“I just can’t make myself get started,” a high school senior told me. She was sitting in my office in obvious distress. College deadlines were approaching, and all she had for an essay were a few scattered notes.
“Try a Pomodoro,” I suggested. “Right here, right now. I’ll set the timer for 25 minutes. You don’t have to finish your essay — just work on it till the timer goes off, then take a break.”
Twenty-five minutes later, she looked up. “OMG. I’m half-way done. That totally worked!”
When faced with a task you are dreading or that seems overwhelming, the hardest part is usually just getting started. And this is the space where so many of the parent-child homework battles live.
The single most concrete, effective tool I’ve found for starting a task and remaining focused on one’s work is the Pomodoro Technique. Alas, I was twice my student’s age before I heard about this strategy. During an interview with Barbara Oakley — author and creator of the wildly popular Learning How to Learn MOOC — she shared with me that of all the techniques she teaches in that course, the Pomodoro Method is “far and away” the most popular.
Since that interview, I’ve spent four years teaching workshops to adolescents on how to build stronger study habits. And in the final surveys, nearly 100% of the students rank this strategy as the most useful. There is no close second.
What is the Pomodoro Technique?
Developed by Francesco Cirillo, this strategy is deceptively simple. It involves using a timer to help you work and break at set intervals.
- First, choose a single task to accomplish. Remove all other distractions.
- Next, set a timer for 25 minutes and work until the timer goes off.
- Then, take a five-minute break: stand up, stretch, get a drink of water, etc.
- After three or four of these 25-minute intervals, take a longer break (15 – 30 minutes) to recharge.
As Dr. Oakley told me, this technique “trains your ability to focus and reinforces that relaxing at the end is critical to the process of learning.” You can hear more from Dr. Oakley in this three-minute video (a good one to share with your children or…