Feeling Overwhelmed? Try the Pomodoro Method

This post is part of a series called The Peaceful Professor, which will explore how mindfulness can be integrated into higher education.  Empirical research, teaching strategies, guided meditations, and affirmations will be shared to help professors (and students) alleviate stress, avoid burnout, and improve overall wellbeing.


Across the country, college students are approaching exam week.  This means faculty will soon be inundated with exams, papers, and other projects.  As a chronic procrastinator, I have the bad habit of allowing grading to pile up until it becomes so overwhelming that I actually move through the stages of grief.  As miserable as this makes me, I’ve been repeating this experience for ten years now…  I did say I was a chronic procrastinator.

But this is a “do as I say, not as I do” moment.  I don’t wish these feelings of anxiety and exhaustion on anyone.  So to help you, I propose a time management idea as well as an affirmation.

The Pomodoro Method

One of the contributors to procrastination is facing a task so large or complex that we don’t know how to start.  Feeling overwhelmed prevents us from taking action.  The Pomodoro Method seeks to remedy this by asking practitioners to break down tasks into manageable chunks and take scheduled breaks while working.  When I first heard about this technique, I immediately thought it could make the grading process less painful.  So how do you begin?

First, set specific goals for what you want to achieve.  In the case of grading, maybe it’s “by Friday, I will grade 20 of my 40 research papers.”  Given your goal, how many pomodoros do you need (pomodoros = 25-minute segments)?  Perhaps you typically devote 15 minutes to each student’s paper.  That means you’ll need 12 pomodoros to reach your goal.

Next, set your timer for 25 minutes and work in a distraction-free setting.  When the timer rings, you must take a short break.  It’s required.  Get a cup of coffee; walk a loop around your neighborhood; play with your pet.

When you return, set the timer for your second pomodoro.  After four pomodoros, you must take a longer break (30 minutes is recommended).  Go for a run; cook dinner; watch an episode of a favorite TV show.  Maintain this cycle until you reach your goal.  If you have tasks remaining, set a new goal and determine how many pomodoros you still need.

Although not revolutionary, this technique can result in greater productivity by encouraging us to set concrete goals, commit to short segments of concentration, and take regular “brain breaks.”

Affirmation for Grading Overload

Now that you have a practical suggestion for handling grading overload, I’d like to offer this simple affirmation based on the adage “this too shall pass.”  While you may be feeling mentally exhausted, remember that you will get through it one step (or one pomodoro) at a time.

This grading shall pass. The Peaceful Professor Affirmations.

Have you tried the Pomodoro Method?  Do you have other strategies for managing grading overload?  Please share!

And for more mantras, affirmations, guided meditations, and research on mindfulness, visit The Peaceful Professor!

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About pastprof

Recovering academic. Starting a new adventure as a college instructional technologist. Ph.D. in Communication & Information. Reside in the lovely Charleston, South Carolina, USA.
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2 Responses to Feeling Overwhelmed? Try the Pomodoro Method

  1. Kelley says:

    Great suggestion! I’ve been trying to grade while standing over the last few days and I think it really helps.

    • pastprof says:

      Thanks for reading, Kelley! I use a stand-up desk while in the office and it’s really helped my energy level. But when I really need to concentrate, I find tasks more difficult when standing. It’s strange.

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