The Pomodoro Technique: For Those Who Have Too Many Things to Do

My pomodoro isn't a pomodoro at all.

My pomodoro isn't a pomodoro at all.

Originally published April 23, 2018.

When I finished by dissertation earlier this semester, I was at a loss for what to do with my time. Apart from teaching, I had spent a full half of my waking life working on my dissertation for about six straight months. Suddenly, eight hours of every day were free!

Somehow, all that time disappeared. Quickly. A big chunk went to reengaging with my wife and daughter, whom I was happy to discover still lived in my house. Then I started on a conference paper. Then I started planning summer teaching. Then I started writing a book proposal. Then a million other things rushed in to fill the time.

I'm not as busy now as I was while writing my dissertation, but I'm busier than I expected to be at this point, the honeymoon phase in my PhD program. And, surprisingly, I'm having a much harder time getting anything done that I was during dissertation work. It was easy to work when there's one item on the docket. "What do you want to work on right now, Ken?" "What are you talking about? Shut up and work on your dissertation." I'm finding it much harder to actually to work and make meaningful progress on fifteen different things.

Enter the pomodoro technique. I came across it on Tanya Golash-Boza's Get a Life, PhD blog and then read up on it online (a PDF of the technique's manual is easy to find on Google). It's meant to force those of us who work inefficiently when faced with too much time or too many tasks to focus.

Here's how it works: You work in 30-minute increments. You do only one thing for 25 minutes. Then you take a 5-minute break. After you do that four times, you take a longer break.

That's it. That's the whole thing. Well, not exactly the whole thing—there are more rules that govern how you use your time, split up tasks, record your work effectiveness, and so on. But that's seriously about it.

I've been using the Pomodoro technique for a couple of days now, and it's really helping me stay focused on the task at hand rather than chasing every little thought that pops into my head. For academics with a lot on their plate, I could see this being useful. Really, I can see this being useful for almost anyone with time management issues. It wouldn't work well for those whose jobs necessarily involve interruption—my social-worker wife, who deals with clients' crises all the time, waived Pomodoro off as untenable.

But for those with long, loosely structured periods of time like you and I, it could be really helpful. I'll check back in after a month or so to let you know whether I've stuck with it.