Do you ever feel like the amount of work you have to do seems to expand to fit the time you have available to do it? Have you noticed that when you work under pressure, things seem to get done a lot more efficiently?
Here at Signet, we’ve found that using the Pomodoro Technique helps students use their time more effectively and get more high-quality work completed. The Pomodoro Technique is based on a couple of assumptions about the way people work. One is that our brains work well for a set amount of time, but we need frequent breaks in order to maintain our energy and focus. Two is that our brains work best under specific time limits, and that by laying out set blocks of time, we plan and accomplish our work more effectively.
Executing the Technique
The method itself is quite simple. When a student sits down to complete a task, they should set a timer for 25 minutes. They work continuously for that 25-minute period, then take a 5-minute break. The student continues in that pattern of 25 minutes of work, followed by 5 minutes of rest. If the study or work session is longer than two hours, the technique calls for a student to complete four rounds, and then to rest for 15 to 30 minutes before starting up again.
Here are a few more specifics about the technique:
- Pick one concrete task to accomplish in each 25-minute period. So “I’ll study for 25 minutes and see how far I get” becomes “I’ll complete 10 pages of history reading in 25 minutes” instead.
- The timer should be visible. You can either use an old-fashioned kitchen timer or a variety of free apps that are designed specifically for this technique. If students are using their smartphone as a timer, make sure it’s on airplane mode to avoid the temptation of calls, texts, Snapchats, etc.
- Take longer breaks when necessary. Although the traditional technique calls for a 15- to 30-minute break after completing four rounds of the 25/5 pattern, we find that some students need a longer break after just two or three rounds, depending on their general ability to focus and the difficulty of the material they are working on.
Most people find that it’s fairly easy to concentrate for 25 minutes at a time, which is why this technique is so successful. By breaking down homework or a project into a series of concrete, 25-minute tasks, students will naturally start planning and organizing the material in a way that boosts efficiency and productivity. Students should plan out these 25-minute chunks of time in advance, sequence them, and then use the Pomodoro Technique to make their way through the material.
Tips and Tricks for Getting Started
At first, it’s common to overestimate or underestimate how long a particular task will take. If your student finds that 25 minutes is up and they have just one problem left, it’s okay to keep going. If they’re only halfway through the given task, however, they should take their 5-minute break and then keep going with the same task in the next 25-minute round. As they gain experience, students will be able to better estimate how much they can accomplish in 25 minutes, and will be able to plan their work accordingly.
The 25 minutes on/5 minutes off ratio is not set in stone. Some people prefer a 30/10 pattern, which offers slightly more work time in each session, followed by a longer break. However, students should not push themselves to keep working until they feel fatigued. One of the reasons the Pomodoro Technique works so well is that it employs preemptive rest, meaning students take a break before they actually feel tired and mentally worn out. This helps keep focus consistent and prevents the steep drop-off in energy levels that often happens after several hours of studying or work.
Students who are interested in whether this technique will work for them should commit to it for at least a week’s worth of homework before determining whether it’s a good fit. Although this method doesn’t work for everybody, we’ve seen it be a real game-changer for many people, especially those who have the desire to work but have a hard time keeping focused and staying on task. Give it a try, and feel free to send us an email with any Pomodoro-related questions you may have!