Using the Pomodoro Technique for Academic Tasks

Working as an academic often means having your day broken up by various, often unrelated tasks.  A typical day might include teaching, holding office hours, grading, attending a department meeting, and working on an article.  Being divided among all these different tasks, and having your day split up by teaching and meetings can make completing even simple tasks quite the challenge. Everyone has figured out different methods for piecing together enough time and attention to get everything done in one day that needs doing.  But if your methods result in feeling like coping rather than mastery, then I have just the thing for you to try: the Pomodoro Technique.

What is the Pomodoro Technique?

According to the website, the Pomodoro Technique:

It is a time management method created by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s that helps you accomplish what you want to do by transforming time into a valuable ally. Why is it so popular? Because it is easy to use, and most of all, because it works!

Its simplicity is part of its appeal: to do a “pomodoro,” you set a timer for 25 minutes, in which you attempt to complete a task.  At the end of the 25 minutes, you time a 5 minute break.  Then you can do another pomodoro if you need to or want to.  I use a free application called Focus Booster to time my pomodoros, but any timer would work.

Why Use It?

The Pomodoro Technique is more than just setting a timer — it helps you manage your time so that you can better use your time and complete tasks.  After I started using it, I grew better at figuring out how long a particular task would take, and how to start breaking up larger, anxiety-provoking projects into more manageable chunks.  The built-in five-minute break also allows a space for messing around on the internet or otherwise getting distracted — this helps me focus during the 25 minutes of “work” time.

What to Use it for?

I’ve used pomodoros for many different tasks — grading student work, dissertation writing, reading (for class and for my own research), answering email, etc.  I don’t always use it, as I don’t feel like I need it all of the time, but I take it out if I’m feeling especially crunched for time or under a tight deadline.  Having the timer there helps me focus and it creates a distinct end-point for whatever task I’m working on.  It forces me to think about how much time I actually have to spend on a particular task, and the reward is that at the end of a few pomodoros, something that felt overwhelming is either done or now manageable.

Pomodoros are also useful for academics in particular because of the number of sometimes disparate tasks we have to complete in a day divided up by meetings and class periods.  Being able to use a pomodoro helps artificially create divisions of time in which you can get things done.  For example, you can spend one pomodoro updating your attendance and discussion board tallies for your classes, and spend the next replying to all the emails that need replying to that day.  The Pomodoro Technique creates blocks out of your time that makes it easier to switch back and forth between different kinds of work.

Do you use the Pomodoro Technique, or another time management method?  What have you found that works well for you?  Share with us in the comments!


[This is the third post in my series on productivity for academics. Read the first post in the series, on managing email, here; and the second, on task manager applications here.]

About Kim Mann

Kim Mann is the editor and a writer for the Academic Technology Blog. She earned her BA in English from the University of Minnesota in 2003 and her MA in American Studies from William & Mary in 2009, and her PhD in American Studies at the College in 2014. Her research is on technology, the interface, and the body in mid-twentieth century science fiction.


  1. Mane Pada says:

    I will give Pomodor a try! Any technique that allows me to manage my time and projects better is priceless in my opinion!

    • Hi Mane! Glad to hear that it sounds useful — What I like most about it is how it helps me be more aware of how much time I spend on all the things I try to get done during the day. Let me know how it goes, and good luck!