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The Pomodoro Technique



The Summer Term ushers in a time of intensive revision for students in exam years. As the outdoors beckons with brighter weather, striking a balance between work and rest is ideal, and finding ways to focus deeply on work during scheduled times is key.

In recent years, the Pomodoro Technique has become a popular time-management and productivity tool for working people. The method was developed by business consultant Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s and advanced in his book published in 2018. It employs a timer to break work down into manageable intervals, separated by short breaks. The traditional interval is 25 minutes of work – the optimal work unit – followed by a 5-minute break. After four of these sessions, a two-hour period of focused work has been accomplished, earning a longer break of 15-30 minutes.

A study by science journal Cognition in 2011 found that brief diversions of attention can improve focus on tasks significantly over longer periods. Researchers have found that the brain, when deactivated and reactivated after short periods, is far less susceptible to the focus impairment brought on by sustained attention over time. The 5-minute breaks can take the form of standing up to stretch or walk around, checking messages or having a drink or snack, and these activities serve to bring in other sensations to disrupt the constant stimulation of work tasks, giving the mind a necessary reprieve and reset.

Any work task can be broken down into a set of ‘pomodoros’ that can be satisfyingly ticked off on a To-Do list. The full Pomodoro Technique is applied using the following steps:

  1. Set a task

  2. Set a 25-minute timer

  3. Work until the timer rings

  4. Take a 5-minute break

  5. Every 4 pomodoros, take a restorative 15-30 minute break

Of course, distractions do happen – and the Pomodoro Technique allows for disruption. If a distraction occurs during a work interval, take the 5-minute break straight away and restart the process.

If students are struggling to formulate an exam revision timetable, a good method is to follow broadly the pattern of their school timetable, which allocates time in the right proportion to each subject. During revision weeks in school, students can allot pomodoros (1 each) to the day’s lessons in the evening, to consolidate the day’s learning. During study leave, each 1-hour lesson can be allotted 2 pomodoros to adhere to the school timetable.

For more Pomodoro tips and tools, the task managers at Todoist offer many, including grouping smaller tasks into a single pomodoro, and recording what you completed after each unit. A fresh and flexible method – well worth a try!

— Katie Musgrave