What Is the Pomodoro Technique? A College Student’s Guide

Published: February 21, 2023

You finally sat down to work on something you’ve been putting off for days or weeks. But no matter how hard you try, you can’t focus on what’s in front of you. Distractions prove too tempting, and soon you find yourself mindlessly scrolling on your phone instead of reading your textbook.

If the above sounds familiar, don’t despair. Concentration is a skill that takes time to master. The Pomodoro® study method could be the key to unlocking your mental focus. Keep reading to learn what it is, why it works, and how to do it at home.

What is the Pomodoro Technique? A brief history

The Pomodoro Technique® was invented in the late 1980s by author Francesco Cirillo. At the time, he was a young college student living in Italy. While preparing for a final exam, he found himself unable to focus. Frustrated and desperate to concentrate, Cirillo took the tomato-shaped egg timer from the kitchen windowsill and set it for just two minutes. He focused on the material until the timer went off and found that this approach made concentrating easier.

He began experimenting with different intervals, and after years of perfecting his technique, Cirillo concluded that a 25-minute work period followed by five minutes of rest was the ideal ratio.

Not coincidentally, “pomodoro” means tomato in Italian. That’s right, this time-management strategy used by millions of people around the world is based on a humble wind-up kitchen appliance.

How to apply the Pomodoro study method

One of the best things about this method is that it naturally helps break down big tasks or projects into shorter, more manageable steps. And with practice, it can also help you get more done in less time. Essentially, you train your brain to work smarter instead of longer.

Let’s break down the steps in this process, so you know exactly what to do.

1. Choose a single task

You have to choose one thing to work on and focus only on that for the full 25 minutes. Once you start that timer, you can’t pick up your phone or make a snack. Save that for the break.

Let’s say you have a paper due next week that you have yet to start. Your first task might be reviewing the assignment and making an outline. Remember, you don’t have to finish the assignment in 25 minutes. The goal is to make steady progress while remaining engaged and motivated.

If you have several tasks (like answering emails, organizing files, clearing out your inbox, etc.), you can lump them all together in one Pomodoro.

2. Focus your attention on that task for 25 minutes

At this point, you’ve hopefully set yourself up for success. You know what needs to be done, you’ve reduced or eliminated distractions, and your timer is ticking. Now comes the most important part: doing the work!

If you’re still having trouble concentrating, try some of these tips and tricks:

  • Use website-blocking and/or productivity apps. (Try Tomato Timer or Tide)
  • Try different intervals. While 25 minutes is widely recommended, it’s not a hard-and-fast rule. Perhaps 20 minutes is your sweet spot. Or maybe it takes you a while to focus initially, so a 30-minute period is a better choice.
  • Create a designated place for studying. This could be a certain room in your home, or a library or coffee shop that won’t cause distractions.
  • Listen to tunes that help you get in the zone. It doesn’t matter if it’s classical music, lo-fi study beats, or experimental synth-pop. Find something that works and play it when you need an extra boost.
3. Write down things that might otherwise set you off course

Try not to get frustrated if you find yourself thinking about all the other tasks you have to do when you’re trying to work. With time and practice, your brain will eventually get better at focusing.

For now, if unrelated thoughts or tasks pop into your mind, simply jot them down on a piece of paper. You can revisit them once you’re done or during a break.

4. When the timer dings, take a five-minute break

Use your time between Pomodoros to stretch, refill your coffee, watch a few videos on your phone, or switch off your work brain for a few minutes. If you’re tempted to keep going, try to resist. Taking regular breaks can actually make you more productive in the long run, as you’re less likely to burn out.

5. Repeat steps 1-4 three more times and take a 30-minute rest before resuming

Depending on the size of the task at hand, you may end up stringing together several Pomodoros in order to complete it. For every four rounds, you’ve earned yourself a longer break! You’ve worked hard for two hours and made a lot of progress. Take your well-deserved break and go for a walk, eat lunch, or even take a power nap before starting again.

Manage your time to maximize your learning potential

You now know what the Pomodoro Technique is and how to leverage it to avoid procrastination and increase your productivity. Give it a try and see how it works for you — you can always make some adjustments along the way to fit your personal needs and preferences.

Looking for more resources to help you find success in college? Check out the following articles:

Pomodoro® and Pomodoro Technique® are registered trademarks of Francesco Cirillo. This article is meant for guidance only and is not affiliated with, associated with, or endorsed by Francesco Cirillo.


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