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The Pomodoro Technique: 4 Tips for Getting Started

UL Grad School -- 07/03/2018

In Graduate School, deadlines are everywhere. And, as graduation looms ever closer, the time you have between where you are and what needs to be done can easily slip away. Projects and papers pile up, stress levels rise, and schedules become harder to squeeze in research and dedicated writing time.

The ability to manage the time we do have free is a skill that many struggle to understand, much less master. But, in the late 1980s, a student named Francesco Cirillo began using a simple, tomato-shaped timer (called a Pomodoro) to track his daily work activity. Soon after, he turned his own practice into a time-management technique that is now used around the world by writers, engineers, CEOs, and has even become one of the most effective time-management tools for Graduate School. In fact, our own dean uses it here at the Graduate School, and the technique is a part of our dissertation boot camps!

4 Tips for Getting Started With the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique, named after that same fruit-shaped timer, utilizes sprints of focused work time separated by short breaks aimed at refreshing and refocusing one’s mind in an effort to keep it working at maximum efficiency. Complete four of these sprints successfully and you’re rewarded with a longer break before rinsing and repeating the process until the job is done. This mental mambo helps keep your mind refreshed, sharp, and incredibly efficient as you work throughout the day.

Looking to try out the Pomodoro Technique for yourself and learn how to better manage your time in Graduate School? Here are 4 tips for getting started.

1) Have a Plan

Going into anything unprepared is typically a recipe for disaster. The Pomodoro Technique can be incredibly efficient at helping you finish any grad school task, but it’s up to you to be sure you’re ready to sit down and do the work before starting the timer. Time-management techniques in grad school work best when you have a firm outline ready of what you want to accomplish today. Do you want to write a draft of your literature review? a chapter intro? Or, are you even struggling with getting the outline of your thesis or dissertation started? Set a goal and understand what needs to be done.

2) Stick to the Rules

The Pomodoro Technique is simple, and a lot of its strength lies in its flexibility. But, if you’re struggling with properly managing your time working in grad school as it is, sticking to the original method is a great start to getting used to properly managing your projects (and your schedule).

The Rules:

  1. Plan. Use the first five minutes to set a goal for the day. What do you want to accomplish?

  2. Focus. Did you know it can take up to half an hour to refocus on what you’re doing after being distracted? Before you start, put away your phone, turn off your social media notifications, and get your brain ready to work.

  3. Work. Set the timer (it can be any old timer, really) for 25 minutes and begin working.

  4. Breathe. When the time's up, give yourself a short break (5-10 minutes). Stretch your legs, refill your beverage of choice, and -- if you must -- check a couple of emails and respond to that missed text.

  5. Repeat. Repeat this process four times. At the end of the fourth timer, give yourself a longer break (15-30 minutes) to catch your breath and go over the work you’re done. And, probably, to do a little happy dance at how productive you’ve been.

Repeat these five steps until you meet your goal. After that? Celebrate, set a new goal, and keep working!

3) Deal With Interruptions Accordingly

When the Pomodoro Technique says to work, it means it. 25 minutes of uninterrupted focus time free of distractions and interruptions. But, even if you silence all of your electronics and hole yourself away, distractions can find a way to find you, and some just can’t be avoided: Students needing help, emergencies, the Grad School deciding to send you 30 emails letting you know about the next lunch and learn (we love you and we just want to feed you!).

If you find yourself getting too distracted, here are three ways to handle interruptions the Pomodoro way:

  1. (Kindly) inform the distracting party that you’re currently working and schedule a time (preferably during one of your longer breaks) to revisit the issue.

  2. If whatever comes up will take five minutes or less (and can’t be rescheduled), then make dealing with the situation your break. Stop your timer, solve the issue, then work for the rest of the time and through your next 25 minutes.

  3. If it will take more than five minutes, solve the issue and then start over at the first timer.  If this happens, also make sure to give yourself the appropriate amount of time to plan and refocus on the work you need to get done.    

4) Reflect and Adapt

At the end of each day, reflect on the work you’ve done and record your progress. As you get the hang of it and feel yourself becoming the time master you always knew you could be, adapt the process to your own unique goals and schedule. Need slightly longer breaks? More work time? A celebratory square of chocolate at the end of each sprint? As long as you’re getting the work done in an effective and efficient manner, time management in graduate school works best when it works for you.

Want to learn more? We’re hosting multiple sessions of our dissertation boot camp, which is a space focused on helping grad students get valuable focus time (and learn valuable strategies) for getting work done on their dissertation or synthesis project. Sign up today!