How To Adapt The Pomodoro Method For Your Hectic Life

You probably use the Pomodoro already. One simple change can help you remain socially involved and logistically productive while you engage in your deep work.

What’s the difference between an ABD and a Ph.D.?

Mind you, there are plenty of marvelously intelligent people who have completed almost everything except for the piece de resistance. They’ve become literal experts in the field of study, they’ve published extraordinary papers, and have served on sensational panels. They’ve just nearly done everything they can to succeed. Everything — except finish.

There are countless reasons why this might be the case. Sometimes, people are scared of what the future might bring, and remaining a grad student offers a safe purgatory. For some students, they might be burdened with the needs of their peers, advisors, and loved ones, and feel they rarely have space and time to finish what they started. The constraints might be mental or physical, and likely it’s a little bit of both.

As a verified plate-spinner, I know what it feels like to be stuck in that purgatory. I know; mine’s one of the longest I’ve ever read. And I wrote it.

It’s why I wanted to offer a quick, illuminating supercharge for the method I did use to finally finish, and remain in good graces with my community, my colleagues, and my own state of mind.

The “Stirred” Pomodoro

If you’re here, you’ve probably heard of the Pomodoro method before. Founded by Francesco Cirillo, the method has three main simple rules:

  • Find a thing that requires your full, undivided attention.
  • Do the thing ONLY for about twenty-five minutes.
  • Take a short break, completely away from the thing.
  • Repeat three or four times, after which you take a longer break.

Yes, there’s a bit more scaffolding to the activity, but starting the method is that simple Apparently, it takes about seven to twenty days of constant use before you it becomes entrenched in your own style, but in my experience, immediately applying it starts reaping benefits from day one. While finishing my Ph.D., I used this method to write a complete rough draft for my dissertation (over 100,000 words) in approximately twenty days. So yeah, the method set can get you somewhere.

Intriguingly, the old method is backed by new science. In the age of infinite Internet distraction, many people have purposefully implemented deep work into their pratice. It’s a term for “focusing without distraction on a cognitively demanding task”. In the book by Cal Newport, he suggests four main rules of deep work:

  • which offers your brain the ability to destroy the addictive relationship between ennui and constant forms of stimuli,
  • meaning be harshly intentional about the apps and services you allow into your digital life, and
  • or lessen the amount of time necessary for shallow activity, such as answering email and scheduling meetings.

Similarly, sensational writers like K. Albasi on Medium have already outlined the importance of reclaiming your focus by letting your mind wander. He details how the brain benefits from switching between its two modes: the automatic mode, and the conscious mode, each useful for mental exercise and processing, among many other activities.

However, the method seems impossible to use when you don’t have the time and space to set your own boundaries. People, chores, and emails drag on your ability to remain productive, so many might think the method isn’t for them. I believe, however, the method is useful to anyone — if slightly amended.

So, I made one simple change to make sure I make space for work, and for others in my immediate circle:

Use the break time to do social and shallow activity.

During my five or ten-minute break, I go do chores around the house: I wash dishes, I vacuum, I straighten up the living or dining room.

If there are no chores, I’ll go talk to some people around me and check in on their state of mind.

If there are no people around, I’ll go do some stretches or do a handstand for a couple of minutes. Maybe some pushups, or burpees.

The point is, I’ll do anything away from a screen, Fortunately, these type of activities offers the opportunity for your brain to go back into automatic mode, which offers a bit of space for boredom. This hack takes advantage of two separate activities: (1) it offers time for your brain to recharge from the cognitive exercise, and (2) it taps you back into the social and productive needs of your community.

Clearly, this hack doesn’t work if you don’t own the space where you work. Open plans and co-working spaces be damned, it’s difficult (but not impossible) to find your own space and place to do deep and conflicting work from people who need your attention. However, for the bustling home-work entrepreneur, or the graduate student looking for the structure to reclaim their thesis while still taking control of their life, it’s immensely useful to stay deep, while remaining grounded.

What we can do to get to the next mental leap is useful, and how to helps us get there is through the wisdom of going all in on a single activity.

Though Mr. Cirillo might be ashamed, At times, I’ll spend my break time to do some social media research; during other times, the break will take ten or fifteen minutes instead of the ascribed five. At times, my friends and colleagues will require me for a more pressing emergency, and I’ll have to step away from the space.

However, that’s why I need flexibility in my methods. I’ve realized that my brain (and environment) doesn’t take well to stringent and rigorous productivity hacks. Willpower is depletable, and the people around us deserve to interact with human beings that adapt to their needs instead of mechanistic robots.

However, certain tools — like the ‘Stirred Pomodoro’ — can help us ‘hack’ parts of our brain by offering insight into ways we can think and live better. If you (and your social circle) of the Pomodoro, and you when you’re mentally and socially exhausted, you’ll find a happy medium that helps you produce more than you ever expected.

Go finish.

I deeply appreciate you making it this far.

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