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Better thesis writing with the Pomodoro® technique

Thesis writing is challenging. Distractions are everywhere. Trying to focus and get things done is a major struggle. According to the Pomodoro® technique, it is best to concentrate on a single task for 25 minutes straight. Find out how this method can help your thesis writing process.

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The challenge of doing academic work without distractions

Twenty-five minutes without distraction? It’s a piece of cake, you might think. But try it. In today’s world, distractions are everywhere. A study by Microsoft even suggested that our attention span reduced to 8 seconds in 2015. A drop from 12 seconds in the year 2000!

The notorious goldfish has an attention span of 9. Now, that’s embarrassing… And the study is from 2015, so it likely got worse. Especially during pandemic times.

A major reason for our short attention span is technology. We are connected 24/7. Always on call. Always on social media. And PhD, master’s and bachelor’s students are masters of procrastination anyways. So that doesn’t help.

Focusing on time management in 25-minute chunks

The Pomodoro® technique is a time management strategy in which you divide your work into concrete tasks. Then, you turn on a timer for exactly 25 minutes and just focus on the task at hand.

During these 25 minutes, you blend out all distractions. Close your email and turn off all social media notifications. Put your phone on silence. Close all unnecessary windows and tabs.

Once the 25 minutes are over, you stop. You get up. You take a short proper break. It does not matter what you do in your break except that it should be completely unrelated to work.

After 4 ‘pomodoros’ (four times 25 minutes of focused work followed by 5 minutes breaks), you take a long break of 30 minutes.

If you are looking to elevate your writing and editing skills, I highly recommend enrolling in the course “Good with Words: Writing and Editing Specialization“, which is a 4 course series offered by the University of Michigan. This comprehensive program is conveniently available as an online course on Coursera, allowing you to learn at your own pace. Plus, upon successful completion, you’ll have the opportunity to earn a valuable certificate to showcase your newfound expertise!

Turning “I should be writing” into “I wrote something today”

“I should be writing” is most likely the most common sentence used in academia. Not being able to write. Knowing that one should be writing. And feeling guilty about not writing. It is a vicious cycle.

Breaking big tasks into smaller, concrete action points always makes sense. When it comes to consistent thesis writing, it is key. Very often, the inability to concentrate or the so-called writer’s block is a mental response to feeling overwhelmed and anxious.

Set yourself a target for the day. For instance, 8 pomodoros. That would be two hours of your time in the morning, and two hours of your time in the afternoon including short breaks.

Might seem little, but you will be surprised how much you can achieve with full concentration. And imagine how accomplished you will feel knowing that you worked on your thesis with full concentration for 4 hours!

Thesis writing with the Pomodoro® technique in practice

Over time, you will learn to be realistic about the length of your tasks. Twenty-five minutes for a three-sentence paragraph might seem like a failure, whereas it might just be realistic.

What are possible action points for a thesis? Glad you asked, here are some examples.

  • summarize articles on a specific concept;
  • work on the thesis structure;
  • draft the method section;
  • write your abstract;
  • draft one section of your analysis;
  • write the first paragraph of your introduction.

Once I was told by an established professor that she is incapable of producing more than 250 words a day in proper writing. She had numerous publications and was well established in academia. To this day, I am grateful that she told me that.

Energy management and the state of flow during thesis writing

Thesis writing is exhausting. It is not a mindless task that you can do without thinking. Therefore, it is unrealistic to be able to write for a full working day (e.g. 8 hours straight) anyways.

The ‘problem’ for many academics is the state of flow. Meaning the state of being fully immersed in one’s work. Being in the zone, so to speak. Don’t get me wrong, this state gives you satisfaction and produces high-quality academic work.

However, it also lets you forget to take breaks. To have a cup of tea. To stretch. To take a short walk. As a result, chances are high that you are completely exhausted at the end of a writing session.

Consistency is key. Therefore it is best to train your brain to be focused, and productive and to take regular breaks. No one wins if you have one day of pure focus and non-stop writing, and the next day you completely collapse and don’t get anything done.

So do your mental and physical health a favour and try the Pomodoro® technique!

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