Your prehistoric brain doesn’t want you to focus. A need to survive is hurting your study time.
Jacob Flood, November 12, 2017
In a world of distractions, sitting down to accomplish a task can seem impossible. While some people can find their flow state for hours, not all people are as lucky.
Francesco Cirillo, is one of the unlucky ones. As a University student, he tried to see if he could study for 20 minutes at a time, undistracted. He used a tomato shaped timer to keep time, creating the Pomodoro (tomato in Italian) technique.
The rules of the Pomodoro technique are as follows:
1. Set a timer for 20 minutes.
2. Work seriously and intensely until the timer runs out.
3. Take a five-minute break.
4. Rinse and repeat.
5. After your fourth interval, take a 20 minute break
Clean and simple. Using short 20-minute intervals – referred to as pomodoros – we are going to supercharge our productivity.
Historically, the ability to stay too focused was a detriment. Due to a large amount of predators and danger, anyone who focused too intensely on one thing put their lives at risk.
When you’re working at a desk, remember: thousands of years of evolution are working against you. The Pomodoro fixes this by separating your work into small, manageable, bite-sized pieces.
It’s very similar to how you train at the gym: several exercises, performed individually, with a break in between each. Just as the break lets your body recover at the gym, taking breaks will allow your mind to recover while you work.
Mental acuity drops off after only a few minutes of focusing. Given a list of numbers to memorize, research shows that people are significantly more likely to remember the words on the extremities of the list: either at the beginning or the end.
In the same way, during a 4-hour work session, you remember the material you see at the beginning or end better than what you learn in the middle. In terms of efficiency, the middle of any learning is essentially wasted.
By separating your sessions into tiny pieces, you get a beginning and end part every 20 minutes rather than every 4 hours. Smaller intervals means better memory. Better memory means better output.
The pomodoro timer.
It’s time to get to the details.
Here is a list of the specifics you need to use the Pomodoro technique properly. These tricks will allow you to go from an average worker to a 4-hour productivity machine.
1. Use a physical timer, not your phone. Preferably, get one that doesn’t tick every second (that can be stressful) and whose alarm won’t startle you. Timers are available for purchase on the Pomodoro website, though any kitchen timer will work fine. If you must use your phone, put it on airplane mode.
2. Actually use the timer. This one needs to be mentioned, because most people think they can estimate 20 minutes. That defeats the purpose of the system, and will ruin all of its benefits. The long-story-short explanation is that without the timer, you will slowly condition yourself to crave the breaks, and your focus will begin to waver during the intervals, in anticipation. Use the freaking timer.
3. Put your phone on silent, and out of sight. No exceptions. Vibrate is not good enough. Having your phone visible is itself a distraction, whether you respond to it or not, so keep it hidden.
4. Keep the timer out of sight. This one is optional, but is often preferred it. With the timer in sight, it encourages you to constantly check it to see how much time is remaining. You don’t need this kind of distraction.
5. When the timer rings, you have one minute to stop working. This is regardless of whether you were in the middle of something or not. Do not keep going, or you’ll ruin the flow of the schedule, and defeat the purpose of the technique. Don’t worry about being “on a roll”; stopping on a high-note has been shown to be a good thing, since it makes getting back into your rhythm easier.
6. During your break, stand up and walk away from your desk. It doesn’t really matter what you do once your leave, but do not stay seated. Doing some mild exercise; a few push ups, air squats, or a brisk walk are great for getting your blood pumping, adrenaline flowing, and providing you the energy and concentration you’ll need.
7. Play with the interval lengths. 20-minute Pomodoros work great, but this will depend on you preference and on the material you’re working on. Easier content usually requires shorter intervals.
8. Focus. Focus like you’ve never focused before. This is a sprint, not a marathon: push hard and make the best of each Pomodoro. Pump yourself up, set a single goal you want to accomplish, and dive in.
9. Commit. Once you start a Pomodoro, finish it, regardless of how little motivation you have. If you start giving up on your Pomodoros, your subconscious will recognize the pattern and make you feel tired prematurely. Be stronger than yourself: if you start it, finish it.
Used properly, this technique will let you learn more in four hours than most people do in an entire day. Being productive is due to smart work, not long work. By settting up your timer, and strictly adhering to the Pomodoro rules, you will have one of the most efficient work days you’ve ever had.
Ready, set, Pomodoro.
When it comes to work, everyone is different.
Different tasks. Different goals. Different techniques, and priorities, and capabilities. But what makes us unique also hurts us: the tools we’re using are just not optimized for our work.
We’ve spent a lot of time trying to solve this problem. The outcome is more personal than ever – the best place to start is our own minds. Mindset is the first ever tool to give you the immediate feedback you need to truly improve your productivity.