As we head into exam and essay season, we might hear a load of information about study techniques and the best ways to revise. One of the most common in the Pomodoro technique. But what are the benefits and drawbacks of such a method? And if you know it’s not for you, is there anything better out there? This week, blogger Edward investigates.
If you are up on your Italian, you will notice that “pomodoro” means “tomato” in English. Why, you ask? About 30 years ago, a man named Francesco Cirillo used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer as part of a productivity experiment; the test subjects would work through a set of tasks for 25 minutes before a 5-minute break. They then repeated this 4 times before they took a longer break, of around 30 minutes, and the process started again. It would be fun if you used a tomato-shaped timer, but this is not a requirement!
Cirillo experimented with different variations of this, but these timings produced the greatest levels of observed productivity in his subjects. He published his findings into a book called “The Pomodoro Technique: The Life Changing Time Management System”, and it has since taken over the world as one of the best productivity hacks EVER. That said, it has its own set of pros and cons. Read on to find out what these are, and if there really is anything better than the pomodoro…
For many years I have used the pomodoro technique, be it for revision, mass internship applications, or another suitable task. These are some of the reasons I would recommend it:
- It sets an expectation. If you tell yourself that, until your timer goes off, that you must give all your attention to a sole task, you are less likely to get distracted.
- It provides fulfilment. For me, and I am sure for many others, having a structured way to cross tasks off your to-do list is one of the most satisfying things in existence.
- It gives you a break. Although working on something important for hours on end may seem tempting (we will discuss this method later), cramming workloads can lead to a jumbled mind, procrastination, and burnout. Having a break, particularly with intensive tasks like revision and job hunting, can be really refreshing and keep you working for longer.
Despite all the good stuff, there are things to watch out for when it comes to the pomodoro technique:
- How do you use your break? If I could choose any way to use my precious 5-minute break, it would be to watch something… a Netflix series, YouTube videos, scrolling through TikToks… Beware! The advice of our friend Cirillo is to use this time to get out of our chairs, walk about, grab something from the pantry, not to get hooked into a gripping crime drama and put a 0 in front of our 5-minute break.
- It can be unrealistic. Sometimes the thought of working continuously under these conditions is so overwhelming that I ditch work altogether and take a nap. It is important to be dynamic and consider how you are feeling and what you need to do. For example, after working a shift for six hours, I might want to just squeeze in some work in the evening, without the timed conditions, and you should not feel guilty for that.
- It does not work for everything (or everyone). If I have a few small tasks, or something that I really “get into the zone” with, I won’t use the pomodoro technique. I’ll simply do the task without breaks until its done. That’s because cramming works better for me in these conditions. Whilst writing this blog, I found that spending an hour or so researching and writing non-stop allows me to get more done and produces better quality work than when I used the pomodoro technique.
Curious to know if other methods exist?
Cramming tasks, with the right conditions – a tight deadline, a small volume of tasks, whilst feeling awake and motivated – can work well for some people. It can be good to use the Eisenhower matrix to prioritise tasks before you cram, because you are more likely to get the important stuff out of the way. However, if you want the best of both worlds, check out the lesser-known Animedoro technique… The Animedoro is the twin brother of the pomodoro, only the timings vary: you work for 40-60 minutes, and then take a 20-minute break. I would recommend the Animedoro for a smaller set of tasks, because I found repetitions of 60 minutes intense. But it does give you that longer break, so, if you wanted, you could fit in a more acceptable amount of Netflix.
For a “bird’s eye view” of task completion, try time blocking. Before the next day, I think about all the tasks I need to complete and allocate different times to complete them throughout the day. This works well on paper. You might also like to try visualisation software (Google Calendar is my favourite). Within these time blocks, you can use whatever time management technique you want!
Overall, rather than to veer you away from the Pomodoro, I wrote this to encourage you, the reader, to experiment with these time management tools. Although I had used the Pomodoro for a while, I had never heard of the Animedoro, or 52/17 rule (52 minutes of work, 17 rest), before researching for this blog. If you trial these different methods out, you will know which you prefer and, most importantly, in which context they work well. Please remember that it is critical to be disciplined and motivated to work through your task list. No matter what time management tool you use, discipline is the most important factor in how productive you are. Good luck 😊
Want to find out more about how to maximise your productivity? Check out our other blogs: How to Structure Your Time Without a Formal Timetable and Find Your Groove: Productivity Tips and Tools for Study Success.
Have you tried out the above techniques? Or maybe one that isn’t mentioned above? Let us know which ones you would recommend by tweeting us @warwickllibrary, by messaging us on Instagram @warwicklibrary, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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