Before I get into how to use the Pomodoro Technique for homework (best time-management hack EVER), here’s a little background info:
True story: I sometimes still have nightmares about forgetting my Spanish homework, being unprepared for a math test, and forgetting my locker combination. I graduated from high school 534 years ago, so you’d think I’d being nightmaring about something else, but I still have bad dreams about high school stress. I think it’s because I was often so overwhelmed with the quantity of work required of me in high school that my brain is still storing those memories somewhere … I wonder what Freud would say …
But seriously, students have so much on their plates and so little time outside of school and sports/activities that it can sometimes seem impossible to get done what needs to get done. When I began taking AP courses as a junior in high school, I realized for the first time just how important time management was. If I didn’t micromanage every minute of my day, assignments wouldn’t get completed – and that was just not an option. I somehow managed to get by, but not without an unhealthy level of stress. It wasn’t until college, when the workload-to-free time ratio got even tighter, that I learned about the Pomodoro Technique, which is one of the best time management strategies that I now use almost daily.
I didn’t invent this technique –but I wish I did. Francesco Cirillo developed it in the 1980s. You can read about the awesomeness of this technique everywhere, including lifehacker, the Washington Post, Pomodorotechnique.com. Or just here, on SchoolHabits.com. 🙂
Before I dig into how to use the Pomodoro Technique, understand that “time management” is a fluid process that typically involves multiple concrete steps or principles – many of which you’ll have to figure out for yourself over time. The Pomodoro Technique is just one of many methods that can help you get things done once you have made the time for them.
In other words: Before using the Pomodoro Technique to plow through a task or set of tasks, the first step is to set aside a chunk of time to work uninterrupted. Assuming you have done this, read on. If you struggle with finding time to get your homework done, use these tips here.
How to use the Pomodoro Technique:
Here’s how to use the Pomodoro Technique: Essentially you work for a set amount of time, and then rest. Then work again, and then rest again. Repeat this process until the task is completed. For you fellow athletes out there, it’s similar to interval running, where you sprint all out for a set amount of time, and then walk for a shorter period. Then sprint again, and then rest again. You can use the Pomodoro Technique to complete a variety of tasks, including studying, writing a paper, doing research, reading, etc. I use it daily for writing. And sometimes for cleaning … but that’s just me.
Here’s what you do. First, determine the length of your “Work” interval, or how long you are going to work for. The classic Pomodoro model specifies a 25-minute Work interval followed by a 5-minute Rest interval, but you can adjust the Work-Rest ratio to fit the task and your personal work style. (Just keep in mind that you might want to keep the length of the Work interval between three and five times the length of the Rest interval. And keep the work interval to no more than 45 minutes.)
You could try one of the following ratios:
Work: 25 minutes Rest: 5 minutes
Work: 30 minutes Rest: 10 minutes
Work: 45 minutes Rest: 15 minutes (my favorite)
The Work interval explained
During the Work interval, you do just that: you work uninterrupted for the designated amount of time. Make sure you have all your supplies with you, and a timer. Set the timer (your cell phone timer is fine) for however long you’re working for, and don’t stop until the bell goes off. During this period, don’t get up from your chair, don’t check Facebook, don’t get on your phone. Just work without stopping until you hear the beep. When you hear the timer beep, it’s time to rest.
The Rest interval explained
The Rest interval is just as important as the Work interval. Going back to the running analogy, you can run longer and harder if you take short walking breaks in between your sprints. Your work was your sprint. Now rest.
Again, set the timer for the designated amount of time, and rest for the entire Rest interval. You might be tempted to keep working through this period, especially if you are on a roll during the Work interval, but definitely stop working and get up. During the Rest interval you can do anything you want that doesn’t involve thinking. Go to the bathroom, get a snack, pet the cat, do pull-ups, stare at the wall. Just get up out of the chair and ideally leave the room you’re working in. “Do nothing” until the timer beeps, and then get right back to work. Set the timer again for the Work interval, and work straight through until it’s time to rest again.
Continue working in this manner until the task is done. When the task is complete, take a break that’s longer than the breaks you’ve been taking (perhaps twice as long). After this longer break, move on to the next task and begin the Pomodoro working sessions again. If the task is incomplete after four Work intervals, take a longer break (again, perhaps twice as long) before you work again. Your brain needs this rest to recover all the glucose it used during all your Work intervals. That’s a fact – backed by science, I promise.
Here are some practical applications for how to use the Pomodoro Technique to get your school work done:
- Reading a book: Work (read) for 25 minutes Rest for 5 minutes
- Writing a paper: Work (type) for 30 minutes Rest for 5 minutes
- Studying for a test: Work (study) for 45 minutes Rest for 15 minutes
- Studying vocabulary: Work (study) for 25 minutes Rest for 5
The next time you find yourself putting off an assignment or getting overwhelmed with a large task, try this technique. Just try it. It’s kind of awesome.
PS: I’m sure you’re all wondering why it’s called the Pomodoro technique. (Oh, you weren’t?) It’s because the guy who invented it was Italian, and the alarm clock he used to time his work intervals looked like a tomato (as in, it was a tomato alarm clock). And pomodoro means tomato in Italian.