The “Pomodoro” is a technique that’s been developed to help you focus your attention over a short period of time. Pomodoro is Italian for “tomato”—Francesco Cirillo, who originally developed this time management system in the 1980s, used a tomato-shaped timer. In the Pomodoro technique, you set a timer for twenty-five minutes. Once the timer starts ticking, you’re on the clock. No sneaking off to web surf, chat on the phone, or instant message your buddies. What’s nice about doing a Pomodoro is that if you’re working around friends or family, you can tell them about the technique. Then, if they happen to interrupt you, all you need to do is mention that you’re “doing a Pomodoro” or “on the clock,” and it gives a friendly reason for them to leave you alone.

You may object that it is stressful being under the timer. But researchers have found something fascinating and counterintuitive. If you learn under mild stress, you can handle greater stress much more easily. For example, as researcher Sian Beilock describes in her book Choke, golfers who practice putting in front of others aren’t fazed later on when they have to perform before an audience in competitions. In the same way, if you get used to figuring things out under a mild time crunch, you are much less likely to choke later, when you are in a high pressure test-taking situation. Time after time, top performers in fields as different as surgery and computer programming deliberately seek coaches who place them under stress by challenging them and driving them to perform better.

Focusing on process, not product, is important in avoiding procrastination. It is the consistent, daily time you spend getting into the flow of your studies that matters most. Focus on doing a Pomodoro—a twenty-five-minute timed work session —not on completing a task. In a similar way, notice how, in this picture, physicist and surfer dude Garret Lisi is focused on the moment—not on the accomplishment of having surfed a wave.

When you first try using the Pomodoro, you will probably be amazed at how often the urge arises to take a quick peek at something non-work-related. But at the same time, you will also be pleased at how easy it is to catch yourself and turn your attention back to your work. Twenty-five minutes is such a brief period that almost any adult or near-adult can focus his attention for that long. And when you are done, you can lean back and savor the feeling of accomplishment.


“One helpful tip is to just get started. This advice sounds relatively simple, but once you get off to a good start it is much easier to accomplish something. I like to go to the quiet floor in the library because you can often see other people in the same situation. I learn best by visualizing. If I can see other people working on homework, then I am more inclined to do that myself.”

Joseph Coyne, junior, history

The key is, when the distraction arises, which it inevitably will, you want to train yourself to ignore it. One of the single most important pieces of advice I can give you on dealing with procrastination is to ignore distractions! Of course, setting yourself up so that distractions are minimal is also a good idea. Many students find that either a quiet space or noise-canceling headphones—or both—are invaluable when they are really trying to concentrate.