When I was still a student, one of the biggest things I struggled with was how to stay focused when faced with a marathon study session or massive research paper. Whether you’re in high school or college, at some point I’m sure you’ve had an assignment that required several consecutive hours of work. Because this is something you’ll have to do day after day, night after night, throughout your school career, it’s important find a way to be stay focused and fresh. The best way I have found is to use a time management technique called the Pomodoro Method when doing assignments.
The Pomodoro Method is pretty simple! Set a timer for 25 minutes and pick one thing you want to complete during your “pomodoro” (it can be two if they are small). Once the timer goes off, you stop (even if mid-sentence), drop your pencil, and take a 5 minute break. Use your break to get a glass of water or snack, stretch, go outside, do some jumping jacks, meditate… whatever will help you recharge your mind’s batteries. Your 5 minute break should not be a Snapchat or texting break (I’ll get to why later). Repeat this cycle 3 more times (if you have that much to do) and after the fourth “pomodoro”, take a 15 minute break. If after your 15 minute break you still have more work to do, start the pomodoro cycle over.
There are three main benefits to using the Pomodoro Method for studying and assignments.
- Your brain stays fresh for longer. Your brain is a muscle and like all muscles, it needs some recovery time in between “exercises”. Few people can do 50 push-ups at once, but most could do 50 push ups, if they were to break them into smaller sets and rest in between. By stopping every 25 minutes for a quick recharge, you will feel fresh after two hours of work rather than super burnt out and exhausted. This is SO important when you have multiple hours of work ahead of you.
- It helps you stay focused. Committing to do something in a distraction-free environment for 25 minutes is not overwhelming. If 25 minutes seems too long for uninterrupted focus time, shorten it to 20. Some folks like to do 50 minutes with a 10 minute break. Find the amount of time that you can stay focused for without losing brain power.
- It’s a procrastination buster. Committing to do something you don’t really want to do for 25 minutes isn’t a big deal. And what you’ll find is that once you start, what you were putting off isn’t all that bad. Before you know it, you’ll be on a roll. (Check out our blogpost on Why People Procrastinate).
Many students don’t really like the idea of breaking up their study sessions. They get “on a roll” and fear that their juices may not continue to flow if they stop. But I promise you, a five minute break will help keep those juices flowing, instead of getting in their way. Taking a step out of an assignment for a few minutes helps give you fresh eyes, which can often inspire a new way of approaching a problem or formulating an argument.
Tips for making the Pomodoro Method work:
- Do your work in a distraction-free environment. This is probably the most important part of the process. Pick someplace that is quiet and a good workspace and turn your cell phone and/or tablet to airplane mode. If you are using your laptop, be sure that your desktop ONLY has the applications or browser tabs that are necessary for your assignment open and put it in “Do Not Disturb/Quiet Hours” mode (How To: Mac and PC). If you listen to music, try to make it it be instrumental only (For great study music, Spotify has great playlists). For more ideas check out our Blogpost: How to set up your computer to minimize distractions and keep you focused.
- Be clear on what you want to get done. Make sure that you have your list of tasks figured out before you start your Pomodoros. Prioritize the list so that you get what is most urgent and difficult done first.
- Write down your distractions as they come up. If while you are working you starting to think about something you need to do later, write it down on and then move on. By doing this, you avoid the temptation to get off task but at the same time record an important to do for later on.
- Make sure you listen to the timer. When it goes off, stop. Really stop. Take your five minute break, you’ve earned it.
- Breaks should be technology free. Research shows that when we take technology breaks or multi-task between checking social media and doing school work, our mind will stay focused on what we just posted, read, or commented on well after we go back to working. What this means is that in the back of your mind, you might be thinking about what’s going on in social stuff rather than focusing on the task in front of you. Breaks that allow you to move your body, relax your mind, or recharge with food and/or water will serve you better in helping recharge your brain.
Breaking up your study sessions with short breaks will keep your brain fresh and focused for longer. Try out the Pomodoro method and see how much more productive you will feel while you are doing your assignments!