If you struggle with procrastination, try setting a timer for a short period – 10, 20 minutes or so – and tell yourself you only need to work for that amount of time. Often, you’ll find that once you get started, your motivation follows.
- Helps with procrastination
Mark Twain is quoted as saying “The secret to getting ahead is getting started.” That’s the basic principle behind the Pomodoro Technique.
Getting started is often the hardest thing. When there’s something you’re obliged to do, suddenly everything else becomes 100x more interesting and compelling.
Yeah, you could work on your project… but there’s a detective movie from the 1940s on TV that you’ve never heard of and under any other circumstances would have no interest in… but you strangely can’t keep your eyes off of it.
And that’s not to mention social media, YouTube, Twitch, gaming, eating, sleeping, and sundry other things that also suddenly feel very important.
However, sometimes starting is the only hurdle. Once you get going, it’s like your brain shifts gears, you get into work mode now, and you can put some solid time in.
The Pomodoro Technique is a way to get yourself into that gear so you can do what you need to do.
How to do it
- Grab a timer of some kind. There are apps especially designed for this purpose, but any timer will do. It might be wise not to use the one on your phone or tablet – since then you have a distraction nearby. When you need to focus, it can help to keep your phone in another room.
- Set the timer for a short period of time, 20 minutes is standard, but you might want to do 10, 15, 25. Just pick a short time, one that doesn’t feel daunting to you.
- Tell yourself that you’ll work just for this amount of time. If you want to carry on at the end, you can. But you don’t have to. You can totally stop working after that.
- Start the timer, and start working.
- Work until the timer finishes. If you’re in the zone, by now, feel free to carry on. If you want to stop working, do so. Take a break, maybe 10 or 20 minutes. Then come back, set the timer again, and do another interval.
- Repeat until motivation arrives. Even if it doesn’t, at least you’ll be getting some stuff done in-between your break periods.
No set schedule, just use this anytime you feel obliged to do something, but your emotions don’t compel you to do it at that time.
Why it works
We build up tasks in our mind. A big thesis for example, might take hours, even days of time at the desk to complete. When we think of the task, we tend to think of it as one, singular thing, a huge beast we need to fight.
The Pomodoro Technique breaks that big hairy thing into a cute little kitten that’s easier to spend a little time with. The thesis might be daunting, but you can work on it for 20 minutes, right? Just 20 little minutes?
As noted earlier, motivation often comes after we start doing something, not before. It’s a mistake to wait until you’re motivated to start, because then you’re at the whims of the thousand other things in modern life that fight for your attention. So the Pomodoro is almost like a trick to get that kick start. And as noted earlier, even if you can’t get fully in the zone that day (it happens), at least you’ll make some progress.
Oh and on a side note, the name of the technique comes from a variety of tomato. Apparently, there used to be (perhaps still is) a popular brand of kitchen timers that were shaped like them.