How to Stop Procrastinating and Focus: A Guide to the Pomodoro Technique

As someone who has to create videos, podcasts, and other articles on a weekly schedule, procrastination is my number one enemy.

You would think that after years of working on this site I would have gotten over this problem, but it still rears its ugly head every week.

Procrastination is a familiar foe to every student as well. Whether it’s that 10-page research paper that you wait to write until 12 hours (or 4…or 1) before it’s due or that exam you meant to start studying for a week ago, we’ve all had that moment when procrastination made our lives really unpleasant.

There are lots of ways to combat procrastination: planning ahead, starting work long before it’s due, or even taking on fewer commitments are all options you should consider. The most effective technique for me, however, has been the Pomodoro Technique.

Pomo-what?

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management philosophy developed by Francesco Cirillo. It’s based on working in 25-minute intervals and using a timer to keep yourself accountable (more on this in a moment). The name comes from the Italian word for “tomato” (the kitchen timer that Cirillo first used was shaped like a tomato).

You don’t have to know Italian or even like tomatoes to use the technique. It’s helpful for breaking out of the grips of procrastination no matter the project. In today’s post, we’re going to break down everything you need to know to use the Pomodoro Technique to conquer procrastination and get back to work!

How to Use the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is simple and easy to remember. Here’s how you do it:

  1. Pick 1 task to work on – Just one. No multi-tasking–it’s less productive.
  2. Work only on that task for 25 minutes – I don’t care if all your roommates suddenly decide to build a slip-n-slide down your dorm hallway or have a spontaneous Nerf battle. You don’t even think about it until the session is up.
  3. Make note of distractions – This part is key. Whenever you think of another task that you need to work on or something you’d rather be doing, write it down on a piece of paper next to you.
  4. Take a 5-minute break, repeat steps 1-3 three more times, and then take a longer break before starting again – Use your break to stretch, get a drink of water, or take a short walk. Regular breaks make you healthier and more productive.

That’s all there is to it.

Why It’s Effective

Honestly, you could just stop right here and have all you need to know to execute the Pomodoro Technique and kick procrastination’s butt. If you’re a geek like me, though, perhaps you want to know a bit more about why the Pomodoro Technique works.

Here are three reasons it’s so effective:

  1. It externalizes discipline. Since your willpower is limited, there’s only so much you can do to “force yourself” to complete a task. This uses up a lot of energy that you’d be better off devoting to other things such as, well, doing your actual work. Using a timer takes that burden off of you and places it on an external machine that, barring power failure, doesn’t get tired and doesn’t care if you’d rather be doing something else.
  2. It reframes output-based tasks to input-based. A task like “write a ten-page paper on the decline and fall of the Roman Empire” is huge and intimidating. You really have no idea how long that will take, and the sheer size of it is enough to bring the procrastination demons to the surface. The Pomodoro Technique avoids this problem by setting a fixed amount of time-based input for each task. You can do almost anything for 25 minutes, after all, particularly when you have a timer to remind you it will be over soon.
  3. It gets distractions out of your mind. Making note of distractions gets them out of your mind and severs the connection between a craving for distraction and acting on that craving. Over time, this trains your ability to focus.

3 Ways to Improve the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro technique is great on its own, but I’m always looking for ways to further optimize my productivity. Consider these “bonus steps” that, while not necessary, can supercharge your productivity.

1. Combine It with a Commitment Device

If you already use a productivity app such as Cold Turkey Writer, you can combine it with the Pomodoro Technique. In the case of Cold Turkey Writer, there’s a built-in timer, which I can combine with the app’s ability to prevent me from doing anything else but writing.

Tools like this add an extra level of commitment and accountability to the Pomodoro Technique. You could also pair the technique with another website-blocking app.

2. Experiment with Time Intervals

Twenty-five minutes isn’t necessarily the optimal interval; it’s just what the technique’s creator used. You should experiment with different time intervals to see what works best. If you find that you can focus better for twenty minutes or thirty minutes, do that.

Also, if you’re like me you may find that you only need to use the Pomodoro Technique as a way to get over the initial hurdle of distraction and into the flow state. If that’s the case, then feel free to keep working beyond twenty-five minutes. As with all thing in productivity, the best technique is the one that works for you.

3. Mise-en-place

Mise-en-place is a French term that basically means “everything in its place” (check out the video above to hear Martin pronouncing it en français).

In the culinary world, it refers to having all the ingredients and cooking equipment out and ready to go, placed in the most optimal locations for maximum cooking efficiency.

I think this philosophy transfers nicely to the world of everyday productivity. When you’re studying, mise-en-place could be anything from having the right apps open to having plenty of mechanical pencils ready to go.

The point is getting everything in place before starting so that you don’t get distracted or derailed when you can’t find the tool you need. This also means putting away and closing things that might distract you, such as your favorite websites or your 3DS.

Recommended Pomodoro Apps

While the original technique might have involved a kitchen timer, today we have plenty of excellent apps to help with Pomodoro sessions. Here are a few of my recommendations:

Tomighty – A free and open source desktop Pomodoro app, available for both Mac and Windows.

Tide – A free app that combines a Pomodoro timer with ambient noise or your favorite music. It’s like Forest, but with more features. Available for both iOS and Android.

Study with Me Video

If you want the experience of a Pomodoro session with a bit of company, you can study along with this video of me doing a 25-minute Pomodoro.

Get Out There and Pomo-Do-It!

If you’ve never tried the Pomodoro Technique, it could be the key to breaking through the barrier of procrastination. I hope you’ve found my implementation guide helpful and that it brings you much success in your studying.

How do you use the Pomodoro Technique in your studying? Do you have any tips for how to optimize it?

Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Can’t see the embedded video above? Watch it on YouTube.

Thomas Frank is the geek behind College Info Geek. After paying off $14K in student loans before graduating, landing jobs and internships, starting a successful business, and travelling the globe, he's now on a mission to help you build a remarkable college experience as well. Get the Newsletter | Twitter | Instagram

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4 Comments on "How to Stop Procrastinating and Focus: A Guide to the Pomodoro Technique"

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Jean-David Roth

Thank you a lot for your valuable content.
I will try the technique, but also found your other infos about the best way to learn things very helpful. As they really seem to make sense, I will try to implement something that works for me, or use one of the available apps.

Military Words

pomodoro technique is very precise. I’ll try it out and of my posts you know that there are techniques like this .. nice info i’ll try the pomodoro technique

Tom

Hi, today I released app that support users using Pomodoro Technique. It is called Focus Timer Reborn, It is fully free and you can download it from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=net.hubalek.android.apps.focustimer

I’m continuously working in improvements so feel free to contact me with ideas for improvements.

Daniel Alexander Smith Dahl
Daniel Alexander Smith Dahl

Hi Thomas,

Thanks for a thorough explanation of the pomodoro technique.
In regards to the apps you’ve mentioned, have you heard of the website kanbanflow? You have a pomodoro timer at the website, however the thing kanbanflow does is that you can write down your tasks as cards. This makes it possible to get a overview of things to do, but you also have lists for ‘in progress’ and ‘done’.
I find the website extremely effective when I have large tasks to do as it makes it easy to get a bearing of every little task evolved and you can even estimate how much time you’re going to spend on each task.

I hope the explanation of kanbanflow is understandable, but I recommend going to the website yourself to see what it can be used for.

With best wishes,
Daniel Dahl

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