The Pomodoro Technique: Stop Procrastinating Today

Academia is gearing up for its final blow: exam season. And as it approaches, so too comes with it heaps of assignments, essays of the 20 page variety, and entire textbooks to read. We have lots of work to do, which means, the time between now and summer will be very poorly spent. That’s because we university students, in general, are extremely proficient procrastinators. Visit any library these days and you’ll be greeted by a familiar sight: students wasting time. Based on observation alone, the typical “study day” for the average student follows the same general pattern:

Arrive ? Unpack bag ? Go on Facebook for half an hour ? Open textbook to the right page ? Read 2 pages/do 1 problem ? Check Blackberry ? Read 2 pages ? Go to the bathroom ? Check email ? Check Facebook ? etc, etc.

It’s astounding how long we say we spend “studying” when, if we’re honest with ourselves, the majority of that time is spent just plain fooling around. Of course, I can’t speak for the entire population of students – surely, some are exceptionally productive – but my impression (from countless hours logged a la bibliotheque) is that procrastination is rampant on university campuses. Rampant, I say!

Why is this so? In my experience, it’s because I tend to dread my work. It’s so much more fun and rewarding to participate in instant gratification tasks: checking social media portals, for one, is a favourite. Thinking about a daunting, time-consuming project that threatens to take over your life for the next few days is depressing. So we end up putting it off until we can’t possibly do so any longer. Until it’s due tomorrow. And then, just like that, our sleep has been sacrificed to make up for our time management errors.

How to avoid this curse?!

  • Make your work seem less daunting. 
  • Don’t take it so seriously!
  • Force yourself to pretend like this is the very best time to tackle a project.
  • Set a time limit for a specific task and get into a flow.
  • Don’t have any expectations about how much you should get done in that time period.

My very favourite productivity tool is The Pomodoro Technique.

It encompasses all of the above + more. Based on old kitchen timers, it suggests alternating between 25 minute positive power productive periods (my term), and 5 minute relax recharge rests (also my term).

It. Works. So. Well.

Seriously. I was very skeptical when I first learned about it – I didn’t think 5 minutes would be a long enough break to keep me working hard, and I didn’t think I could get very much done in 25 minutes. Oh, how wrong I was. Turns out, 25 minutes of flow is exactly enough time to write the first draft of my weekly column or blog post, finish an assignment, read a chunk of textbook, or review a lecture. And 5 minutes is perfect for checking Facebook, Twitter, Email & phone, taking a quick walk, or stuffing my mouth with food. Obviously, 5 minutes does tend to get less satisfying after 3 pomodoros – my attention starts to wane and I get tired. That’s an hour and a half of solid, productive work – it’s tiring! So I find that stretching out to ten minute breaks as time goes on works better for me.

You can read more about Pomodoro on the official website, or on Sarah Wilson’s blog, where I first heard about it.

The ideal way to employ this technique would be to use an old kitchen timer that can be set to 25 minutes – ideal because it’d keep you off the internet entirely! If you don’t have one hanging around though, try focusboosterapp, an online program (with a desktop application version) that is specifically designed to employ the Pomodoro technique. It automatically does the 25/5 minute program, complete with colour-coding to let you know how close you are to a break. I tend to keep it up on my screen whenever I’m studying, even if I’m not using my computer for work. Just glancing up at the bar lets me know how much longer I have to focus, and reminds me that I’m meant to be working!

I personally feel that doing 2-3 hours of solid, uninterrupted, distraction-free work is much more efficient than spending 8 hours in the library and getting the same amount of work done (or, in many cases, much less!). If you try out this technique, I think you’ll soon start to agree. It actually makes you productive – automatic boost in self-efficacy and self-esteem! Instead of having to make yourself feel better or more prepared for an exam by bragging to friends about spending the entire day in the library, you’ll already feel prepared, with much less of a fuss. Working efficiently is exponentially better than working endlessly.

So, what do you think? Would you use this self-discipline tool? Are you a procrastinator? Do you need help in that department? Or are you very good at time management? If so, what are your tricks? As always, let me know in the comments below, email me, or tweet me!

Try the Pomodoro technique right here, right now! Use it for a few days, then come back and let me know what you think!

Yours in productivity,





Photo Credit: 1. Pomodoro Timers, 2. Kitchen Timer, 3. Pomodoro Technique

17 thoughts on “The Pomodoro Technique: Stop Procrastinating Today”

  1. Finals season already! I’m only just starting my spring break, which means I have 7 weeks of classes left, then exams (I only have one test, and one major [read: huge] paper). Then I have to stay an extra week for GRADUATION!!!

    Anyway, I have unknowingly been using a very similar method to this. I work for 55 minutes at a time, with 5 minute breaks. And I switch subjects. This increases productivity and my ability to remember what I’m reading. I use my Blackberry to time myself. I always try to give myself 5 minute breaks because then I am less likely to waste 45 minutes checking blogs, Facebook stalking, etc.

    Great idea!

    1. You’re on Spring Break! Wow, crazy. Do you go to school in the States? I can’t believe you have 7 weeks left! I only have 2 until exams. Crazy. :)

      So interesting to hear you’ve been using a similar technique to much success!! I always think that lends credibility to a method, if various people discover it through different means and it works for everyone! If your Blackberry ever becomes troublesome for timing, I think the app I link to in this post can be set to do longer work periods (like 55 minutes!). And I know what you mean about the longer breaks…if I’m not careful I spend 45 minutes online too! Oh the internet, so wonderful yet so troublesome!

      Thanks for the comment! :)

  2. As a very proficient procrastinator, I have heard about this (most likely by procrastinating on Twitter) and will try it when I start studying for exams, which of course I will start tomorrow exactly as planned! The only thing is what if you get really immersed in your studying / writing? I usually have trouble getting started, but on good days I get into a zone where I actually am productive for a solid 3-4 hours without a break, so I feel like this might be distracting if I pause to check Facebook and one thing leads to another…Of course these studious zones happen a lot less than I would like so maybe I’ll try this on a day when I’m having trouble concentrating!

    1. Well definitely different tasks and moods require different strategies. If you’re already in a flow zone – awesome! Then you definitely don’t need a productivity strategy, I’d say just go with it and not take breaks. Of course, you might suffer from burnout – forgetting to take breaks throughout might hinder your abilities to do more work later, but who knows, everyone is different. I think this would work better if you’re having issues actually starting work, because it kind of pushes you into work mode and keeps you there. Definitely try it and let me know what you think!! :D

  3. Yes, I go to school in New York (the state, not the city!). But my school’s spring semester starts later than most people anyway. In January, we are required to do a 140 internship, so we get a longer winter break to accommodate that internship. My spring semester didn’t begin until February 7th.

    1. Oh, okay that makes much more sense! Our spring semester started January 3rd, and we had Spring Break mid-February! Funny how different it is. What’s a 140 internship?

  4. Hi! I just wanted to say thanks for all the amazing posts you have written! I especially enjoy the university&life ones. But this one has to simply be the best! I’ve never heard of this before but with the help of you and the focusbooster, I have done more work in 2 days then I usually do in a week! I think I have finally found a cure for my procrastination thanks to you!
    Mary <3

    1. Hi Mary!

      Wow, this is one of the sweetest comments I’ve gotten in quite a while. Thank you so much for your sincere compliments, it means so much to hear that I was able to help you even in some small way!! I’m so glad that the Pomodoro technique is working for you – it changed my work habits too! It’s also wonderful to hear that you’re enjoying the posts, since I always write them in the hope that someone out there can gain something from my writing!! Thanks again for the support. :)


  5. Whoops! I meant to write a 140-HOUR internship. Which works out to be about 4 weeks, usually. My first internship I finished in two weeks.

    My bad.

  6. I’ve tried this method before. As long as I can stick to it, it always helps me get a lot done. I wish I had a cute timer like one in those pics at the top of the post ^_^ I only have thirty-two more days of school (I started counting down when there were 50 more) but lots of studying to do for finals, so I’ll definitely be using this method a lot.

    1. Funny you should comment on the timer – just this weekend I got a little round red timer for using for baking/cooking and productivity!! Best of both worlds!! Glad to hear that the technique works for you, I know what you mean about “sticking to it” though. It gets so hard after a while! I have about 22 days left until my exams are all done (yay!!!) so, like you, I’ll be having to rely on this technique quite a bit. :)

  7. I’m an education major, so my internships are all at schools. Nothing too exciting. But this year I did mine at an inner-city school, which is different for me since I’m from a small, farming town. My students were gang members, no big deal or anything.

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