What’s the best way to fight procrastination, maintain focus, and be highly productive throughout the day? It’s a question that has deep implications in the life of a student, being the very crux that defines the successful from the lacking. In my search for the answer to this Holy Grail of conundrums, I came across the Pomodoro technique. It most certainly answered my prayers regarding maintenance of focus, and provides the drive and discipline that many of us lack starting out in our premedical careers.
HistoryThe Pomodoro Technique was invented in the early 1990’s by Francesco Cirillo. He named it Pomodoro after the tomato-shaped timer he used to track his work as a university student. Since then it has gained increasing popularity in various productivity and self-improvement circles.
TheoryAny large task, assignment, or series of tasks can be broken down into short timed intervals – called Pomodoros. Each is separated by a short break. This takes advantage of the fact that our brains have limited attention spans, and uses the short blocks of retention to build a more holistic picture of the task, assignment, series of tasks, or information that you are trying to grasp or learn.
How To Use It
FIRSTChoose a task or series of tasks to be accomplished. For purposes of premed students think in terms of assignments, papers, and study materials that need to be conquered in each given timeframe.
SECONDSet a timer for 25 minutes. A note on timers: you can certainly go old-fashioned, or get an app on your phone. My favorite is called ‘30/30’ on the iPhone. It’s my preferred app for these exercises because of its clean interface and flexibility, thus making it easy to do the traditional Pomodoro or customize it to your liking. More on that in a bit.
THIRDContinue to work on the task until the timer goes off after the given 25 minutes. Avoid constantly checking the timer; you’re not racing the clock for anything, you’re simply just trying to break up your material into smaller, more digestible chunks – so be efficient, focused, and disciplined and avoid the temptation.
FOURTHTake a short break of 5 minutes. Make sure during this time that you get up and move. Do not take the break in the exact same spot you are working. I like holding a third-world squat, stretch, and move around. Now is the time to use the bathroom and grab a refill on your water or snack.
FIFTHAfter 4 Pomodoro cycles, take a longer break of 20 minutes. Now repeat this process until you have accomplished what you set out to!
DistractionsDuring your Pomodoro cycles, do your best to limit distractions. The whole point is 25 minutes of intense focus. Do not check Facebook, Reddit, or even the Med School Insiders website on and off. Give primed focus to the task at hand. I put my phone on airplane mode or Do Not Disturb mode. Careful though, as Do Not Disturb mode can affect the notifications of your timer app if you’re using your smart phone. If someone else comes knocking, use the “inform, negotiate, call back” strategy:
- Inform the distracting party that you’re in the middle of something important
- Negotiate a time when you can get back to them
- Call back when your Pomodoro is complete and you’re ready to address their need