The Surprising Strategy that Gets Students Motivated, Increases Productivity, and Improves Health! : Brain Bites

The Surprising Strategy that Gets Students Motivated, Increases Productivity, and Improves Health!

by Janet Zadina on 10/03/18

Do your students put off starting long-term projects, such as writing a paper or reading a book, or doing a research project?  They wait until the last minute usually because they have trouble starting. Starting is the hardest part! Well, this decades-old technique can get them on their way and help you improve your productivity and your health.

In the late 80’s, Francesco Cirillo developed a time management method called the Pomodoro Technique. This technique broke work tasks into intervals separated by brief breaks.  Typically the intervals were 25 minutes in length with a 5 minute break The method has become so popular that timers are available online and there are apps for it. (see below).  

Much more recently, research has shown that after sitting for only 20 minutes, your chemistry changes.  Metabolism can slow down. Thinking can become sluggish, as well. In fact, some studies indicate that it doesn’t even matter how much you exercise; it matters how long you sit! One study said that 60-75 minutes of exercise a day could counteract that but other studies say the sitting is harmful regardless of exercise.  

Being sedentary is bad for your health and your brain.  You need to get the body moving and get blood flow to the brain. I am not saying this method will prevent the effects of sitting so much.  I am saying that it is helpful to get blood flow to the brain and to prevent extended periods of sitting.

In light of the above, I have been using a technique I call 20/10, although it could be 20/5, because the most important fact is that you don’t sit longer than 20 minutes without getting up.  I have found that by setting the “up” length to 10 minutes I can accomplish many tasks a day on my break. However, I work at home, so that is easier. For those in an office, 20/5 may be the best length.  In five minutes you can get water (a good idea!), go to the restroom, walk something to another office, speak with a colleague rather than emailing, or just take a brisk walk around the hallway. For a while, I had an energetic song on my desktop and would dance wildly to it as my break and then get back to work. ?  You may not want to do that in a public office, ha ha. I bought a standing desk and I use it the first 20 minutes of the day and occasionally thereafter, depending upon whether I went to the gym. You might prefer the following method, especially if you have a standing desk. Sit for 20, stand for 8, and move around and stretch for 2 minutes.  

Now you may think that 20 minutes isn’t enough time to get anything done.  Actually, I have found that it dramatically improves my productivity. I have a loud kitchen timer ticking away and so, knowing that I am working in a brief segment, I work much more quickly than before, rushing to get to a good stopping point.  Many times I finish a task and have 5 minutes left. That is great for all those little sedentary tasks like filing, clearing off a desk, making a phone call, or tackling an email. Speaking of email, this strategy also “limits” you to 20 minutes on email because when you return you realize that you need to get started on those big tasks.  And here is where it really helps you and where it links to students.

Since the hardest part is getting started and because you can agree and get students to agree that they can stand anything for 20 minutes.  It’s shorter than being in a dentist’s chair, right? So that big deadline or that long report or complicated project that you never have time to do because it will take a few hours gets started.  You tell yourself you will just work on it for 20 minutes and then do the other things you have to do. Tell students that if all they do is stare at the paper for 20 minutes it is a start! Commit to only 20 minutes!

Watch what happens.  More often than not, once I got started, I would be so engrossed I wouldn’t hear the timer and an hour would go by.  (That’s ok occasionally ?). I had accomplished the hardest part- getting started. Then I can keep working on it in 20-minute intervals.

The same thing is true of students.  When you assign a large task, after a day or so, get students to commit to spending 20 minutes on it before the next class and report back how that went.  See what happens. You can teach them this method and check in with them. Keep asking for those intervals.

Try this method or use the Pomodoro Technique as described on the internet.  You will be surprised at the results. Oops, my timer went off. I finished the entire first draft and will come back to add some resources and proof it. And time flew by! Probably two intervals to finish the newsletter and I will have completed this task that I put off for a couple of months because I didn’t have time.

with Dr. Janet Zadina
Copyright 2013 Janet Zadina, Ph.D. All rights reserved
Janet N. Zadina, Ph.D
Brain Research and Instruction

Science and Strategies
Janet N. Zadina, Ph.D
Brain Research and Instruction
Bridging Neuroscience and Education​

"Science and Strategies"
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