Learn How to Learn Better with the Pomodoro Technique
This 25-minute learning technique is one of the simplest in the world. It's also one of the most effective, says professor of engineering Barbara Oakley.
Barbara Oakley, PhD, is a professor of engineering at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, and Ramón y Cajal Distinguished Scholar of Global Digital Learning at McMaster University. Her research involves bioengineering with an emphasis on neuroscience and cognitive psychology. Alongside legendary neuroscientist Terrence Sejnowski, Dr. Oakley teaches two massive open online courses (MOOCs), 'Learning How to Learn,' the world's most popular course, and 'Mindshift,' the companion course to her most recent book of the same title.
Barbara Oakley: The Pomodoro technique is probably one of the most powerful techniques in all of learning. So I teach a course of learning how to learn that’s actually the world’s largest massive open online course. We have something like two million people. And the Pomodoro technique is the most popular technique; I hear from literally thousands of people. And I have to give credit to the creator, who was Francesco Cirillo. He developed this technique in the early 1980s. And it’s so simple that really anybody can do it.
So all you have to do is turn off all distractions. So no little ringy-dingys on your cell phone or anything like that; on your computer you want to turn off any kind of messages that might arise. Set a timer for 25 minutes, and then just focus as intently as you can for those 25 minutes.
Now if you’re like me, you’ll start focusing away and you’re working away, and then you look up at the timer and two minutes have passed. Then my brain goes, “I’ve only done two minutes? I can’t do another 23 minutes on this Pomodoro!” And I let the thought just go right on by, and I return my focus to whatever I’m working on. And when that 25 minutes is up I relax a little bit. I turn my attention to something else.
Now I will admit that if I really get into the flow of what I’m doing that I will continue sometimes. You might wonder why that 25 minutes is the magic number, and the reality is we don’t really know. There’s not a lot of research on the Pomodoro technique which is surprising because it’s so incredibly popular and people find it very useful.
But there’s an interesting tidbit related to the Pomodoro technique, and that is that: when you even just think about something that you don’t like very much it activates a portion of the brain that experiences pain. And so the brain naturally enough shifts its attention to something else, anything else, like Facebook or Twitter or something like that. And what you’ve just done is you’ve procrastinated.
And what the Pomodoro technique does, when you do it you’re setting that timer. You don’t want to sit there and think, “I am going to finish this homework set” or “I’m going to work on this problem and get it all finished.” You just want to think, “I’ve got 25 minutes where I just have to work on something.” Don’t even think about what that something is. What that does is it slips in under your brain’s radar. It doesn’t activate so much that pain in your brain; and then that pain in the brain, research has shown it lasts for 20 minutes.
So if you work for 25 minutes you will suddenly find yourself getting into the flow because you’ve gone past that painful period. So the Pomodoro technique is effective in many different some very subtle ways and so I highly recommend it.
Learning is not always easy, and there may be a biological reason for that. Engineering professor Barbara Oakley teaches the world's largest online open class, commonly referred to as MOOCs. So you might be wondering what subject attracts more people than any other free online course? Learning to learn better is what Oakley teaches. One of the most effective techniques she knows of was created by an Italian named Francesco Cirillo, and you may have heard of it. It's called the Pomodoro Technique. What makes the technique so effective is that it trains your brain to concentrate for 25 minutes. What's so magical about 25 minutes? Research shows that your brain suffers for 20 minutes when you first try to concentrate, so outlasting that pain will help you get into a flow state of focus. You'll just need to summon the willpower to put your phone away. Barbara Oakley's most recent book is Mindshift: Break Through Obstacles to Learning and Discover Your Hidden Potential, and you can find the Mindshift course here.
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A large new study puts caffeine-drinking moms on alert.
- Neuroregulating caffeine easily crosses the placental barrier.
- A study finds that the brains of children born to mothers who consumed coffee during pregnancy are different.
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Credit: myboys.me/Adobe Stock<p>For the study, its authors analyzed brain scans of 9,000 nine and ten-year-olds. Based on their mothers' recollections of their coffee consumption during pregnancy, the researchers found that children of coffee drinkers had clear changes in the manner in which white brain matter tracks were organized. These are the pathways that interconnect brain regions.</p><p>According to Foxe, "These are sort of small effects, and it's not causing horrendous psychiatric conditions, but it is causing minimal but noticeable behavioral issues that should make us consider long-term effects of caffeine intake during pregnancy."</p><p>Christensen says that what makes this finding noteworthy is that "we have a biological pathway that looks different when you consume caffeine through pregnancy."</p><p>Of children with such pathway differences, Christensen says, "Previous studies have shown that children perform differently on IQ tests, or they have different psychopathology, but that could also be related to demographics, so it's hard to parse that out until you have something like a biomarker. This gives us a place to start future research to try to learn exactly when the change is occurring in the brain."</p><p>The study doesn't claim to have determined exactly <em>when</em> during development these changes occur, or if caffeine has more of an effect during one trimester or another.</p><p>Foxe cautions, "It is important to point out this is a retrospective study. We are relying on mothers to remember how much caffeine they took in while they were pregnant."</p><p>So as if being pregnant wasn't difficult enough, it sounds like the most conservative and safe course of action for expectant mothers is to forgo those revitalizing cups of Joe and switch to decaf or some other uncaffeinated form of liquid comfort. We apologize on behalf of science.</p>
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Can playing video games really curb the risk of depression? Experts weigh in.
- A new study published by a UCL researcher has demonstrated how different types of screen time can positively (or negatively) influence young people's mental health.
- Young boys who played video games daily had lower depression scores at age 14 compared to those who played less than once per month or never.
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The study gained interesting insight into the link between depression rates at age 14 and video game usage a few years earlier.
Credit: Pixel-Shot on Adobe Stock<p>The study's lead author, Ph.D. student Aaron Kandola, explains to <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-02/ucl-bwp021721.php" target="_blank">Eurekalert</a>: "Screens allow us to engage in a wide range of activities. Guidelines and recommendations about screen time should be based on our understanding of how these different activities might influence mental health and whether that influence is meaningful."</p><p><strong>How this study was conducted: </strong></p><ul><li>These findings come as part of the Millennium Cohort Study, where over 11,000 (n = 11,341) adolescents were surveyed. </li><li>Depressive symptoms were measured with a Moods and Feelings Questionnaire (age 14). </li><li>"Exposures" were listed as the frequency of video games, social media, and internet usage (age 11). </li><li>Physical activity was also accounted for on a self-reporting basis. </li></ul><p><strong>When comparing young boys (age 11) who played video games to those who don't, the study showed interesting results: </strong></p><ul><li>Boys who played video games <strong>daily</strong> had 24.3 percent lower depression scores at age 14 (compared to those who played less than once per month or never). </li><li>Boys who played video games <strong>at least once per week</strong> had 25.1 percent lower depression scores at age 14 (compared to those who played less than once per month or never). </li><li>BOoys who played video games <strong>at least once per month</strong> had 31.2 percent lower depression scored at age 14 (compared to those who played less than once per month or never). </li></ul><p><strong>When comparing how depression impacted young girls based on their social media usage, the researchers found that:</strong></p><ul><li>Compared with less than once per month/never social media usage, using social media most days at age 11 was associated with a 13% higher depression score at age 14. </li></ul>