One of the most effective ways to learn is to use the Pomodoro Technique, which creates periods of twenty-five minutes of working, followed by five minutes of relaxing. The ideal outcome is to chain four of these periods together. If you “graduate” from this, you can dive into fifty minutes of working, followed by ten minutes of relaxing, or even the 60-60-30 method, which is a period of fifty minutes on, ten minutes off, fifty minutes on, and forty minutes off.
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Pomodoro and Friends
A practice that can help you push past distractions and train yourself into a hyper-focused state is the Pomodoro Technique. Even better, this method reminds you to take occasional breaks to keep you alert and maximize your productivity.
The Pomodoro Technique was invented in the 1990s by a developer, author, and entrepreneur named Francesco Cirillo. He discovered that if he broke his work schedule down into short sections he timed with his tomato-shaped timer, his ability to focus on his work was improved. Over time, he even found that his attention span lengthened and his ability to concentrate on single projects over a longer period of time improved.
More than that, the timed and scheduled system of working reminded him to take regular breaks, which increased his motivation to work and improved his ability to solve problems creatively. He named his new technique pomodoro, after the timer that facilitated the whole process.
If you also want to enhance your productivity, increase your attention, and improve your concentration while taking time to relax and recuperate, the Pomodoro Technique could be perfect for you. Here’s how you do it:
First, choose a task to complete. If you have several tasks to complete, or your task is very long and complex, you will need to break your work into smaller tasks that can be completed within twenty-five minutes. Of course, for us, this will always be in the context of learning, whether consuming or analyzing and processing information.
For example, if you want to read a book, you can divide it into twenty-five-minute sections based on your reading speed, perhaps slightly more than you think you can fit in. You can always keep working after the timer goes off, but if you run out of things to do during a pomodoro, you won’t be able to complete the unit uninterrupted. You don’t want that!
Second, set your timer to twenty-five minutes. This will define the length of time you’ll be working without any breaks or interruptions.
Cirillo believes that a physical timer you can twist to twenty-five minutes is the best method to use, as this allows you to physically rev yourself up for work by ritualistically moving the timer with your hands. It’s worth investing in a timer to add this element to your sessions.
Third, work, study, or learn until the timer rings. Once it rings, you can put a checkmark or a sticker onto a piece of paper so that you know how many pomodoros you’ve managed to complete in a single day. This lets you track your progress and really see how much time you’ve dedicated to your project.
You can get a whiteboard to put up in your work and study area, or you can tape a piece of paper to the wall to track your progress. The whole point is to remain aware of what you’re doing and to take pride in the number of pomodoros you manage to complete. Uninterrupted sessions are something to be proud of!
Fourth, take a short break. Five minutes is a good period of time for a break, but it doesn’t have to be exact. The whole point is to rest, stretch, and get yourself into good shape for another pomodoro. Keep it short!
When you’re done with a pomodoro, you can watch a YouTube video, go for a walk, or take a break to get a cup of water, tea, or coffee. Getting up, moving around, and relaxing your mind is the order of the day. But don’t get too far off track, and don’t you dare engage in anything that will take longer than five minutes.
Fifth, every four pomodoros, take a longer break. This break can last between fifteen and twenty-five minutes, but should really be as long as you need to rest, recuperate, and feel fresh and ready to start another pomodoro. This is your chance to really unwind for a bit; stretch your mental muscles, but know that you are probably in for another set of four pomodoros.
During your longer breaks, you can read about something else, spend time on your favorite social media sites, or even take a power nap. With a longer break, you have even more options for your own enjoyment. And after four pomodoros, you can do it guilt-free, because you’ve already done a good amount of studying or learning that day.
An essential aspect of this productivity method is that a pomodoro is an inviolable, indivisible period of work. You can’t start your timer, get distracted, and count the time you weren’t working as a valid pomodoro. If you’re interrupted or discover yourself spacing out, you have to stop your pomodoro and restart it when you’re ready to begin again. The whole point of the method is to train yourself to be productive and to focus for twenty-five whole minutes; if you fail, you start again until your brain gets used to the rhythm. Sooner or later, you will become accustomed to the pace, and it’ll be a lot easier to focus and pound out work for the whole pomodoro.
Interruptions from other people are harder to control, but Cirillo teaches a method to overcome that possibility, too. His advice is to follow the “inform, negotiate, call back” method to handle untimely interruptions. Using it involves a four-step process.
- First, inform the person who approaches you that you’re busy right now and can’t interrupt your work for them at the moment.
- Second, negotiate when you can get back to them so that they know you aren’t going to ignore their needs in favor of work.
- Third, schedule a follow-up. Setting a specific time to get back to them will reassure them and make them more likely to leave you to your pomodoro.
- Fourth and finally, call them back when your pomodoro is complete. Because you rescheduled their interruption, it becomes your responsibility to get back to them and engage with their needs.
This method doesn’t have to be complicated. Simply saying, “I can’t interrupt my work right now. Can I call you back in ten minutes (or however long is left in your pomodoro)?” fulfills three of four steps. All you have to do after that is call them when your timer goes off. The ring to remind you to stop working then becomes a reminder to get in touch with the other person! After one or two times doing this, your coworkers, family, or friends will understand what you’re doing and trust you to get back to them reliably, allowing you to continue your pomodoros uninterrupted. Almost nothing (within reason) is ever so urgent that it can’t wait twenty-five minutes, or even two hours. The only thing that is urgent is the way you get distracted.
Remember, despite the strict need to continue pomodoros for the entire twenty-five minutes, they’re not a prison sentence. You are more than able to continue work past the twenty-five-minute timer as long as you remember to take a break once the chunk of work you chose to do is finished. Breaks also increase productivity by keeping you refreshed and ready for work at all hours of the day. Work, then rest.
After you’ve trained on the Pomodoro Technique for a while, it’s possible to increase your attention span and improve your concentration even further by doubling the timespan into the 50-10 rule. This encourages you to set your study and productivity timer to fifty instead of twenty-five minutes, and lets you take a break twice as long once you finish. The benefit of this is that you’re resting and recuperating and pursuing other interests just as much, but your ability to focus and be productive should be even more finely honed and well-disciplined. Being able to do more for longer, without needing to take a break or being distracted by interruptions, is always a good thing. You’ll probably have to work up to this.
When the 50-10 rule becomes easy and manageable, you can push yourself one step further into the 60-60-30 method.
The 60-60-30 method involves working for sixty minutes twice, and then resting for thirty minutes. More specifically, it suggests using two iterations of the 50-10 method back to back, and then following those two sessions with resting for thirty minutes. Setting a timer when you work and rest allows you to avoid looking at the clock, and at this point, working or studying for fifty minutes straight should feel fairly natural. This method just amps up the process further while reminding you to stay refreshed and rested while you’re getting stuff done.
Overall, it should be clear why these methods of focusing are successful at battling your short attention span. To effectively learn, you must first be able to pay attention.