Procrastination, meet Pomodoro

Procrastination can be crippling. It’s a habit. A growing habit that can weigh you down, slow you down, and stop you from achieving what you want in life.

Your Ambition

What do you want in life? Cliché I know, but does your ambition wake you up in the morning? Or has it become something you’ve repressed because you no longer believe it is attainable. Procrastination will and does suppress ambitions.

But the truth is, everyone procrastinates. Everyone. And sometimes, procrastination can be a good thing.



Instead of seeing one’s self as “a procrastinator” or  a “victim of procrastination,” let’s understand procrastination as a tool to focus on what matters—your ambition. Or better, the tasks that move you toward your ambition.

When you make a list of things you need to get done, you’re essentially making a list of things you need to procrastinate. The number one task on that list is what you should not procrastinate. Duh!

And the other tasks? Procrastinate!

Ahha! Now we get to the part where anxiety builds up. You have all those other things on the list—some of which you know you could get done right now. But you know what, right now those things are not important. Those are the tasks you NEED to procrastinate!

Focus! Don’t even think about other tasks, or whether you’ve had enough to eat. Focus!

But how? My brain just doesn’t let me!

Been there.

When we were children we learned a cool trick. A very immature trick that doesn’t help anybody. No one!

We unconsciously employed the tool of procrastination when we became aware of a difficult task that needed to be done. When we avoided the task, ahhhh…

Doesn’t it feel good to procrastinate?

Of course it does! Temporarily.

You see, when our brains anticipate a difficult task a particularly interesting region of the brain lights up. Neuroscientists have identified this region to be the same region that lights up when we experience pain.

We show that, when anticipating an upcoming math-task, the higher one’s math anxiety, the more one increases activity in regions associated with visceral threat detection, and often the experience of pain itself (bilateral dorso-posterior insula).

– Lyons IM, Beilock SL, When Math Hurts

Wha?! Our brains are literally telling us that we are in pain when anticipating a difficult task. And to avoid this pain, yep, we procrastinate.

We’ve learned to use procrastination the wrong way!

And procrastinating the most important task will only be met with more pain later, because there is less time to do it.

I’d imagine this is why so many people experience anxiety, depression, and often times addiction (as many experience the need to alleviate that pain through a dopamine high—this can include eating).

The Trick

Interestingly, this relation was not seen during math performance, suggesting that it is not that math itself hurts; rather, the anticipation of math is painful.
– Lyons IM, Beilock SL, When Math Hurts
SO, if you procrastinate the “painful” task, you feel temporary relief.
BUT, if you start the “painful” task, your brain will forget it in minutes!
Here is the game-changing technique to help start those “painful” tasks:

The Pomodoro Technique

Engineered by Francesco Cirillo
I’m going to share a link to a video that gives a good overall demonstration of how to use the pomodoro technique. But I’m going to give you a quick overview with an extra hack.

What you need:

  1. A timer
  2. A task

What you do:

  1. Clear all distractions
    • Pick a place and setting that you know will have the least distractions, and that is designated for your work and study only.
    • If you are not using your phone as a timer, turn it off!
  2. Start timer for 25 minutes
  3. Focus on your task for the duration of your pomodoro
    • No multi-tasking!
    • I personally have a ‘Distractions’ notebook so if or when I do have a nagging thought, I can write it down in my notebook so my mind lets it go and I can get right back to my task.
  4. Reward yourself!
    • Take a 5 minute break.
    • Reward yourself with a small sweet.

Step 4: muy importante

And the type of reward is important too. Pick a small sweet that you can enjoy for the next minute (I personally like chocolate covered espresso beans).

Savor it! Think about how good it is, and that you deserve it because you completed a pomodoro! To make it even more important to your subconscious mind raise your arms in the air in victory! Because you just took a big step in creating a habit that has the power to change your life.

I’ll write more about why I believe step 4 is so important. But basically it’s a mind hack to tell your subconscious, “whatever it is that I was just doing, I want to do it more.” You’ll start craving pomodoros!

And as long as your priorities are right, you’ll literally start craving productivity too.


References (video)

Lyons IM, Beilock SL (2012) When Math Hurts: Math Anxiety Predicts Pain Network Activation in Anticipation of Doing Math. PLoS ONE 7(10): e48076. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0048076

Post image credits goes to: House of the Tomato, for their wonderful tomato; and Figure 1 from When Math Hurts

  • Ben Prindle

    Hey you. Yep. I just started this blog. If you found this helpful, or if you have any additional advise, please share the knowledge!

  • Matt Prindle

    Loving this Pomodoro Technique! Makes much more sense now too in understanding how the brain can evolve with this method. Though I sometimes struggle actually taking a break and rewarding myself when the timer is up because I don’t want to break my focus. Do you have any suggestions for incorporating pomodoro without
    losing focused?

    • Ben Prindle

      Yes! This is the major critique of the pomodoro. One must be mindful to whether or not the pomodoro is helpful or a hinderance to their work. If it becomes something that pulls you out of flow, stop using it. This technique ought to be employed when one realizes that they are having difficulty starting a task. Starting is what is important. Because that which you start your brain compels you to finish—the zeigarnik effect.

  • Lindsay Seligman

    Nice technique! I would love a follow up article on how often you use this and what the long term effects are. Are you able to eventually just prime your brain to be focused on any task and what life changes you do see when you achieve that kind of focus.

    • Ben Prindle

      Hey Lindsay! Some people have learned to use procrastination the right way early. In their case, this would not be a useful technique, as they already habitually start their priorities without delay. The longer one thinks about the painful task, the more difficult that task becomes to start. So the pomodoro is just an incentive for those of us who have trained ourselves to procrastinate priorities. Over time, it is not necessary. But it may come in hand in time and again!
      Personally, I see myself using it less, because I am naturally wanting to get what I need to get done done. Done dun dun dun duuuuuuun.

  • Ebin Barnett

    Nice! Is there any other types of rewards being used beside sweet tasty treats? Maybe some type of quick activity one enjoys?

    • Ben Prindle

      Maybe. But the reason a sweet is so powerful is there is no work involved, and the dopamine spike is incomparable to other types of rewards. Unless you use drugs. But I wouldn’t recommend that.

  • Bethany Johnson

    I just spent 5 minutes reading this instead of tackling one of those to-do items. But ironically, it may have been more beneficial to my to-do list to have spent those 5 minutes here, if indeed I turn this pomodoro thing into a practice. What say you to the trap of consuming motivating blog posts as a substitute to getting started on that big, hairy task?

    • Ben Prindle

      I’m doing it all the time! I’m doing it right now. Off to my pomodoro!

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  • dsprindle

    I want to check this out when I have the time…

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