While I recommend a wide variety of study methods and productivity strategies to my students, the Pomodoro Technique is nearest and dearest to my heart. Let me explain.
Years ago, as an undergraduate at Columbia double-majoring in English Lit and History, I averaged 20-30 pages of writing every week. This was pretty painful, especially in the first few years. Often, I would make the trek to Butler Library (which was open 24 hours a day) with my computer bag, headphones, and some chocolate covered espresso beans (my favorite indulgence). Yet instead of buckling down, I would engage in ALL manners of avoidance -- from pacing around the library hoping to run into someone I knew, to refilling my fourth cup of tea, to returning a phone call or checking my email for the 400th time. Maddeningly, I could spend all day at the library and accomplish virtually nothing -- because I was utterly paralyzed by the Fear Of Getting Started. The amount of work ahead of me was simply too much.
I am sure I don’t need to describe how those weeks turned out. Sure, I always finished the work -- a bleary-eyed, overly caffeinated zombie, I often printed out my assignments minutes before they were due. Only a 19-year-old could survive so well without sleep!
Enter the Pomodoro Method.
Unlike a lot of other study skills, which rely on apps, fancy tools or technology, all you need for the Pomodoro Method is a timer (MarinaraTimer.com is a great web version of a productivity timer!). You can also use your phone or a traditional kitchen timer.
The beauty of the method is that it simply brings the idea of interval training (a favorite with physical exercise) to your studying. Overwhelmed, as I was, by the idea of sitting for 12 hours to cram for finals? Not to worry! You’ll only be working in “pomodoros” -- that is, 25-minute increments, followed by 5 minute breaks. After every 4 pomodoros, you get a longer break (at least 15 minutes -- but give yourself enough to “recharge”).
Try it the next time you are writing a paper (setting goals, like 3 pomodoros to get the thesis and outline set) or studying for a test (4 pomodoros to review Chapters 1 and 2, and then…) The idea that there is a “finish line” within a short duration of time trains your brain to sustain focus -- and you’ll find that within each interval, you are hyper-alert and more productive, wanting to accomplish everything you can before that timer goes off. When used regularly, this method is even associated with better concentration and improved attention span.
Would love to hear what you think. Happy studying!
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Jessica Brenner is an educational consultant, counselor and parent.