Parenting

Want more focus? Buy a kitchen timer. 😮⏰

Perplexed? Well, let me spill the beans. 😉

The thing is that for the past couple of weeks, I have been looking for ways to help students increase their focus (especially before the exams). As I waded through the maze of available literature, I stumbled upon an article that talked about the Pomodoro Technique, and I couldn’t help but give it a try!

But first things first. As I was bemused by the funny-sounding name of this technique (and its kitchen affiliation), I expect that even you would be eager to know about its origin before taking a deep-dive into its actual mechanics.

The Pomodoro Technique was invented in the early 1990s by the developer, entrepreneur, and author Francesco Cirillo (An Italian man! We sure can expect some creative angle here — remember Renaissance?)

Let’s just say that Mr. Cirillo sure knew how to ward off the pesky little distractions that ruin our focus as we strive to finish tasks on time. The Pomodoro technique is the perfect antidote to distractions, helping you maintain a laser-like focus, almost like a pro!

Ok, the man is a genius! But why would he opt for such a strange-sounding name for his technique? Well, the answer is not so mystifying— Pomodoro is actually Italian for ‘Tomato’ and the technique requires using a timer uniquely shaped like a tomato.

kitchen timer

Well, now that things are taking a serious turn, let me take you deeper into how the Pomodoro technique works.

What’s under the hood?

Familiar with the evil strategy of ‘Divide and Conquer’? The Pomodoro technique does rely on this principle, but it’s is not sinister at all! Essentially, if you have a big task at hand and you anticipate that it will take hours to finish it, then the technique simply asks you to break your effort into a series of smaller chunks of 30 minutes. In turn, these 30 minutes task sprints are divided into 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes of break

time splitting

Breaks?!! I like breaks. But why do we need them?

The task breaks train your brain to have a laser-like focus for shorter periods so that you can stay on top of the activity or task you’re doing — always and every time! It can be anything, from studying for an exam, working on an all-important assignment or solving math problems.

In a research done on Dutch undergraduate students, Flora Beeftink and Wendelien van Eerde found that having some time away from a problem or task (planned or discretionary breaks) was beneficial to creative problem solving and insight generation.

As you actively and consistently imbibe the Pomodoro Technique into your life, it’d eventually help you improve your attention span and concentration. Over time, keeping away distractions and other interruptions will become your second nature.

But Wait! Where’s my Pomodoro?!

Don’t worry, I am coming to that. Now that you are familiar with the basic schema of the technique, let’s look at the things that you need to put this into practice:

  1. A Pomodoro Timer (actually you don’t necessarily need a tomato-shaped kitchen timer, even a Pomodoro web/mobile app works as well).
  2. The bigger task you need to accomplish.
  3. A sheet of paper with your To-Do list (the bigger task broken into specific actions) and activity inventory (more explained below).

So the objects are all laid out. Now it’s time to understand the rules that you need to follow as part of the technique:

  1. Once a Pomodoro begins, it has to run its course and ‘Ding’ upon completion (or beep!).
  2. Interruptions are not allowed and the Pomodoro is indivisible (sorry, can’t go less than 25 minutes in one stretch!).

What it means is that if you feel distracted you will have to either put the distraction on hold or have to end the current Pomodoro. (In other words, if you are interrupted during a Pomodoro sprint, then you either choose to not pay attention to the distraction, OR, you can address the interruption first, but then you will have to reset your Pomodoro to 0 and start over again.)

3. Once the Pomodoro ‘dings’ after 25 minutes, you have to temporarily put a pause to the current activity you are doing and take a 3–5 minutes break.

4. After 4 Pomodoro’s (of 25 minutes each) you must take a longer break of about 15–30 minutes.

rules

These rules are made in this way so that you achieve the optimal level of concentration, focus, and productivity you need to get on top of your study efforts.

You have the tools, you have the rules — Now let’s go!

It’s pretty simple to use the Pomodoro Technique to hack your way to intense focus and productivity. Here’s how you can start off with the Pomodoro:

  1. Choose a specific to-do activity that you need to complete.
  2. Set the Pomodoro (timer) to 25 minutes.
  3. Work on the activity until the Pomodoro ‘Dings’, and then mark on your To-do sheet beside the task.
  4. Take a break (3–5 minutes is fine).
  5. Restart the Pomodoro and continue on your task.
  6. After every 4 Pomodoros (25 minutes each) take a longer break of 15–30 minutes.

Sounds simple, right? It’s quite easy to execute indeed. But let me just make it richer for you. How about sharing my experience with this technique so that you get a handle on the practical aspects of it?

How did I use the Pomodoro technique to study (simulated) for an Algebra exam?

Before starting with the Pomodoro, I made a list of tasks I had to get done. As you can see, I decided to focus on only 1 thing:

to-do-today list

The Pomodoro technique helps you develop accountability for the task you have in hand. Put differently, you must try your best to finish the sprint once it has begun. This is the essence of the technique’s success.

I used the actual tomato-shaped Pomodoro to get the task done and set it to 25 minutes. At about the 10 minutes mark, I encountered my first internal distraction.

I got stuck and had to call up my friend about a certain topic on the subject.

As per rules, the Pomodoro is ruthless and doesn’t allow any space for interruptions between your task. And so, I stopped the Pomodoro, and marked an apostrophe (’)- beside the task on my sheet along with an X, marking the end of my current sprint due to the unforeseen distraction.

to do today list

Since this was something that was urgent, I marked it as an unplanned and urgent interruption (this marking, in my case the apostrophe, will later help me go back and pinpoint the reason why it took me so long to finish the task in hand, and how I can deal with them more effectively in the future)

After finishing off my conversation, I started the second sprint of 25 minutes. This went by without any hassles and I took a break of 5 minutes (walking around, clearing my headspace and drinking some water).

To my relief, the third sprint went on smoothly for 25 minutes and I took a break of 3 minutes (closed my eyes and allowed my mind to wind down).

The fourth sprint was the last sprint beyond which I was required to take a longer break. However, this sprint had its share of external distractions and I was forced to redo the process again (Since the fourth sprint wasn’t complete, I decided not to take the long break).

I finally finished the entire task on the fifth sprint and took a long break of 30 minutes before getting back to other activities.

While we’re at it, here’s a list of the total time I took to finish the task I was working on, along with the breaks and interruptions I had. This helped me understand how much time I took to finish the task and finding ways to decrease that by eliminating distractions around me.

to do today list

I’ve used the Pomodoro technique for a little over 1 week now, mostly to help me stay more focused on my work. In my experience, this technique has definitely helped me get more determined, although certain distractions cannot be eliminated or ignored.

Some may find the constant ticking of the Pomodoro a little annoying, but over time you get used to the feeling of knowing that the time is passing. It can feel a little pressured initially, but once you get used to the Pomodoro, it will feel a lot less daunting.

The Pomodoro is meant to make your life more productive and not hard or anxious. Don’t worry if you end up with 5–10 Pomodoros to finish your task, over time you will have a better grasp on completing your tasks faster. Those 1–2 Pomodoros you use throughout the day will end up being more productive than anything else you do in your day.

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