As a counselor at the TECHniques Center, one of the things that I hear most often from my students is that they have difficulty focusing. For many of my students, this is due to a struggle with Attention Deficit Disorder. A short attention span, though, is not only an issue that individuals with ADD have to deal with. It has been well documented that the average attention span of students and adults has been shortening for the past few decades. Some say that this is due to the rise of the internet, and the “google it” culture. Although the jury is still out on the causes and the exact implications of shortening attention spans, it is clear that something must be done about it if we are to have any hope of getting involved tasks completed effectively. As I personally have to deal with Attention Deficit throughout my studies and my career, I have had to come up with a strategy that I can use to work efficiently and effectively. One way that I get things done, even when I find it difficult to focus, is the Pomodoro technique. This technique was by Francesco Cirillo. Although it’s talked about frequently in productivity and business cultures, I’ve found that it has yet to really catch on with students in Higher Education. Many of my students have benefited from this technique, and I hope that it can help you too!
- Pick something that you would like to get done. This can be anything from homework to studying getting your course materials organized and ready to go. Make a commitment to yourself that you will spend 25 minutes of uninterrupted time working on that task. You can do it!
- Set yourself a timer for 25 minutes. This time can be adjusted by 5-10 minutes if you believe that you would work better in longer or shorter intervals, but do not go below fifteen minutes or above thirty five minutes.
- Work on that task, making sure to stay focused for the whole 25 minutes. This is the important part. Don’t do anything else! Don’t check Facebook. Don’t browse Netflix. Don’t check in on other tasks you need to do. Even with ADD, it’s very possible to focus for 25 minutes if you work at it.
- After the timer dings, set another timer for 5 minutes. For 5 minutes, do something totally different. Ideally, get up and get moving. Do some small organizational task or chore you have been putting off, take a walk around the area in which you’re studying, or stretch. The key here is to get up. Don’t just open another browser tab, don’t just switch the homework to another subject. This break is ideal to stave off the brain fatigue that contributes to difficulty paying attention.
- When you have taken that short break, start the process over again. Continue working on the task that you have laid out, or pick another one. Set another timer for 25 minutes, and work diligently, making sure to not get distracted. Take another break. Repeat.
- When you have completed 4 “pomodoros” take a longer break. Set a timer for 15-30 minutes and let your brain relax. Make sure to get up and get active. Don’t just stay sitting in front of the computer!
There are lots of ways to tweak the technique to get it “just right” for you, but the important thing is that you stick with it. It can be easy to justify skipping just one break or just get distracted a time or two, but don’t do it! Stick with it for a few rounds, and see if it works for you. There are plenty of apps that you can get for your Android or iPhone so that you don’t have to get a kitchen timer. My personal favorite is just called Pomodoro Timer. You can find it here.
This app takes all of the work out of setting up a timer. It automatically switches from working to resting, and lets you change duration and many other things. Try out the method today, and comment to let us know how it went!