Professor and bioengineering researcher Barbara Oakley points out in her book Mindshift
that the brain has 2 operating modes:
Focused mode: this mode is activated whenever you consciously turn your attention to a given task or material – most of your energy goes into intense focus.
Diffuse mode: this is when you’re not focused on anything in particular – most of your energy goes into other, more relaxed networks (e.g., when you’re standing in the shower, going for a run, or looking out the window of a car).
To help you learn more effectively by taking advantage of how the brain works, Oakley recommends using the Pomodoro Technique
, originally developed by productivity expert Francesco Cirillo
Here’s how to use it in 2 steps:
Step 1: Remove all distractions, digital or otherwise, set a timer for 25 minutes, and then focus as hard as you can on what you’re studying or working on.
Step 2: When the timer goes off, let your brain relax for a few minutes: for example, go for a short walk, chat with friends, listen to your favorite song – do anything that makes you feel “comfortably distracted.“ You’re not completely conscious of it, but this is the crucial step that gives your brain “a chance to consolidate the material you’ve learned” and is key to making creative connections.
For Oakley, the Pomodoro Technique is powerful because it trains your ability to focus, acknowledges the inevitable temptation to procrastinate, and includes built-in periods of relaxation that are equally important for learning.
It’s like first completing “a focused workout in your mental gym, after which you head to the mental spa,” so that the overall experience is both productive and enjoyable.