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Introduction

The Pomodoro technique is one of the most popular time management methods and productivity tools frequently shared online and by experts. It’s popular among students and professionals because it breaks down major tasks into smaller, doable, and time-bound tasks. 

In the sections below, I will discuss what the Pomodoro method is, how it works, its pros, and its cons. While the technique can be used for any task, some people have spoken about its downsides. We will look into these, and hopefully, you can find a way to make it work for you.

The struggle with productivity 

Everybody has a list of things to do, and our daily schedules are planned around accomplishing these tasks. It is important to stay on top of things. This to-do list is a map that guides us on which tasks to start, which ones to prioritize, and which ones are urgent. I think that nothing beats writing everything on a piece of paper, and trying to get as many of those ticked off before the end of the day. Unfortunately, some days are better than others in terms of getting things done.

Many books and studies have been written centered on how to maximize productivity, and it usually involves organizing everything from your surroundings, to your mind, and your day-to-day plans. It can be quite overwhelming.

The fact is, keeping one’s workday or school day productive can be quite challenging. On most days, it feels like 24 hours is not enough. Some tasks are more time and labor-intensive than others. There will be days when you end the day feeling so accomplished, and upon looking at your to-do list, find that you’ve only done less than half of everything on the list!

What is the Pomodoro technique? 

The Pomodoro technique was first introduced in the 1980s by a man named Francesco Cirillo. He struggled to focus on tasks, so one day he challenged himself by timing himself while trying to accomplish a task. He got a tomato-shaped kitchen timer, set it at 10 minutes, and challenged himself to get as many tasks done within the 10-minute limit. This strategy proved to be effective.

Ten minutes does not seem like a lot of time, however, 10 minutes of undivided attention devoted to active reading is a lot better than 30 minutes of unfocused reading. You’ll probably end up having to read the same chapters just because you were unable to understand it the first time.

In case you were wondering, this technique got its name from a tomato. Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato.

How does it work? 

The standard Pomodoro duration is 25 minutes of work followed by 5 minutes of break time—this constitutes one Pomodoro. After four Pomodoros, you can take a 15 to 30-minute break. To help you keep track of time, you can set alarms on your smartphone, download apps, and even desktop extensions to help you keep track of your work time and break times.

Before sitting down and starting your timer, prepare a list of things to do, have some water or coffee on your desk. The idea is to focus for 25 minutes straight, and use the breaks are for going to the toilet, gathering materials, or do light stretches.

Although there’s a standard that is followed by most people, you can make room for some flexibility. A Pomodoro study session can last between 20-40 minutes with 5-10 minute breaks in between. There are some subjects and tasks that might need more time, and if you’re particularly tired, you might need a longer break.

When to use the Pomodoro method

You can use the Pomodoro method for various types of tasks. It is most effective for those that require concentration (which is pretty much everything, right?). For students, it’s popularly used when studying for exams and writing papers. Below are some detailed explanations.

Studying involves a lot of time and concentration devoted to mastering course content and remembering important information. Studying is something that you need to do consistently to master topics without overloading the brain. At the end of each school day, students can devote 1 to 2 Pomodoros per subject to review the topics discussed in class and to annotate notes. In this way, students can learn at a good pace, process the new information, and prevent cramming before a major exam.

Writing is not that easy. Apart from the writing itself, writing involves brainstorming, research, and revisions. Understandably, students lose so much time writing one single essay. However, because there are other homework and exams to prepare for, students have to be efficient.

The Pomodoro technique helps by putting mini-deadlines on each element of writing. For example, a student can allot 2 Pomodoros to looking for sources for a writing task, 2 pomodoros to reading and annotating the sources, 3-4 pomodoros to writing, and 2 pomodoros to revising. These tasks need not happen in a single day. Depending on the deadline set by the teacher, the student can a lot a few Pomodoros per day until the writing assignment is due.

Of course, the Pomodoro technique can be used for other tasks. Some have used it when decluttering, cleaning, and organizing. These tasks have to be done regularly to maintain a clean space.

You can devote 1-2 Pomodoros every couple of days to dust off shelves and get rid of clutter on your desk. This way, you won’t have to spend an entire weekend afternoon cleaning, and instead use the extra hours taking a walk or catching up on your favorite shows.

Tips 

Using the Pomodoro technique seems easy and foolproof. It’s quite easy to implement, and it does not require any special tools other than a timer. Here are some tips to help optimize your study session using the Pomodoro technique:

  • Take regular breaks – the great thing about the Pomodoro method is that it assigns the break time for you. The method teaches students how to work efficiently and pace themselves. The frequent breaks also help the brain by giving it time to rest. It is during these breaks when the brain can process the information that was initially absorbed during class.
  • Work in intervals – Working in fixed time intervals trains the brain to focus. It’s not easy to put your undivided attention on a task for 25 minutes but with continuous practice over time, students will get better at focusing. Soon enough, the 25 minutes can be extended to 40 or even 60 minutes of undivided attention!
  • Use in conjunction with other study and productivity hacks. Because you’ll be working in short bursts followed by frequent breaks, students have to plan tasks and minimize distractions. On top of using the Pomodoro technique, students can also block social media apps and entertainment websites even during the scheduled breaks.
  • Minimize screen time, even on your short breaks. A couple of minutes of social media scrolling can turn into 20 to 30 minutes of watching TikTok videos and engaging in Twitter wars. Save this for the end of the day or the weekend. Instead, use your short breaks for grabbing snacks or resting your eyes, and the longer breaks for taking a walk around the block or having a power nap. There are other worthwhile things to do!
  • Repetition is key. Training your brain to focus takes time and effort. Be patient with yourself and do your best to stay on task even if you struggle in the beginning. Have your to-do list and study plan to keep you on top of your task priorities.
  • Feel free to customize. As you become more comfortable with the 25-minute work and 5 minute break time intervals, you can challenge yourself to work for longer periods while maintaining the same break time. Likewise, if 25 minutes seems overwhelming, you can start with 15 minutes of work and 5 minutes of break time, then slowly work yourself up to 25 minutes.

Benefits 

  • Trains the brain to focus. Each Pomodoro session is devoted to accomplishing one component of a major task. By doing this, a person can accomplish one task fairly quickly. This is the opposite of multitasking, which encourages people to perform multiple tasks at the same time. Initially, people thought multitasking was a time-saving productivity hack, but as it turns out, multitasking prevents people from using time efficiently.
  • Prevents mental fatigue. This technique encourages people to work at a steady pace, therefore preventing yourself from overworking your brain. Although studying might not be physically exhausting, the mental exhaustion from cramming can backfire—instead of helping you remember what you studied the night before, you might experience mental blocks.
  • Increase attention span. Devoting undivided attention to a single task and doing this continuously over time will increase your ability to focus, therefore lengthening one’s attention span.
  • Time awareness. When using the Pomodoro technique, you will have a clear idea of how much time it takes you to complete a task (e.g. 2 Pomodoros to work on 5 math word problems). In the future, you’ll be able to plan your schedule more efficiently.
  • Manage your distractions. Training your brain to focus is difficult, but all this effort can be easily undone if you give in to distractions. Using the Pomodoro technique is one of the ways to manage distractions. Because there is allotted time for breaks, you can at least train your brain to wait until the work session segment of the Pomodoro session is done before indulging yourself. If cutting out social media is unrealistic, you can at least limit use by only checking your social media accounts during the scheduled breaks.
  • Reward yourself. Before sitting down for a Pomodoro session, prepare a list of tasks. Tick off each task as they are accomplished. It seems insignificant, but looking at a fully accomplished to-do list at the end of the day (with each item ticked off) is rewarding.

When the Pomodoro technique does not work

Some people have spoken against the rigidness of the Pomodoro method. For example, writers know how hard it is to get into a writing flow, and if you stop while you’re in a writing flow, it’s so hard to get back on track. It’s the same for some students.

A student who struggles with math word problems might stare at one word problem—reading and re-reading it—but when it starts to make sense after 20 minutes, forcing that student to stop at 25 minutes seems counterintuitive. It takes a lot of time to break down the concepts and analyze the details.

What if you finish ahead of schedule? If somehow you finish some tasks earlier than expected, you can move on to the next task. The idea is to keep working until the time is up. This is why you have to have your study plan and to-do list on hand. The Pomodoro method is not perfect but works for certain tasks.

Final Thoughts 

You can make the most out of your study sessions by using the Pomodoro technique. We tend to either underestimate or overestimate the time needed to complete a task.

The Pomodoro technique helps you plan efficiently so that in the long run, you’ll be better at accomplishing tasks on time. It is one of the best time management methods for good reason.

Using this technique, you can manage your time when it comes to studying, writing, and research—tasks that seem to have no clear deadline. It’s a way to make sure that you get things done even if deadlines are not fixed.

The best part about using the Pomodoro technique is that it trains the brain to focus on work and study tasks, and at the same time, gives time for breaks. Taking time for yourself does not feel like something to feel guilty over.

Moving forward, it teaches people to set realistic goals. Whereas procrastination leads to more stress (putting something off thinking that you have time to spare, but when you finally get to work, you realize there’s not enough time), with the Pomodoro technique, you can set time-bound goals and take steps towards achieving them.

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Patricia Alfonso

Patricia Alfonso is an educator and researcher who earned her master's degree in guidance and counseling from Ateneo de Manila. She specializes in developing school counseling programs for schools.

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