my ideas through and to make changes to them as necessary without overthinking too much. By the end of the semester, when it was time for our Senior Exhibition, I had gotten just about everything I wanted to do, done, and my booth was very well received. The worst thing that I had coming out of that was severe pain from being on shoes with awful support for almost 12 hours straight. A tip for you guys: Don’t do that.
Hopefully my experience trying out the Pomodoro Technique will encourage you to give a shot. You don’t have to use it all day every day, as it’s really most useful when you need to get tasks done, but nonetheless, if you persist for awhile, you too will see how productive you can be.