Brain Retraining Using the Pomodoro Technqiue
In the inaugural episode of the Type A podcast, host Hannah Shows investigates the ins-and-outs of the pomodoro technique through interviews and hands-on trial and error. Through her monthlong journey, she discovers this technique may have more possibility than just a simple study trick.
[A clip of “Gaiety in the Golden Age” by Aaron Kenny plays in the background.]
HANNAH SHOWS, HOST: You’re listening to Type A, a podcast where I sit down with “type a” people to discover the best productivity tips and everyday habits that can keep you inspired, sane and productive. I’m your host Hannah Shows, let’s dive right in.
ACT I: THE PROBLEM
[A timer beeps, signaling the end of a study session. A pen drops on the desk and papers rustle.]
HANNAH SHOWS: Well that… that was completely unproductive. You know the phrase “throw spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks?” Well, nothing stuck. Absolutely nothing.
[A clip of “Melancholia” by Godmode plays in the background.]
HANNAH SHOWS: I’m sure you’ve felt like me before – frustrated, overworked, maybe a little down on yourself. Whether it’s studying for a final or preparing a presentation for work, it can be really hard to break down overwhelming projects into manageable, bite-sized pieces.
HANNAH SHOWS: Not to brag, but pre-COVID, I was pretty good at time management. Maybe it’s because I didn’t go out very much — I guess I still don’t — but I could generate a lot of work without tiring out. And now, a year into the pandemic, I handle projects and assignments as they come. Instead of planning ahead, I plan to get the work done in one sitting. Am I successful at this? Sure. Am I happy and settled? Not really. About a week ago, I was scrolling through Instagram, and I saw this picture of a ladder with rungs really, really close together next to a ladder with rungs absurdly far apart.
[A clip of “Noir et Blanc Vie” by AnaCaptainslogue plays in the background.]
HANNAH SHOWS: The picture was posted by one of my favorite academic accounts, @scholarculture. The man climbing up the ladder with rungs closer together had a much easier time than the man who needed to nearly jump from rung to rung. The picture was captioned, “the pomodoro technique makes the rungs of the ladder closer together. Don’t underestimate the power of tiny steps!” What? The pomodoro technique? What was that and how could I get one *laughs*?
HANNAH SHOWS: So, I started asking around. Had anyone heard of this?
RACHEL S.: No, I haven’t heard of the pomodoro technique.
GRACE S.: Yeah, I’ve heard of it, but never tried it.
RYAN Q.: No, what’s that?
NICK S.: Yeah, I tried the pomodoro method, but it didn’t really work for me.
HANNAH SHOWS: Well, at least I wasn’t alone. A quick Google search defined the pomodoro technique as a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. Practitioners break down their work into intervals, usually 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. I learned that the pomodoro technique is great for people who regularly “self-interrupt” their own study time by checking their phone, completing chores, browsing social media, etc., and I am SO guilty of this. The pomodoro technique is a form of brain retraining that helps users regulate when they can take breaks. Each interval, called a pomodoro, is dedicated to one task and each break is a chance to get up, grab a snack and bring your attention back to what you should be working on. As intriguing as this brain retraining sounded, I wanted to learn how practical this study technique was, especially given today’s virtual learning environment. Anais Thomas is a college-bound high school senior who’s a self-described “high functioning student.” Anais dreams of working as a human rights attorney one day – but today, she’s just focused on graduating high school.
ANAIS THOMAS: During the pandemic, I definitely have moved towards being a procrastinator just because I have so many distractions around me, and I think, “Oh, I can put it off, like I can watch this one Netflix show. I can study after.”
HANNAH SHOWS: I get that. I’ve struggled studying for finals and midterms in the pandemic for that reason. Long term and group projects are really difficult. So when you study, how do you feel?
ANAIS THOMAS: I feel stressed, 100%. On terms of accountability, I try to study on Facetime with friends just so we hold each other accountable and don’t get distracted on our phones, but with these study sessions, I honestly don’t retain much information.
HANNAH SHOWS: So, have you heard of the pomodoro technique, Anais?
ANAIS THOMAS: I actually have not, but that’s only because we don’t really go over study techniques in school.
HANNAH SHOWS: When we come back, we’ll put the pomodoro technique to the test.
PSA: This is a message from the CDC. You can get COVID-19 while travelling. Don’t travel while sick. Protect others, wear a mask, maintain social distance about six feet apart and wash your hands often. To learn more, visit cdc.gov/covid-19.
ACT II: PRACTICING POMODORO
HANNAH SHOWS: To really test the pomodoro technique, I decided to try it for a month. What inevitably followed, spoiler alert, was a month of:
[A clip of “Here Come the Raindrops” by Reed Mathis plays in the background.]
HANNAH SHOWS: Oh my goodness.
[A timer beeps and papers rustle.]
HANNAH SHOWS: … ummmmmmmm … ummmmmm … It’s Friday, April 2nd. I think that I am finally getting the hang of this. It’s Thursday, April 8th, I think, and I am absolutely not enjoying this. I need a drink.
HANNAH SHOWS: It’s not that the pomodoro technique is particularly hard – in fact, the whole point is to make studying more manageable. It’s more that the technique brings to light all the ways that I sabotage my own success. Putting off work until the deadline. Checking text messages far more frequently than I care to admit. The work isn’t the hard part. Learning to live with my brain and my habits as they are, not how I want them to be — that’s the hard part. For me, the pandemic slowly destroyed my senior year of college as I always imagined it to be. March of my junior year, my university went online and never went back in person. I began planning my life in two week increments. Then two days. Then two hours. And my study habits suffered. Now, if I could go back and redo how I acted during the pandemic, I don’t think I would. I was always safe, cautious and consistent. But, like all of us who played by the rules, there’s a price to pay. And for me, that was the slow degradation of my mental health and study habits. It’s hard to acknowledge how far I’ve “fallen” (in air quotes) from where I once was pre-pandemic. But with the pomodoro technique, I’m learning to silence the “what ifs” and focus on what’s right in front of me – pen, paper, homework, laptop. I’m learning that I do have power over my thoughts – and that I can train my attention to focus on homework instead of social media feeds. It’s hard, but a good hard. It’s hard in all the ways that I want something to be challenging – and if you’re a “type a” person too, I think you’ll appreciate the challenge.
CALL TO ACTION
HANNAH SHOWS: If I could leave you with one piece of advice, it would be to train your attention, and never give up on yourself. The pomodoro technique is one way to train your attention and get work done, but more than anything, take the time to understand your brain and find a study system that works for you.
Because where you put your attention, after all, is how you spend your life.
[A clip of “Gaiety in the Golden Age” by Aaron Kenny plays in the background.]
HANNAH SHOWS: Thanks for joining me on the inaugural episode of Type A. If you enjoyed this podcast, please like and subscribe wherever you get your pods. This episode was written and narrated by Hannah Shows. Artwork by Hannah Shows and Alexandra Zenner. Royalty-free music provided by YouTube Creator Studio. As always, stay safe and set the world on fire.
Learn more about the pomodoro technique from expert websites, like Francesco Cirillio’s own website (https://francescocirillo.com/pages/pomodoro-technique), and time your sessions with a free digital pomodoro timer at pomofocus.io (https://pomofocus.io/).
Special thanks to Anais Thomas for speaking as a featured guest on the show. We’d like to congratulate Anais for accepting an offer to attend University of Oregon in the fall.
Additional thanks to Ryan Q., Rachel S., Nick S. and Grace S. for sharing their thoughts about the pomodoro technique in vox pop interviews.
Artwork co-designed by Hannah Shows and Alexandra Zenner. Find Alex on Instagram at @alexandra.zenner.
Show hosted by Hannah Shows. Learn more about Hannah at hannahroseshows.com.
Music provided by YouTube Creator Studio:
- “Gaiety in the Golden Age” by Aaron Kenny
- “Here Come the Raindrops” by Reed Mathis
- “Noir et Blanc Vie” by AnaCaptainslogue
- “Melancholia” by Godmode
Check out @scholarculture on Instagram for more great study tips.
This podcast would not be possible without support and guidance from Prof. Jill Olmsted.