In 2019, with the assistance of a First and Further Year Experience grant, Dr Liz Giuffre and I ran a project for first-year creative writing students to introduce them to the ‘Pomodoro Technique’. The technique is a simple time management tool, used widely by creative writers. It takes its name from a tomato-shaped kitchen timer and can be facilitated with any timing device.
The Pomodoro Technique helps to manage big tasks by breaking them into smaller pieces that can be fitted around other commitments. A timer can be set for any length of time (usually 25 minutes) and the writer commits to writing without interruption for the set time.
Tackling pressure and procrastination
Students in first-year creative writing subjects in the School of Communication have to produce creative projects for their major assessment tasks. They are expected to plan these projects early in the semester so they can benefit from feedback on their ideas and draft work from their tutors and peers.
For first-year students, planning large projects can be daunting and overwhelming, and many struggle to submit drafts of their work before the final assessment submission. This means they are disadvantaged compared to peers who have had opportunities for feedback and workshopping. The struggle is compounded for low SES students (Karimshah 2013), who may also be time-poor due to caring responsibilities (Rubin & Wright 2017), the need to take on paid work (Nonis & Hudson 2006) and longer travel times to university. When students feel overwhelmed by the perceived magnitude of their assessment tasks, they can become anxious and stressed, which ultimately may result in dropping out of a course past the census date.
Timely relief, for those who need it most
We know that low SES students have been particularly impacted by COVID-19, not only in their personal lives but also in their studies. With the move to online learning, low SES students have struggled with inadequate internet and sufficient access to quiet places to study and attend online classes.
Students who participated in our project found the Pomodoro Technique useful and commented on how it had helped them manage their projects. There is scope for the technique to be introduced more widely too – not just for creative writing students, but for any students who need to manage large written projects.
The Pomodoro Technique might be a simple way of helping students manage their university work in the face of the growing pressures they face and could ease some of the stresses associated with assessments and lack of time. Got 25 minutes and a deadline to meet? Give it a try!