I have always been a procrastinator. Throughout elementary, middle, and high school I would complete homework at the last minute, and as I got older my procrastination and relationship with my work worsened. I became paralyzed at the thought of spending hours on an essay, especially when starting. Staring at a blank page made me anxious, and I continued to push off my work until I felt “ready”. My perfectionism and lack of time management created a vicious cycle of procrastination and poorly written assignments that added to my stress and tore down my self-efficacy. Eventually, I became so anxious about an essay that I would end up not turning in anything, as even thinking about an essay put me into a negative spiral. In my senior year of high school, I missed enough assignments to put my academic standing and graduation at risk. I knew I needed to change the way I approached my work, and quickly.
I’m telling you this because I want to share a work method that helped quell my anxiety and keep me on track. This method, called the Pomodoro Technique, was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. Cirillo used a pomodoro (the Italian word for tomato) shaped kitchen timer as his tool for productivity, hence the name of the technique. The Pomodoro Technique works as follows (for more detailed information, I recommend you visit this website) :
Choose a task you would like to get done
Set a timer for 25 minutes
For 25 minutes, only work on the task at hand
When your time is up, put a checkmark on a piece of paper to track your progress
Take a 5-minute break between each session
After four pomodoros, take a longer break (typically 20 to 30 minutes) before starting the next round
Continue until you have finished your to-do list for the day
This method is accessible to everyone as all you need is your work, a paper, and a timer. You can use a kitchen timer like Francesco Cirillo, or you can use one of the many apps that have automated this method. An app that I personally use is Be Focused on my computer, but if I want an app that prevents me from checking my phone, I use Forest, (Flora is a great free alternative). You can customize this method to your personal attention span and time frame, although I strongly suggest you keep your work sessions at 25 minutes. Anything more and you lose the efficiency that comes with working against the clock. That sort of challenge keeps you focused for the entire session. On days when I’m feeling especially tired or unmotivated, I shorten my sessions to 15 minutes and work my way up to 25. I also strongly suggest not using your phone during the short breaks. These breaks are meant to re-energize you, so using this time to get some water or a snack, use the restroom, walk around, or stretch your limbs provides a satisfying break that makes the transition from rest to work as seamless as possible (For more suggestions on how to best spend your break time, check out this article).
I’m not exaggerating when I say this has revolutionized the way I work. Promising myself to work for less than half an hour is significantly easier than promising to work for long hours, and it’s far less overwhelming. As each session passes I feel accomplished by the work I’ve done and inspired to continue working. The constant breaks keep me moving around so I don’t get stiff limbs or a headache. After using the Pomodoro technique regularly, I can also better plan out my day as I know how long it will take me to get certain tasks done. This is essential during particularly hectic weeks.
The most important thing I learned from using the Pomodoro technique was the importance of a healthy mindset when doing work. I used to frame my work as one big thing I needed to finish rather than small, manageable steps that eventually lead to finishing my work. This overwhelming responsibility of finishing my work kept me from even starting and ruined any motivation I felt to even sit down and start the task. I highly recommend this technique to anyone struggling with procrastination or feeling like they cannot focus for long periods of time. A year ago I thought I would never be able to work efficiently; now I can finally feel excited again about all the great ideas I have to share.