How to use a timer to improve your study effectiveness

March 11, 2021

Pomodoro is a time management strategy that helps you restore focus and be significantly more effective when studying.

Francesco Cirillo, the creator of the Pomodoro technique, named it after the Italian word for tomato (“pomodoro”). The name was inspired by a tomato-shaped kitchen timer Cirillo used to schedule his study sessions and breaks. Plagued by procrastination, he tried to stay motivated by working in 25-minute bursts of time followed by five-minute breaks.

This is how you can make the Pomodoro technique work for you:

Set your timer. Find a quiet place to do your work and set a timer for 25 minutes. You can use your kitchen timer or the stopwatch on your cell phone. There are a number of great Pomodoro Apps in both the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store.

Push past your doubts. When you're working on a challenging assignment, 25 minutes can seem like a long time. If you look at the clock and only three minutes have passed, you may think, “Has it only been three minutes? There's no way I can do another 22 minutes!” Ignore this thought and focus back on your work.
Take a rest. Once your 25 minutes are up and your timer goes off, your first Pomodoro study session is done. Take five minutes to rest and do something else entirely. Research shows that if you’re working on a task that takes more time, such as studying for an exam, your focus is less likely to fade if you keep taking brief breaks. You could stretch your legs, close your eyes, or listen to one song. One study even suggests that looking at pictures of nature can refresh you. Make sure your break is not longer than five minutes.

Start round two. After your break is over, set your timer for another 25-minute Pomodoro study session. When you have finished four Pomodoro study sessions (25 minutes of work and five minutes of rest per session), take a longer break of around 15 or 20 minutes. That’s when you can get a snack, text friends, or surf the internet a little if you like.

Be flexible. The Pomodoro technique does not need to be followed word-for-word to make you more productive. If you come to the end of a 25-minute Pomodoro study session and still feel motivated to keep working, then do so! But don’t make it too long. After 45 minutes, it’s a good idea to take a break.

Give it time. According to Francesco Cirillo, it may take seven to 20 days before you benefit from the Pomodoro technique and rein in your procrastination. If you have become very good at procrastinating, it may take even longer. So, give it a good try before you decide that it’s not for you.


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