Using the Pomodoro Technique to Beat Procrastination

Updated: Dec 30, 2020

Learning to write well and speak well requires learning a process - sometimes a process very different than the process we currently employ. When helping my students make the transition from academic to business writing we discuss a variety of writing processes. One of the models suggests procrastination is the first step. I’ve never had a student argue this point, and more often than not, students comment that they have trouble getting started on writing tasks.

Neuroscientists aren't surprised because they've discovered that the pain centers in our brains become activated by just thinking about unpleasant activities (yes, I can acknowledge that writing and preparing to speak in public can be unpleasant). However, after just 20 minutes, our bodies stop sending pain signals to the brain and the urge to procrastinate reduces. Knowing this, I tell my students to get started. They can outline, do research, write a sentence, or simply read the assignment.

I’m encouraging my students to use the Pomodoro Technique. This time management strategy developed in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo is described in the book Learning How To Learn, by Barbara Oakley and Terrence Sejnowski. The authors note that our brains work in focused mode or diffuse mode. Focused mode is when you are trying to learn something new and diffuse mode is when your mind is relaxed. It turns out your brain needs to operate in both modes for learning to take place.

Here’s how the Pomodoro Technique works:

  1. Shut off all distractions.

  2. Set a timer for 25 minutes.

  3. Start the task and focus as well as you can.

  4. Reward yourself with a diffuse mode activity after 25 minutes.

  5. Set a timer for your breaks so they don’t stretch too long.

The reward step is important. I find going downstairs, making a cut of tea, and looking at the nature in my backyard provides a sufficient reward and break for my brain. Try different approaches to figure out what works best for you. You might find that taking a shower or exercising works best for you. Try to keep your breaks to five or ten minutes. I’ve used this technique when I need a bit of motivation to get started on a project, and sometimes I complete multiple Pomodoros in one day.

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