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The Pomodoro Technique is straight-forward enough. Decide on what you have to do and work at it with short cycles. This technique works because it hacks our natural inclination to fear, in 2 effective ways:

 

Reducing initial fear so you can get started

  • Remember what we learnt about fear and anxiety? These are emotions that happen naturally without your control, and they are triggered when something feels threatening to you.

  • When you plan a 5-hour work session ahead of you, it feels threatening. That's a lot of time. It sounds like it will be painful. Your amygdala starts to trigger, you feel scared and anxious and worried, and you... procrastinate. 

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  • In contrast, a 25-minute session sounds much less threatening. And you get a guaranteed break after. 

  • Since it's less threatening, you're more likely to start work on the task. In this way, you allay the potential fears in your brain (which is why it's so important to understand how our brains work!)

  • The Pomodoro Technique is very similar to the Kaizen philosophy from the Japanese. Kaizen advocates a modified approach - the 1-Minute Technique. When folks face a challenging task and have trouble starting, the 1-minute technique simply asks us to work at it for 1 minute. This reduces the fear and anxiety we have to the bare minimum, allowing almost anyone to start on something.

  • Once we've started, we build momentum, and we are often able to keep going.

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Fear of time running out

  • Ever seen a sale or infomercial, where there is a time limit to a particular price? You might not have wanted to buy anything. But when you see the timer, your brain clicks into action - maybe you need to take action.

  • The timer triggers a different sense of fear in our brains, the fear of losing something. In this case, that something is time

  • By having a short cycle, you find that time passes really quickly. And when you see that clock counting down, you feel the sense of urgency to not lose the remaining time you have. You have a higher chance of working harder.

Primacy and recency effect

  • We tend to be able to recall more of what we learnt at the start (primacy) and at the end (recency) of a learning session.  This is what is know as the serial position effect, or the primacy and recency effect.

  • The Pomodoro method creates multiple learning sessions with breaks in between; this creates more primary (each time you start) and recent (each time the session ends) brackets.

  • Finally, there is some research that shows that 20-25 minutes is about the maximum time the brain can concentrate fully before it needs a break (this is also why Ted Talks are less than 20 minutes). However, this is highly context dependent, and can have wide variability. 

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