As a full-time graduate student who is also a parent of a young child, I often find myself with limited windows of time to complete everything that I want to get done. Surely many of us in the world of academic philosophy, or other academic disciplines, have had the experience of sitting down at our computer, with the intent of getting some “real work” done, and then finding ourselves wrapped up in answering emails, reading our favorite academic blog posts, searching academic databases for new journal articles on our area of interest, not to mention the less professionally respectable activities of browsing Facebook, shopping online, etc. Before we know it, the workday is over, and we’ve accomplished only a fraction of what we had in mind. With this experience becoming increasingly common for me, and thus increasingly frustrating, and with a dissertation looming overhead, I decided that I needed a plan. What I lacked, I thought, was structure, a system for using my time efficiently and effectively.
When it came time to select a time-management system, I decided to start at the website of my old friend, Jason Clegg. Jason and I have known each other since middle school, and over time he’s developed into something of an expert on efficiency and effective time-management. Recently, he’d written about a system that he uses, the Pomodoro Technique. He described it in detail on his blog, and it sounded pretty easy. More importantly, this guy gets a lot of stuff done in short amounts of time, so he must be doing something right. I decided that if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me, and I’ve been trying to implement some version of this system for a couple of weeks.
The purpose of this journal is to share with you some of my experiences with adapting the Pomodoro Technique to the needs of an academic professional. As I move forward, I’ll share with you some of what I’ve learned. Hopefully, my experience will help you to decide whether this system can work for you. Already, I can share a couple of things I’ve realized about using this system in the academic world:
1. Get a kitchen timer that doesn’t do anything else.
One thing Jason highly recommends is that you time your intensive work segments with a simple, kitchen timer. Not realizing how important this actually was, I figured “I’ll just use my watch, that’ll be fine.” Oh no, my friends, the watch (or the laptop clock, or the phone) are no good. The main problem with alternative timing methods is that these devices don’t ring when you’re done, so it’s easy to get absorbed in something, and blow right through your 25-minute interval. At one point, I hit 50 minutes on one thing without even realizing it. This is a problem, since part of the philosophy behind this system is to work in short, highly focused bursts. You really need that “Ding!” at the end of 25 minutes to remind you to stop, especially if you are like me and you tend to get absorbed in your writing. The next step for me, without question, is to purchase a kitchen timer specifically for my Pomodoro system. I’ll keep you posted on the difference this step makes for me.
2. You should time your breaks, and get up from your desk to take them.
The Pomodoro System is described in terms of 25-minute intervals of intense, focused work, followed by brief, 5 minute breaks that involve getting up and away from the computer. I cannot stress enough how important both of those things are. It’s way too easy to start a break by logging into your email, or some other insidious time-waster, and before you know it, it’s been 8 minutes, and you still haven’t even left your desk. When that timer goes off, get up, and be back in 5 minutes. I’ve considered playing with the breaks a bit, and giving myself 7 or 8 minutes instead, so one thing I’ll be reporting about in the future is whether the longer breaks are helping, or hampering my efforts. So far, however, Jason is right. Your break must be brief, and it must include getting up from your desk.
3. There are times when the Pomodoro Technique seems disruptive.
One reason that I’ve decided to blog about the Pomodoro Technique as a tool for academic time-management is that it seems to be a technique that is better suited to office and business environments. Not every academic task can be easily completed in only 25 minutes. Sometimes I need to sit at my desk for an hour straight, and really dig in to something I’m writing. And yet this system demands that at the 25 minute mark, I stand up, and take a break. In the coming weeks, I’ll experiment with both sticking to the Pomodoro technique for these types of projects, and abandoning it in favor of longer work intervals. I’ll also experiment with a “bundling” technique, where multiple 25 minute intervals are grouped together, and the 5 minute breaks that they require are similarly bundled when these longer sessions end. Maybe this will work, maybe not. There’s only one way to find out, and I’ll let you know how it goes.
If you’re like me, an academic who has a lot of irons in the fire, and a limited amount of time to hammer them out, stay tuned as I explore the effectiveness of the Pomodoro Technique for academic time-management. With any luck, we can both learn to be a little more efficient as a result.
About the Author
Elijah Weber is a graduate student at Bowling Green State University. He holds a Master's degree in philosophy from Colorado State University, and Bachelor’s degrees in sociology and philosophy from Chapman University. He currently lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with his wife Laura, his son Brandon, and two cats.