How to use it for maximum productivity and focus
By Carlos Bilan, Contributor
When you study, do you get sleepy, or end up checking your social media more than you are supposed to? Do you get distracted, or have trouble focusing? I used to have this problem until I discovered the pomodoro technique.
I have been using this for a long time now, and I can guarantee you that this college life hack has really worked for me. The pomodoro technique is a time-management skill developed by Francis Cirillo in the late 1980s.
This technique breaks work down into intervals, traditionally a length of 25 minutes, separated by short 5-minute breaks. These intervals are named pomodoros (“tomatoes” in Italian) since Cirillo used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to do this technique when he was a university student. So how does one use this technique? There is a traditional way of doing it, but I will give a slightly tweaked version that has worked wonders for me and still uses the method’s main underlying principles.
It’s really simple. First, you make a commitment to the task you want to accomplish. This means that you make a contract that binds you to finish this task before you get it started. You can write down the task on a piece of paper, or what I do is write it down on a post-it note, then stick it on a wall in front of me so I always see it.
Second step is to set the timer. There are a variety of pomodoro timer apps you can either download from the app store or you can just use a traditional timer. Set this timer to 25 minutes, then start working on the task.
The third step is a way to make sure you are focused during those 25 minutes. When a distraction pops into your head during the pomodoro session, or you get the urge to do something that directs your attention away from the task—like check Facebook, browse memes, or watch cute videos of dogs—get a piece of paper and write down that distraction, then immediately get back on the task you are working on. This lets you do two things; one, you can remember what the distraction was and it reminds you that you can take care of this during your break time. Two, as you do pomodoro sessions for a few weeks, you can pinpoint the common distractions, and then you can take steps to prevent these in the future. Some examples are putting your phone on airplane mode, using a third party extension like StayFocusd to block a distracting website, etc.
The fourth step is the relaxing step. So when your 25 minute sessions are up, put a star on the post-it or piece of paper where you wrote that down in step one, then set your timer for five minutes. This will be your pomodoro break. You can stretch, prepare tea, or do one of those tasks you wrote down on that “distraction sheet.” Make the most out of it; give your brain the break it deserves. When your 5 minutes are up, set your timer again to 25 minutes, and then continue working on that task.
The fifth step is to repeat steps one to four until you have done four 25-minute pomodoros, because after the fourth pomodoro, you get to take a longer break of 15–30 minutes. After this long break, go back to step one, or continue likewise until you finish that task.
When you’re finished with a task, cross that out, and if you have a second task, write that down and repeat the same technique! The Roman poet Horace once said, “Rule your mind or it will rule you.” By using this technique, you are making sure that you are in control, and that you stay determined to finish a task. Now, you can tweak this, increase the time, or make your own variations, but the main point is to do the work in time intervals, and give yourself breaks. Happy studying!