During my first year of medical school, I stumbled upon the most valuable study tool I have come across in my however-many years of education: the pomodoro timer. I had always considered myself a fairly good studier, but when medical school started I found that I could not study for the long amounts of time that school often required. There seemed to be a law of diminishing returns – my first hour or two was great, but then as the hours passed, I got less and less done, until eventually it was hardly considered “studying” at all. I’d find anything besides doing my actual reading: checking Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Yik-Yak, changing the song playlist, reading about the Milwaukee Bucks game last night.
After 8 hours of studying, I could tell you a little bit about the material I was supposed to know, but even more about how many points Giannis Antetokounmpo put up last night, or which one of my friends just got engaged! Then one day, while browsing Facebook (ironically), I came across some catchy headline that said “The #1 Way to Increase Productivity” or something. Naturally, I clicked the link. I then read about the Pomodoro technique, which basically involves dedicating a certain block of time to absolutely focused studying, followed by mandatory breaks. For example, study for 25 minutes (with phone off, no internet, nothing – just pure focus), and then 5 minutes of screwing around, checking social media, grabbing something to eat. After the 25 minutes are up, you stop what you are studying no matter what, and take a break. Likewise, when the 5-minute break ends, you go back to studying immediately. The entire technique relies on this rigid timing.
I figured why not give it a shot, and tried a 50-minutes on, 10-minutes off schedule. I was really astounded with the results. I found that for one thing, you can accomplish a LOT with 50 minutes of complete focus. I would get done in 50 minutes what used to take me 3 hours. Second, I found that the frequent breaks allowed me to study for longer periods of time. I could do 8 blocks of studying in a row, and the 10 minute breaks kept me (somewhat) fresh. And since I couldn’t use my phone or internet during the study blocks, my productivity didn’t fall off as much as time went on. I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised at this, as even people like David Nowell (a clinical neuropsychologist and writer for Psychology Today) swear by the technique(1). Give it a try, and watch your productivity go higher than Giannis soaring in for a slam dunk!