HEA Fellowship Writing Frenzy – Applying the Pomodoro Time Management Technique™

The Recognition Team (consisting of myself, Darren Minister and Natalie Morgan) organised a Writing Frenzy, attended by 7 applicants for HEA Fellowship/Senior Fellowship on Friday September 6th 2019.  The “Frenzy” saw us trying a new approach to writing support for HEA Fellow applicants.  This is the first of a 2 part blogpost reflecting on delivering a different type of learning support.

Calling it a Fellowship Writing Frenzy possibly conjures up a room full of people screaming, typing away and perhaps some melodramatics when the writer’s block kicks in. Possibly a bit of this…..

Blank notepad with some of the pages scrumpled up next to it.






But not so.  Using a Pomodoro Time Management TechniqueTM (Cirillo F, 2018), I applied an approach used by a colleague, Dr. Kate Cuthbert at Nottingham Trent University (@Cuthbert_Kate) which was to just provide participants with caffeine, snacks and space to write – with a little bit of guidance on the side.  There was no opportunity for formative feedback on the content written, since opportunities exist elsewhere for this.

How was it different from our existing support sessions?

Other sessions we run are usually 3 hours in duration and require homework, in-class discussions, exploration of good tips with fairly limited time for writing.  Most attendees have appreciated the activities of looking at an extract/example of a Fellowship application, applying the Fellowship criteria, considering the recommendation and feedback.  All with the view of applying that knowledge to their own draft, albeit little actual time spent writing their own story during those sessions.

In September’s Frenzy, guided by material supplied by Kate Cuthbert, we adapted a series of 30 minute blocks of activity (K2, K3) from 10 – 2.30 p.m., with information of what makes an effective account and at the end of the day, the application form requirements plus tips from one of our assessors (K1). Initially we encouraged attendees to plan their day using their Needs Analysis with refinement of specific goals to bring a sense of achievement recommended through this approach (K2, K3).

Why did we try something new?

Our ‘usual’ sessions run usually during the term time and are carefully scheduled on the run up to application deadlines. The scheduling takes into account vacation periods and avoids exam marking and graduation commitments.  From October 2018, they have however been optional and in most cases only a handful of attendees.  Attendance at the sessions doesn’t guarantee first-time application success (and numbers have been so low to mean statistical tests in relation to outcomes aren’t valid), but we want to be able to offer support to colleagues. So, we asked ourselves the questions:

  • Is it the “homework” required beforehand for our usual offering which is off putting?
  • Is it the timing of the sessions and/or when they are delivered?
  • Are the titles of the sessions uninspiring?
  • Is it the general availability of the sessions? When are they needed most?

Feedback from the sessions over the years has been positive but it seems that time availability as well as procrastination are key factors affecting someone’s engagement. So, a focused session seemed to be an appropriate response to address putting off writing (Oakley, 2015; Flint, 2019).

Would we call it a writing retreat (or did that seem too ‘serious’?). We opted for as much alliteration as possible Fellowship Friday Writing Frenzy – to convey a little bit of fun too.

Writing Retreats aren’t new, and I also offered similar ‘Shut Up and Write Sessions’ in the very early stages of promoting HEA Fellowship. You can’t just designate a ‘writing day’ though.  Having some structure and focus is important and recent research reinforces the value of the structured approach to improving the writing process for academic staff preparing research publications (Kempenaar and Murray, 2019 and Kramer and Libhaber, 2016).  There are also various types of ‘writing groups’ that can be formed to support general writing/research writing (Rockquemore K-A, 2019).

So What? Was the new format successful?

Defining “success” OR “impact” as all those supporting learning will attest to is not straightforward.

  • Is success measured in amount of words written during the day?
  • Progress in identifying specific goals?
  • Quality of written feedback on the drafts?
  • Whether the actual submissions are successful first time?
  • Are new connections made to foster support and/or collaboration?
  • Increased confidence for the writer?

Kate Cuthbert said a key thing about the session was the learning environment – making it comfortable but welcoming.  On the walls we had inspirational quotes about writing and reflection, the UKPSF, guidelines about the difference between Fellow and Senior Fellow, on the tables, some mints to keep everyone going, and importantly refreshments and biscuits!

Success? Well while some found the timing of the writing sessions too short – 25 minutes – the feedback we had was:

Needed this time and space away from the office to jumpstart my writing

The session was a “very helpful day, well structured, organised” and that it provided an “opportunity to write without distractions

Recognition Team staff provided “clear, knowledgeable advice about the process”

No feedback about the learning environment! Something to think about for future delivery.

Moving Forward

We’ve recently scoped the appetite for future “Writing Retreats” at the end of this term and start of next term.  Please let us know what you think by completing this survey: https://bit.ly/2kHbwVt

Recognition Team staff are willing to provide a variety of approaches to help you prepare your Fellowship applications.  But we can’t write it for you.  You have to reflect on and write your own story.

Don’t let this be your reflection in October 2020:

Person standing looking up at the stars with the phrase ' A Year from now you wish you had started today"


Watch out for part 2 of this series.


Cirillo, F. (2018) The Pomodoro TechniqueTM: The Life-Changing Time-Management System, Virgin Books: London

Flint E. (2017) “The Tale of the Squished Pomodoro: using writing groups to support Professional Recognition applications” Blogpost https://teachingacademyblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/19/the-tale-of-the-squished-pomodoro-using-writing-groups-to-support-professional-recognition-applications/ accessed September 23 2019.

Kramer, B. and E. Libhaber (2016) “Writing for publication: institutional support provides an enabling environment” BMC Medical Education, London Vol. 16,  (2016). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12909-016-0642-0

Kempenaar, L. and R. Murray (2019) “Widening access to writing support: beliefs about the writing process are key” Journal of Further and Higher Education; Abingdon Vol. 43, Iss. 8,  (Oct 2019): 1109-1119. https://doi.org/10.1080/0309877X.2018.1450964

Oakley, Barbara (2015) “Ketchup on work with the PomodoroTM method”, The Times Educational Supplement; London Iss. 5163,  (Sep 11, 2015).

Rockquemore K-A (2019) Monday Motivator series: May 13 2019: http://www.facultydiversity.org/ Reposted in https://tomprof.stanford.edu/posting/1734



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  1. Pingback: HEA Fellowship Writing Frenzy – Learning from a Different Approach Pomodoro Time Management TechniqueTM – Swansea Academy of Learning and Teaching

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