Have you ever taken a break while studying? The well-intentioned “ten minutes or so” sends you falling into the depths of Youtube or scrolling down the endless stream that is the Facebook wall. When you finally lift your head a half hour has passed and there’s suddenly nothing you dread more than that half-finished essay on your desk.
It’s okay if you can relate to this. It happens to everyone. In fact, it’s human nature. But this doesn’t mean we don’t have the power to evaluate our habits, make a plan, and change our ways.
There is no magic solution that will work for everyone, but I want to tell you about a technique that worked for me – the Pomodoro technique! If the name conjures up images of cheesy pizzas and hot plates of pasta drowned in tomato sauce, I suggest you eat before reading this article, because I’ll be saying “Pomodoro” a lot.
Pomodoro actually means “tomato” in Italian, but the technique doesn’t have anything to do with pizza or pasta or those other yummy foods. It’s merely named after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Francesco Cirillo used when he first came up with this method. Back in the 1980s, he was a college student and in the same boat as many of us are now – facing what seems to be an impossible amount of tasks and commitments to fit into the span of 24 hours and while getting enough sleep to function. So he devised this system, which really is so simple that you might be wondering why it deserves its own name and everything, but stick with me.
To implement this technique, you’ll need a timer (preferably tomato-shaped but your phone will work, too), a piece of paper and pencil, and some work that needs to get done.
Step 1: Decide what task you will work on during this Pomodoro (meaning interval of time). Write that down on your paper. It helps if you also say it out loud. It just makes it more official.
Step 2: Set your timer for 25 minutes, and work for the entire time. No distractions, no breaks, just total, 100%, laser-like focus. It’s only 25 minutes, so you can totally do it!
Step 3: Once the timer, rings, set it again – this time for only 5 minutes. This is your break time. It might seem like a lot, but I assure you that if you use it to go on your phone it will zip by and you’ll find it hard to unglue yourself. A better option is to use that time to re-energize – that’s what breaks are meant for! Go for a little walk, even if it’s just to another part of your house or wherever you are. Refill your water bottle. Do some stretches. Try a headstand (the blood flow to your head has an energizing effect).
Step 4: When the break is over, it’s back to work for another 25 minutes! Again, decide what will get done during the Pomodoro and write it.
Step 5: Once you’ve completed four cycles of 25 minutes (the paper and pencil help you keep track), you can pat yourself on the back. You’ve earned a long break! This time you can set the timer for 20-30 minutes, but make sure that you don’t get too distracted.
Of course, these steps are mainly guidelines. You could work for five cycles of 20 minutes with 4 minute breaks in between and a 31 minute long break. No one’s going to stop you! It’s really all a matter of experimenting and figuring out how you work best. The key here is this cycle of focus, rest, focus, rest, that keeps you from getting burned out. Some other benefits of this method that stand out to me:
No guilt for taking breaks. When breaks repeatedly turn into prolonged internet sessions, it’s easy to develop a negative understanding of breaks. But with the scheduled breaks that the Pomodoro technique demands, breaks become a vital part of your productivity. You need to re-energize!
Big projects are less daunting. I know I get stressed out about long-term projects – things like preparing presentations for clubs, studying for finals, studying for AP tests (ah!), etc. It’s hard to start on these things when you don’t even know what exactly needs to be started… Instead, try committing to one Pomodoro of working on a project. It’s measurable and feels so much more doable. And afterwards, you’ll feel accomplished for having made a dent in the project!
Better for your health. Last year we wrote about the dangers of sitting too long. It’s so harmful to your health that even working out in the evening won’t offset the impact of a day’s worth of sitting! The cure for this is literally the simplest thing – all you need to do is move regularly. The hard part is remembering, and the Pomodoro technique basically does that for you. Whenever you take a break, move around a little bit. It’ll not only recharge your brain for the next 25 minutes of work, but it’ll ward off serious health problems in the next few decades of your life!
– Beatrice Naujalyte