The Pomodoro technique and other ideas for getting Un-distracted

As a fresh Phd candidate currently failing at balancing a job and study, people often impress upon me the absolute importance of thinking time. Or space to write. Or both. I remember listening to my colleagues complain about a lack of time and space to write. Their solution was to have a writing holiday. Get away from the phone, desk, office and in extreme circumstances, the home. Now I know exactly how they felt. While I am still on track to seeking PhD work/study/life harmony, I am not ashamed to seek advice from everyone who has more experience than I in this regard. However some of the tried and true techniques are still very useful.

Shut down your email. No, I mean close it down completely. And before you do, turn off those annoying notification alerts that pop up in the corner of your screen. Emails and notifications are distractions best friend.

Next – if you haven’t done the concentrating thing for some time, I can really recommend the pomodoro technique. It’s name is associated with a tomato like timer that runs for 25 short minutes (pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato – hence the name). Here’s the deal. You identify the task at hand. You turn your phone to silent (or take the phone off the hook), definitely shut down that email and set your countdown alarm (or your flash tomato shaped pomodoro timer) to 25 mins. Then you do something you probably haven’t done since a fourth form maths exam (I am showing my age here – I think that’s equal to year 8). You focus, entirely, on the task at hand. It’s amazing what you can get done in 25 minutes. Once the timer chirps (or crickets in my case) have a brief stand up, coffee or wander around the cube farm and take a break for 5 mins. Rinse and repeat. The pomodoro website recommends you take a 20-30min break after 4 consecutive pomodoros.

When I first used it about a year ago, this technique absolutely worked for me. I think the days of multi-tasking have made me feel wonderfully busy, but it’s hopeless for the concentration needed for reviewing research papers and writing. I hope that by rectifying the pomodoro technique next week that it will help me get more from my work and study day.


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