Study Smart Part 2: Beat Procrastination and Maximize Efficiency With the Pomodoro Technique

Welcome back, everyone to the second part of the series, Study Smart. I’m your host, Clara Tong. I tutor math online to students ages 11 and up. By the way, I also help out with high school chemistry. I thought I would mention that since this series is all about mastering math and science. If you need more information about me, please check on my website, claratong.com. Let’s get started with the video.

Now, this video is all about procrastination. It is the biggest roadblock when it comes to studying. When you’re learning new material, your brain needs time to deeply process. It also needs sleep to strengthen the neural pathways, so trying to cram it all in at the very last minute is like thinking that you can go from being a couch potato to a marathon runner in one run. Things don’t work that way.

Sleep is your brain’s best friend. While you sleep, your body’s lymphatic system begins its work, clearing out toxic waste products produced in your brain while you’re awake. If you don’t sleep well, this cleaning process gets disrupted. The noticeable consequence the next morning is that you might feel as if your brain is in a fog. You can’t concentrate well, you can’t react to things quickly. It’s not great. Also, while you sleep, your brain sorts through your memories and strengthens what it thinks is important and tosses out the rest. The memories that are selected as important become deeply ingrained. Wouldn’t you want your brain working with you so that all the time that you spent learning about the trends of the periodic table was not wasted?

Plus, bed is one of the three Bs that we talked about in part one of this series about activating diffused mode so that you can work on hard problems. If you load the problem into your brain before you sleep, there might be a chance that by the next morning you’ll have an answer that actually works. This actually happened to me last week.

When you procrastinate, you’re only giving yourself enough time to do surface-level learning. An example of this is when students try to tell me that they’re going to memorize the problems for a test because they don’t have time to understand it. Under those conditions, the best that you can do is remember what sorts of things that you need to write down, and then just hope for the best. But this is like trying to speak a foreign language without understanding what any of the words mean. It’s a little pointless.

So how do we kick this procrastination habit? This may surprise you, but it has absolutely nothing to do with willpower. Willpower is like a muscle. After you use it, it gets tired. Resisting temptation once lowers your ability to resist temptation again. Instead, we need to understand why we procrastinate in the first place. It’s not that we’re lazy, unmotivated, or avoiding effort. Procrastination is actually about managing negative emotions.

When faced with tasks that we feel unprepared for, we’re looking at emotions like fear of failure, anxiety, boredom, confusion, and frustration. Who wants to experience that? So instead of facing these feelings, we do other things like get a snack, organize our photo library, clean our desks, or start scrolling on social media. Anything to get our minds off the pain of negative emotions.

Here’s the thing. Avoiding the problem might make you feel a little bit better in the short term, but it doesn’t fix anything in the long run. Sure, some students look like they can just cram the night before. And this might work for a while, but school is going to get harder one day. And if you don’t have the proper study skills to fall back on, it’s not a situation that you want to be in.

We’re going to have to do a little bit of digging into your own behavioral patterns to understand what triggers you to procrastinate. These cues are often associated with a certain time and place, emotional state, people around you, or other distractions. That’s why it’s a good idea to always study in the same quiet place at the same time. When you’re in that place at the usual time, it’s your cue to start studying.

Now, I don’t do this, but I know a lot of people who go to coffee shops to do work. I guess that makes sense, because you can come to know the smells and the sounds of a coffee shop as the environment in which you do work.

Now for all my math phobes out there, I get it. Math anxiety is real, and the negative feelings around doing math are not a joke. Now, if you have a clinical level of math anxiety, I am not minimizing the overwhelming feelings that you feel when you look at a math problem. But for the rest of you, it is not the actual math that causes you pain. It’s the anticipation of math that has you all worked up. Once you begin and start to make progress on your homework or on your studying, then your stress level will go back down.

So now that you know that you can beat procrastination by, well, starting the actual tasks that you’re procrastinating on, we can talk about how you should actually allocate your time. Have you heard of the Pomodoro Technique? The Pomodoro technique is a time management technique created by an Italian called Francesco Cirillo. Here is a simple explanation of how to do it.

First, you want to decide on what task you want to work on. Be sure to focus on the process, not the product. So you can say that for the first round of Pomodoro, you’re going to spend 25 minutes quizzing yourself on the path that food takes to go through your digestive system, or you’re going to do questions on polynomial division. You’re not going to say things like, I’m going to complete half of my assignment on the digestive system, or I’m going to master polynomial division in 25 minutes, because if you don’t succeed at the end of the Pomodoro, you’re going to feel frustrated.

Set a timer for 25 minutes. This 25-minute time interval is called one Pomodoro. Work on the task focused entirely on your chosen task until the timer rings. Avoid any distractions during this time. Distractions are going to come, but you can acknowledge them and then ignore them.

Take a short break. Once the timer goes off, take a short break of around five minutes. Use this time to stretch, rest, or do something enjoyable.

After the short break, return to your task and set the timer for another 25 minutes. Repeat this cycle of working for 25 minutes and taking a five-minute break. After completing four Pomodoros, take a longer break of around 15 to 30 minutes. Repeat this process as necessary to progress through your tasks.

I have something to confess. I struggle with procrastination too. In running this tutoring business, there are a number of tasks that I don’t want to do. Just thinking about them brings me pain. I decided to give the Pomodoro Technique a try because, well, even I can focus for 25 minutes. I was really amazed by how much I could accomplish in such a short timeframe. That is, as long as I don’t get distracted by my phone. When you can check off a big scary task off your to-do list, it feels amazing.

Now, I don’t always do it as 25-minute time blocks, and I rarely ever do four Pomodoros in a row. It kind of depends on what other things I need to do during the day, and how much mental capacity I have. You can customize it to however it works for you. The point is to have blocks of uninterrupted, focused time.

I know that there are people out there who think that they are great at multitasking, but actually, multitasking is not something that humans can do. We don’t multitask. The only thing we do is switch tasks very quickly, and each time you switch tasks, your overall productivity suffers.

In the next video, I’m going to be talking about what you should actually be doing while you study, and also what you should not be doing. If you’ve enjoyed this video, please give it a like and subscribe to my channel for more content. Thank you for watching, and I will see you in the next video.

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