Productivity engineering has come to music production. A popular method for timeboxing is now available as a free Live add-on.

Have you ever sighed in relief to have a big, uninterrupted span of time – only to wind up wiling it all away with procrastination? And then have you found yourself with a particular deadline – like an hour left in your music studio before your partner arrives to kick you out – and suddenly find you’re focused?

The basic principle here is that, paradoxically, even as we hate schedules and deadlines, constraints can help us focus. By constraining our time, or timeboxing, we can concentrate more easily on a particular task.

The Pomodoro Technique is this boiled down to a really simple cycle. It’s named for a kitchen timer – you know, the thing often called an egg timer because it’s shaped like an egg, but in this case apparently with a model shaped like a tomato. It’s the late-80s invention of Francesco Cirillo, who I understand even liked the ticking sound. I hate ticking – uh, especially while making music – but sometimes setting a timer can make it easier to tackle a task you’re putting off.

While invented in the late 80s, Pomodoro Technique has spread more widely in the productivity craze of the Internet age. Of course, there’s a Lifehacker guide to getting started. (It was even updated as recently as last summer.) And yes, Francesco is around and will gladly take your money.

Now, it may seem a little strange to do this when you’re working on music, which most of us think of as a diversion. Isn’t music supposed to be endlessly fun and something we can concentrate on without any challenge? But apart from more rote work or making a Max for Live patch or carefully editing envelopes, anything that requires you to focus your brain benefits from breaks.

And that’s really what the Pomodoro Technique is about. It’s not actually the 25 minutes of focus that is the most important. It’s the break. (Perhaps part of why you’re so eager to procrastinate is a legitimate impulse by your brain that you’re overly and unnaturally focused on something.)

There’s plenty of science to back this up. Selecting just one useful overview:

Brief diversions vastly improve focus, researchers find [ScienceDaily summary; original paper in Cognition, 2001]

There are lots and lots of Pomodoro-themed timers out there – or you can use any timer (as on your phone, wristwatch, a physical egg timer, whatever). (The Pomodoro timers sometimes have special features dedicated to the technique, and at least pictures of tomatoes, which as a fan of the veget— erm, fruit – I enjoy.)

pATCHES, a site and Patreon subscription creating resources for producers, has an experimental Max for Live plug-in. Apart from letting you run the thing inside your session, it even stops your transport when you’re due for a break – if you find that useful.

I’m curious to hear if people find this useful. It is easy to forget that, as much as we mystify music process, what we’re really taking care of is our brain.