Procrastination and productivity are the two core challenges when it comes to your PhD. It’s an endless battle of ensuring that you’re being effective and efficient with your time whilst also avoiding getting stuck and falling into procrastination, writers block, or worse, analysis paralysis. Much advice exists out there on how to optimise your PhD time, such as the pomodoro technique. Being able to effectively manage your time and productivity subsequently helps you to remain on top of good habits – like writing throughout your PhD, which in turn feeds into your longer-term goals like publication or your thesis submission.
Before playing around with certain approaches, we strongly advocate taking a break first – far too often procrastination is a result of burnout and overworking. The solution here should be to have a pause before causing yourself more burnout. If you’ve done this and are still struggling to get into a rhythm – stay tuned as we’re going to introduce you to the pomodoro technique.
The pomodoro technique is effectively a time management method that enables you to work with the time you do have, as opposed to the time you wish you had. It also helps protect your motivation as it intentionally embeds mini breaks into your workday. The word pomodoro (tomato) originates from a tomato-shaped timer Francesco Cirillo, the inventor of the method, used to track his working intervals. To be more specific, the pomodoro technique is working in 25minute chunks, followed by a 5-minute break (aka one pomodoro). Once you have completed a series of 4 pomodoros, you take a longer 15-20minute break.
A lot of this approach leverages Parkinson’s Law, which we’ve discussed in more detail elsewhere on this site. In short, Parkinson’s Law is the idea that tasks usually take the amount of time you allocate to them. If you only allocate 25minutes or one pomodoro – it’s likely to take just 25minutes, or you’ll make significantly more progress than if you set yourself the whole day to do it.
The interesting thing about the pomodoro technique is that it also has a pretty good evidence base. It’s reported to help spur academic students to self-regulate their time by goal-setting, planning, prioritising, managing their working environment, search for information, record and monitor their progress, and seek social assistance (Vincent et al., 2020; Tremblay-Wragg et al., 2022). Furthermore, the pomodoro technique is also likely to help with writing self-efficacy – your own internal beliefs about your own writing ability. This too is likely to help tackle writers block and keep you on task (Vincent et al., 2020). Self-regulation, writers block, and self-efficacy aside, it’s also likely to objectively improve your writing activities. Students trained in the pomodoro technique were significantly better at; generating ideas, writing output, and remaining focused (Septiani et al., 2022).
In short, the pomodoro technique isn’t just a fancy method that sounds cool. It has admittedly got a lot of popularity in the productivity space, but nonetheless this is still supported by evidence which is likely to also be a strong driver for its adoption and range of use cases.
Now we’ve discussed the pomodoro technique from a theoretical perspective, it’s time to cover the tangible part of implementing it. To start with, you can always invest in a tomato-shaped timer like Cirillo himself. Alternatively, you can simply use a timer on your phone or look to leverage a range of apps to help protect your pomodoros. Apps such as Focus Keeper, Time Out and Pomodoro Timer Lite for android are great options. If you want to keep it solely web-based, check out Pomofocus – it’s a great website, to help you keep on track with your pomodoros. It’s a much better tab to have open on your computer than Facebook or social media in the background!
You can really ramp up the pomodoro technique by having a dedicated Notion board to track it or even create a todoist account that structures your pomodoro technique more systematically. Whatever you approach you choose, the most important thing is that it aids and contributes to your productivity. If you find it not successful or not effective, that’s okay. The main thing is you trial a range of different approaches until you find the one that sticks for you. Perhaps the pomodoro technique will be your new favourite method – but there is only one way to find out.
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