How to Motivate Your Tween or Teen to Focus
I want to show you how this simple technique (named after a garden vegetable) can help your middle schooler stay focused and get more tasks accomplished.
I ran across this productivity hack recently called the Pomodoro Technique and I want to share it with you. It’s a pretty popular time management tool in adult circles and has been around since the 80s, but I don’t hear it talked about nearly enough for teens and tweens. And I think it can be SO useful for them!
I’ve broken it down into 5 simple steps:
Set yourself up for success before you even get started.
Put your phone on do not disturb, close out any other tabs or programs, or even, close your computer completely if you won’t be needing it, shut your door, and clear off your workspace. Get rid of those distractions.
But what you do need on your workspace is a notepad. This is where you stay focused on your task and track your progress. You can use this template I made or you can simply write it out on any old clean blank notepad you have around.
On that notepad you’re going to write down your task. Let’s say we have a history essay. And if that seems too daunting, break it down: History essay topic research.
We’ll talk a bit about different timers down below.
Focus and go hard at that history essay for a solid 25 minutes.
If any distracting thoughts come to mind, jot it down quickly to come back to later, glance back at your current task to refocus your attention, and KEEP POUNDING.
If you drift into another task or some other distraction, start that 25 minutes over.
When the time is up, check off your task and while it’s still fresh on your mind, go ahead and fill in what you’re going to work on next. Maybe you can move on to history essay intro paragraph or maybe you need to stick with another 25 minute round in the research stage.
Woohoo! Break time!
Now is when you get to enjoy that 5 minute beak from your work and rest or refuel your brain. To go along with this, I’ve put together a list of 100 Five-Minute Break Ideas for Teens.
You repeat this cycle of 25 minutes of focused work then a 5 minute break until you’ve worked four 25 minute sessions or “pomodoros” as they’re called. So, after four pomodoros, you take a longer break. Maybe 15-30 minutes. My task tracker template has this entire process written out if you’d like to see it on paper.
And if you’re a curious person, like me, you’ll want to know that pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato. Which is the shape of the kitchen timer that a guy named Francesco Cirillo used when he created this technique in the 1980s. Pretty cool, right? AND now you know how to say tomato in Italian: pomodoro. Except it sounds much cooler if you’re actually an Italian speaker.
But you don’t HAVE to have a tomato timer to do this… and actually, I like this version better: it’s super simple, you just turn it over to start the 25 minute timer when you’re ready to work and then turn it to the 5 when it’s time for your break. It comes in lots of colors and it has alarm options, loud, quiet, or lights only.
I suggest not using your phone as a timer… there’s just too many possible distractions there. Sand timers aren’t my favorite either. I think they’re pretty, but you have to keep glancing at them to know when your time is up. I prefer something that has a buzzer or lights like the one above.
And finally, let’s discuss that glorious five-minute break between pomodoros.
I know you’re probably going to want to pick up your phone and scroll Instagram or play one quick round of Candy crush, but honestly who scrolls or plays a game for five minutes and then puts it down?! Not me. More often than not it turns into just a black hole time suck- and we’re trying to be productive here!
Be smart about your breaks. We’re going to avoid screens and really avoid anything that takes too much brain power. And don’t forget during your break, to actually set that timer for five minutes to hold yourself accountable so you TRULY end your break after five minutes and can start another 25-minute pomodoro.
So what CAN you do on your five-minute break?! Well, you could love on a pet, walk around the perimeter of your house, unload the dishwasher, meditate or pray, long hug a parent, lie flat on your back, or call a grandparent to say hi.
I wrote all of those ideas down for you (plus lots more) in my list of 100 Five-Minute Break Ideas for Teens. And, believe it or not, they’re all screen-free. And since I’m an etiquette instructor, of course I had to include an entire section of break ideas that practice your manners and kindness and social skills. You’re welcome, my friend.
I’ve bundled these two things together for you into a little Productivity Starter Kit for Teens. The kit includes my list of 100 Five-Minute Break Ideas plus my Task Tracker Template.
So there it is: The Pomodoro Technique. I hope it brings productivity, peace, and a sense of accomplishment to your child’s schoolwork routine.