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The Pomodoro Technique and the Science of Focus

By: Carolyn Mish, Contributing Writer

While it may seem simple, the ability to focus on and complete a task is integral to a healthy lifestyle. In both adolescent school years and during work, it is necessary to maintain focus. This has proven to be no easy feat: studies show that procrastination impacts over 20% of the population. Setting aside tasks as well as becoming distracted while “multitasking” is all too easy in the age of digital media. Social media is designed to keep you engaged, and during these tumultuous times when we’re supposed to stay inside, it can be difficult to stay focused on the task at hand. Taking a look at the history and neuroscience behind a specific working strategy called the Pomodoro Method may help you lower stress and heighten your focus.

Where it All Began:

The Pomodoro Technique was created in the late 1980s by Francesco Cirillo, who was a student at Luiss Business School in Rome. After struggling to feel motivated in school, Cirillo observed his classmates and discovered that breaking up his study time into intervals helped him focus. He named the technique after the red, tomato-shaped timer he used to time the intervals he used to focus, and thus, the Pomodoro Technique was born. Since his discovery, he has expanded his teachings of the method and even wrote a book about it, titled The Pomodoro Technique: The Acclaimed Time-Management System That Has Transformed How We Work.

The Pomodoro Technique:

The Pomodoro Technique itself is very simple. All you need is a timer, a pen, and paper. You choose a singular task to work on and work on it uninterrupted for 25 minutes. By setting a timer, you ensure that you work on the task for just 25 minutes. If a Pomodoro is interrupted, the task must be abandoned or done later. After the timer rings, you take a short break of 2-5 minutes. During these breaks, you leave the space in which you were completing your task. You can get a snack, a glass of water, meditate, or go for a short walk. Then, you return and complete another Pomodoro. After four Pomodoros, which you mark on your pen and paper, you take a break that is longer than each previous break.

The Neuroscience Behind It:

You may be wondering how the Pomodoro Technique is more effective than cramming a large amount of work into a large period of time with no breaks. As long as the work is complete, right? This ideology may be false.

The reinforcement theory shows that the shorter the amount of time between rewards, the more motivated our brains are to complete our tasks in order to continue receiving rewards. By telling ourselves that we get breaks after completing 25 minutes of uninterrupted work, we look forward to the break and the work goes by faster.

Short breaks between tasks are proven to be vital. Being sedentary isn’t healthy to begin with; we aren’t designed to sit hunched over computer screens for hours, and the breaks actually improve focus as well.

Constant stimuli are viewed by the brain as unimportant, so our focus wavers. By diverting our attention after each interval, we allow our brains to see that the consumed information is important.

How You Can Implement the Pomodoro Technique:

To implement the Pomodoro Technique, you don’t have to strive for perfection. Just take a task you would normally spend an extended amount of time on and break up the time you use to complete it. This can include homework assignments, writing papers, revising study materials, or even completing a chore such as folding the laundry. While the original Pomodoro technique is named after the iconic red tomato timers, any timer will do to help you keep track of time.

If staying off of your phone is a priority, there are multiple phone applications that can help keep you on task. If you struggle staying off of your smartphone, turn the device on silent and place it across the room while you complete your tasks. The Pomodoro Method is completely customizable to suit your needs and will help you focus and make the most of your time.


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