The Pomodoro Technique for boosting learning productivity

4 min read


Have you ever put off your studies until “later,” because you couldn’t focus? Though people often refer to this procrastination as laziness, the real issue might be mental fatigue. 

According to Alejandro Lleras, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, "Constant stimulation is registered by our brains as unimportant, to the point that the brain erases it from our awareness." In other words, the longer you're studying, the more likely your attention will shift to something else, such as checking social media, doing the laundry, or making appointments.

When I was a nursing student, I struggled with completing assignments in one sitting. I also felt uncreative in my essay writings, despite spending hours on them. This problem can be exacerbated through self-paced online learning, where learners are setting their own schedules. As a learner enrolled in DGHE and Duke CE’s Certificate in Nurse Leadership, I now realize that we sometimes need additional help to keep us motivated. This is where the Pomodoro Technique comes in. 

Developed in the 1980s by Francisco Criollo, the Pomodoro Technique can help you boost your productivity by increasing focus and spurring creativity.

What is the Pomodoro Technique?

As originally described by Criollo, here’s how the Pomodoro Technique works: 

  1. Determine the task you want to complete. 
  2. Get a timer. It can be a simple kitchen timer, a watch, or an app that features the technique (such as Pomofocus or Focus-To-Do).   
  3. Set your timer to 25 minutes. Then, focus on your task until the time expires.
  4. Enjoy a five-minute break, because you've just completed one Pomodoro round.  Congrats!
  5. After four Pomodoro rounds, you can take a more extended break of 15 to 20 minutes.
  6. Repeat steps three to five until the task is complete. 

While working in smaller time increments may seem counterproductive, these short, intense study sessions maximize your learning. Additionally, studies have found that taking mini-breaks between study sessions allows your brain to reset and re-engage with the study material in front of you.  

In my nursing leadership course, focusing on only one task, such as finishing lesson videos, in 25 minutes enables me to analyze the information in depth without feeling fatigued. Further, I know that after 25 minutes of sustained concentration, I'll be able to reward myself with a break. 

What should you do during your Pomodoro breaks?

Well, anything you want — as long as it's unrelated to the task at hand. You can, for example:  

  • Stretch 
  • Bust out your favorite yoga pose 
  • Grab a snack 
  • Call a loved one or friend
  • Take a short walk

You may have noticed that social media isn't on this list. Although social media can take your mind off your studies, it's best to get up and leave your computer to help your brain relax offline from your online studies. Doing simple activities — such as taking a short walk or making a relaxing drink — can awaken your creative ability spontaneously. 

Since using the Pomodoro Technique, I’ve had several aha moments that have helped me write more genuine and thoughtful responses to classmates in group discussions.  

Who does the Pomodoro Technique work for best?

This study method may work for you if:

  • You tend to get overwhelmed with study tasks (e.g. essays, reading multiple chapters by a specific due date) 
  • You’re stressed from having to juggle multiple tasks, like childcare or house chores, in addition to completing your coursework
  • You get pain in your neck, shoulders, or back while working —  a sign your mind and body may need a break 
  • You lack the discipline or motivation to study

The Pomodoro Technique is direct and straightforward. You’re not allowed to switch to a break in the middle of a study session; therefore, the method compels you to commit to what you started.

How do you maximize the Pomodoro experience for your online healthcare education?

Start with a plan

Often, we procrastinate because we don’t feel ready to tackle a task, such as writing an essay or reading about an extensive topic. Determine the smaller tasks that make up larger tasks. Let’s say you’re writing an essay. You can decide to spend one day solely on researching and creating an outline, and another day exclusively on your draft. As you work session by session, you'll get closer to finishing the assignment. 

Experiment with your time intervals

For some Pomodoro Technique users, 25 minutes is too short. These learners may benefit from longer study sessions of 40 or even 50 minutes. Other users may prefer more frequent, longer breaks of 15 minutes. 

The key is to find the time intervals that work for you. 

I suggest trying the traditional Pomodoro Technique (25 minutes of studying with five minutes of rest) for a few days. Then see if you need to adjust the intervals based on your focus and comfort. 

Fortunately, many Pomodoro apps, such as Pomofocus and Focus-To-Do, make it easy to set your desired intervals. Moreover, they automatically remind you when to take your break or get back to studying. 

Prepare for interruptions

Once you start using the Pomodoro Technique, you may find yourself tempted to address interruptions that come up during your study sessions. These interruptions may include email notifications, phone calls, and requests from family members. 

You can reduce how interruptions impact your studying by assessing their urgency. Is the issue at hand really so urgent that it can't wait 25 more minutes until your next Pomodoro break? It may be hard not to respond immediately to someone you care about, but it's better to give them your undivided attention later instead of attempting to juggle their needs simultaneously with your own. 

I hope you’ll give the Pomodoro Technique a try to maximize your learning outcomes — maybe you’ll even try it on one of OpusVi's online programs for healthcare professionals, as I did!

Discover OpusVi’s Full Suite of Online Programs Made With Healthcare Industry Experts and Leading Academic Institutions

Learn More

Kara-Marie Hall RN, BSN,CCRN


Kara-Marie Hall RN, BSN,CCRN


Kara-Marie Hall RN, BSN,CCRN

Kara-Marie Hall RN, BSN,CCRN, is a healthcare freelance writer who converts her expertise as a registered nurse into polished prose that engages healthcare professionals and patients. She is a proud member of the American Association of Critical Care Nurses and the American Medical Writers Association. Kara-Marie’s interests include nursing leadership, health equity, and patient education. Her commitment to health and wellness stems from a deep desire to improve healthcare — one reader at a time. Currently, Kara-Marie resides in sunny Los Angeles, but calls her native Atlanta “home sweet home.” When she’s not working at the bedside or writing, she’s catching up on her favorite Spanish soap operas or volunteering with non-profits.