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I Tried the Pomodoro Technique for My Midterms. Here’s How It Went.

You may be familiar with this feeling: assignments are piling up, the exam is in two days, but you can’t find the motivation to start doing anything.

Chronic procrastination is a common struggle faced by your average university student. We feel so stressed and overwhelmed by work that we simply put off doing it for as long as possible.

Enter the Pomodoro technique. It was invented in the late 1980s by productivity coach Francesco Cirillo, inspired by his tomato-shaped kitchen timer (pomodoro means ‘tomato’ in Italian). All it involves is setting a timer for yourself — do 25 minutes of work, then rest for five minutes. Each 30-minute block is one pomodoro, which can be done as many times as the user desires or until they finish all their tasks.

This productivity method found favour with YouTubers and TikTokers in the form of ‘study with me’ videos, accompanied by tinkling music and pastel filters. Eventually, it gained mainstream popularity among students and garnered rave reviews due to its high effectiveness. Naturally, I had to try this technique myself for my midterms week this semester.

 

Pros

Some of us have trouble getting started on tasks. We might feel that certain tasks are too time-consuming, too difficult, or simply too daunting. The Pomodoro technique is useful to help you get started on that assignment you’ve been putting off.

Starting with a 25-minute work period was far less intimidating than thinking about jumping straight into two hours of work. Plus, I got to look forward to the five minutes of mandated rest time afterwards. This initial push worked wonders for productivity since it became easier to stay focused once I got started. 

The use of pomodoros also gives us an illusion of productivity. Once I’d finished one 30-minute cycle, I could proudly say that I had already finished one pomodoro. By measuring my productivity in these units of time, I can set goals for myself throughout the day by tracking how many pomodoros I’ve completed. Having time-centric goals helps motivate you to get to work, instead of being overwhelmed by the never-ending list of tasks.

Cons

That being said, I quickly realised the negative aspects of the technique.

With regard to the illusion of productivity, finishing more pomodoros doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve been more productive. Sometimes, I found that 15 minutes out of my 25-minute work period was spent thinking about how I should start my assignment. Ten minutes later, my timer went off and I had only written the opening sentence. Technically, I finished one pomodoro, but in reality, I had completed only about 1% of my task. This technique could make you feel like you’ve accomplished a lot in a day when you actually still have a long way to go. 

The second con was that the five-minute breaks really broke my focus. For example, I might have been watching a lecture as part of my task, but after the five-minute break, I would have lost my train of thought and have to try and focus again. The Pomodoro technique doesn’t work great for more time-consuming tasks that require longer periods of intense focus.

A variation of the Pomodoro technique does exist — by simply changing the timings to 40 minutes of work and 10 minutes of rest. This strikes a good balance between having regular breaks, but not letting them shatter your focus.

 

Final Thoughts

Overall, the traditional Pomodoro technique is great for those who struggle to start, but not so much for those who need to build stamina while working or studying. But in the end, each of us is built different — what didn’t work for me may work for you. The only way to find out if this method of studying suits you is to try it out for yourself. Check out their official website to learn more, or have a go at the Pomodoro technique using this cool web-based timer. Happy studying!

Joanne Lim

Nanyang Tech '24

Joanne likes romanticising the small things in life, like coffee and sunshine. She also likes saving good reaction memes for a rainy day.
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