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(Last Updated On: December 4, 2014)

Whether your end-of-semester work entails studying, writing a research paper, or grading a stack of exams, it can be challenging to find the motivation and focus to get everything done by the deadline. You may be a chronic procrastinator, scrambling at the last minute to complete the work, or attempt to multitask, which reduces overall productivity and increases the likelihood of errors. How can you increase your focus and productivity in order to get everything done with minimal stress?

Last week, the Tech Tip of the Week outlined many ways to avoid the myriad distractions that can threaten your productivity. This week’s tip will focus on one popular productivity method, the Pomodoro Technique.

One of the main benefits of the Pomodoro Technique is its simplicity. In its most basic form, all this technique requires is a timer and a piece of paper.

So, how does it work?

  1. Pick a task.
  2. Set a timer for 25 minutes. Commit to focusing on that task for 25 minutes.
  3. Work on the task for the full 25 minutes. Fully immersing yourself in the task may require closing your browser or putting away distractions. You can do it- it is only 25 minutes!
  4. When the timer rings, put a checkmark on the piece of paper.
  5. Take a 5 minute break. This is your time to browse the web, check your email/Facebook/Twitter, talk to your friend or walk around.
  6. Start again! After every 4 Pomodoros, take a longer (15-30 minute) break.

This approach works well for many people because it divides work into discrete, manageable time periods and schedules in mental breaks, important for alleviating stress and boosting productivity. Over time, you may find that it becomes easier to focus and you become more efficient at completing tasks. I can personally attest to the value of this approach, which was a major reason I was able to actually finish my dissertation in graduate school.

Looking for some tools to help?

There are numerous Pomodoro Technique apps that have been developed for Android and iOS. Pomodroido (Free, Android), Clockwork Tomato (Free, Android), Flat Tomato (Free, iOS) and Focus Time ($4.99, iOS) are popular mobile apps. There are also many free web app timers available, including Pomodoro Time, moosti, and Marinara Timer. If you find that you need a little help with controlling potential distractions, Strict Workflow is a Chrome browser extension that will block distracting websites during the work periods. If you are into the Quantified Self movement, you will appreciate that many of these apps record the number of Pomodoros completed in a day so you can track your productivity over time.