How to use Pomodoro Technique to study effectively

Ever get that feeling when you’re studying that your mind wandered away three pages ago, and you don’t even know what you’re reading anymore? Or perhaps you’re feeling burned out and unable to motivate yourself to study again?

I bet you know exactly what I’m talking about. Everyone who had to study something both in class and on their own knows these feelings very well. I sure know them, I’ve encountered these feelings regardless of the material I was working on, and I’ve worked on quite a lot of very different subjects in my life.

There are many strategies to cope with procrastination. I, however, like to focus on simple ones: life is complicated enough as it is, and I prefer simplicity wherever I can find it. My strategy of choice, when it comes to time management, is often Pomodoro Technique by Francesco Cirillo.

And by the way, the Pomodoro Technique® is a registered trademark by Francesco Cirillo.

Is Pomodoro study method for you?

If you ever asked yourself one or more of the following questions:

How to focus when studying?

How to prevent burnout…

…overcome procrastination…

…or improve motivation when studying?

Chances are, you could benefit greatly from implementing Pomodoro Technique in your study routine. Now I apply Pomodoro almost universally in whatever I study.

Energize iPhone app made for Pomodoro Technique and goal tracking

Which, funnily enough, is coding mobile apps — and the first app I wanted to build was a timer to be used for Pomodoro Method (visible on the right and available here). I couldn’t find one that had all the features I wanted and didn’t cost a small fortune in subscriptions, so I decided I’ll create my own.

I ended up releasing it as my second app, and I’m very proud of it.

Still find it funny, though, that I’ve learned to code using Pomodoro method as a help, then coded a timer for Pomodoro Technique while enhancing my work with the same timer I was making.

What is Pomodoro Technique?

To put it simply, Pomodoro Technique is a time management method devised by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. Its main premise is dividing your work into manageable time blocks, with an aid of a timer. Its name, meaning tomato in Italian, comes after the shape of a kitchen timer that Cirillo used. While Cirillo used and endorsed use of a mechanical, physical timer, many people, like yours truly, end up using (or even coding themselves) an app for this purpose.

How to use Pomodoro Technique?

It’s a basic form of time boxing (or very akin to time boxing technique, there are some discussions still), and in simplicity and flexibility lies its strength. It works like this:

  1. Decide on the task at hand.
  2. Set and start the timer, start working. This is your focus session. Traditionally, it’s 25 minutes of work time.
  3. When the alarm rings, reset the timer and start the break. The tradition makes it between 5-10 minutes long.
  4. After four sessions done, take a longer break, 20 to 30 minutes.

Using Pomodoro Technique for study

Pomodoro as a technique is pretty unobtrusive concerning the ways you study. You can use it in a very straightforward manner: for example, cramming vocabulary through flashcards for the duration of the focus session and then taking a break. Or going through coding tutorials during focus, and during the break — well, breaking. Read — stop reading. You get the drill by now, I’m sure.

Or you can get creative. If you’re learning a language through immersion, then watch a TV show on Netflix, but do it like this: focus session in your target language, then switch to your native language for the duration of a break to give yourself some rest, especially if you’re just starting.

Again, the possibilities are endless. The possibilities are endless, what matters are breaks and some structure to your learning sessions. They can be counted, their number decreased and increased based on results.

It’s simple and flexible time management strategy

What I’ve found in my applications and talking to people using the method, is that actual methods of application vary greatly to suit individual needs. For example, I often use longer sessions (not to interrupt the flow when I’m programming and learning to code in general) and to prevent burnout I’m taking a longer break every three sessions.

This solves one of the common problems people find with Pomodoro, namely that it breaks their flow right in the middle of a task.

When it comes to Pomodoro Technique, its greatest strength lies in its flexibility and simplicity. You can adjust the number of sessions, their length, length of breaks and so on.

Moreover, not all of your studying must go through Pomodoro sessions. You can focus on using it only through memorising sessions and immersing in the language of your choice outside the regimen.

Effects of Pomodoro Technique

Overcoming procrastination

First, Pomodoro Technique helps you to avoid procrastination. Cirillo mentioned the simple act of winding a timer helping and symbolising resolve to complete tasks. And I find that — whether you’re really winding the timer or pushing a button in an app — it really helps to provide a transition between idle state and being in the zone. Moreover, if you’re really struggling and need just a tiny bit of starter to kick things off, you can try reverse pomodoro — where your break is longer than your focus phase.

Improving your focus

Time blocking in the form of Pomodoro Method anecdotally really helps with focus (though the scientific evidence is sadly scarce, I must admit) and therefore improves your productivity when learning. You’re motivated to complete your study session because there’s a reward at the end of the tunnel — a break. And our brains really like rewards, even if they’re more of a symbolic kind.

Preventing burnout

Also, by putting you out of your focus periodically, the method helps you to avoid burnout. It helps you reset, gather your thoughts. It might be a gentle reminder to go out of your room filled with books and other study material, to go for a quick walk, perhaps.

And I guess we all know how breaks are important in learning. How giving your brain to processany material is important.

Simple time tracking and motivation improver

There’s one more aspect of Pomodoro that’s often overlooked. Though very simple and rudimentary, it can be used as a time tracking tool. Even simply marking numbers of sessions done that day as strokes in your calendar or a number in your spreadsheet can give you information how much of your time is actually spent studying. And what progress do you make in that time — by utilising this knowledge you can estimate whether you should spend more time studying — or the contrary: you’re precisely on track to achieving your goals.

Tracking numbers of daily sessions and building a habit of achieving a certain number of sessions per day or week can be a powerful motivation to keeping your progress at a steady pace.

Analog timer or a Pomodoro app?

This is especially true with apps, which can motivate you in various ways analog timer cannot. For example, I’ve made Energize in such a way, that the lightning bolt at the initial screen of the app is getting more and more — well, energized — as you progress towards your target. Also, changing colours allow you to see your current progress level at a glance. You won’t get it with any physical timer.

On the other hand, the physical act of winding a timer is something that apps cannot achieve, and I realise for many it might be a game changer.

To Pomodoro or not to Pomodoro?

Pomodoro won’t save you from all your study related problems, and it won’t get the job done instead of you. But, by incorporating cue-habit-reward pipeline it’s a fantastic motivational tool and provides a simple, yet effective time management strategy, which makes it very worth trying.

Well, while not everyone would like to use a dedicated app, it wouldn’t hurt to at least try it with an ordinary kitchen timer, the way Francesco Cirillo did, am I right?

Just to let you know: this website nor Energize app are not affiliated with, associated with, or endorsed by the Pomodoro Technique® or Francesco Cirillo.