By Joannie Jean |

Something we all do as students or candidates is writing. Many students find this activity tedious and, in our fast-paced world, we tend to get distracted from it often. After a while of doing guerilla-style writing, which I would describe as hardly living for three days and spending every waking hour on my laptop and then crashing for the following four days, I realized that there must be a better way to write. There must be a way to work and live at the same time. It wasn’t until the end of my second year that I discovered a technique used by a friend called the Pomodoro technique. At first, I was doubtful as this technique suggests managing your time very strictly. So, I put the idea to the back of my mind. That is, until I had to produce a lot of work in a short amount of time. When I next had to produce a lot of writing in a short amount of time, I dusted off the guerilla-style writing approach I had previously been using, but this time it only worked for two weeks before I came crumbling down. It wasn’t working, nor was it worth it anymore. I called my friend, and I asked her to give me a crash course on the method she was using.

The Pomodoro technique is based on the idea that, as humans, we cannot stay attentive for long stretches of time and that over the course of a day our attention will decrease and be divided between several  concerns or tasks. In order to optimize your time, you should thus organize your day by dividing your available time to work in chunks of 25 minutes followed by 5 to 10 minute breaks. During the first such period of time, you have to concentrate exclusively on the task at hand, while the subsequent time can be used however you may want. There are many articles dedicated to the use of this technique; however, it is not the objective of this text to present every aspect of the technique or to explain its theoretical component. What I want to do here is to describe my experience using this technique, while at the same time highlighting how I have adapted and integrated the Pomodoro technique as part of my day-to-day life and also what I have gained since I started using this technique.

How I adapted it

The first month of using this technique was one of trial and error. This is why I think anyone interested in using this technique should research the technique and then try it for at least a month. How did I do that? Well, first off, every Sunday, I sat down to write down my overall objectives for the week. The second step was for me to separate each day and to consider how much time I could work on the tasks related to and/or outside of academia. Here is an example of a typical Monday to Wednesday list that I came up with.

The adaptations I made to the use of this writing method served one major purpose: being able to better organize all the little tasks that were often pushed back in my schedule, but that ended up hurting me if I did not do them, such as going to the pool, doing laundry, writing networking emails, or even writing abstracts for conferences. With the complete and official Pomodoro technique, you are supposed to track every task you set out to complete, and try to see if you give yourself enough time to complete the tasks. I did not do this. Through trial and error, I have been able to determine how much time I can spend working on a certain task before I become tired or before I lose concentration, so I always factor that in whenever I organize my days now. At the same time, I have learned to take into account meetings, appointments, etc., so I arrange my work accordingly. For instance, I will not plan a nine hour work day when I have to attend a four hour meeting.

What I have learned

Using this writing method is the second thing that actually made it possible for me to complete my PhD in 5 years. By integrating my “whole” life into my planning, and considering all aspects of my life when planning my writing time through the use of this technique, I have been able to organize my days and weeks in order to work more efficiently and accomplish more than when I was working a greater number of hours. This is possible because this technique helps you to regulate when you work (and only work) and how long your breaks are. That is to say that using this technique not only helped me manage my time more efficiently, but it also helped me determine how much time was needed to accomplish what was essential. Similarly, I discovered that I actually work better in the morning for tasks that need more concentration, so I dedicated my afternoons to tasks that needed less concentration. Finally, using this technique has also helped me stop working seven days a week. During the dissertation writing process, I had a day and a half off (without the guilt!) each week, and now I plan for two full days off a week.


Is this method perfect? Well, it might not work for you, but it did work for me. I encourage anyone feeling stressed and overwhelmed to at least consider it. You might be inspired to adapt it to your own needs and, as a result, you might get to enjoy some time off as a reward for finishing your to do list each week.


Joannie Jean is currently doing the final revisions of her dissertation to complete her PhD in Sociology at the University of Ottawa, Canada. You can’t find her on Twitter, but on Academia.


Image 1: CC0 License
Image 2: By Joannie Jean