Trauma Happy Finance: My One-Two Pomodoro Punch

Welcome to Mondays here at Trauma Happy Finance! On Mondays I share a story about how I’m learning something new or a trying different technique to learn more effectively.

It’s getting colder here in New Jersey. The high temperatures are slowly drifting downward towards the dreaded 30s. The start of winter also means the start of a new year! If you’re like me, you’re always telling yourself that you should be an adult and not procrastinate so much. You’ve gotten by with the skin of your teeth so often that he the rush isn’t fun anymore. Or at least, that’s how I’m learning to think about it.

I was so used to thinking that being a smart person meant you didn’t have to work hard, that information would just come to you instantly and you’d retain it forever. You’d hear a lesson once and it would stay in your head for the rest of time, and especially on exam day. I got by thinking that way in high school but college sure beat that thinking out of me.

I know now that good study habits are the key to learning anything at any age. I am eternally grateful to Dr. Barbara Oakley and Dr. Terrence Sejnowski of the Coursera course, “Learning How to Learn” for giving me new mental tools to study effectively and efficiently. Here’s the link to the free Coursera course: Learning How to Learn. It runs four weeks and I recommend it highly.

This is the system, inspired by what I learned, that I use to make sure my studying time is actually studying.

#1. I use the Pomodoro Technique. The essence of this technique is that you set aside all distractions and singularly focus on your work for a set amount of time. Pomodoro is Italian for tomato, but don’t worry you don’t need a tomato to use this technique.

The technique recommends 25 minutes to start. You work for 25 minutes and you immediately stop and give yourself a five minute break. During this break you don’t touch your work at all. You’ll take the five minutes to go use the washroom, have some water, check the internet or just walk around. After your break you get right back into into it. The thinking behind pomodoro is that anyone can focus in and work for just 25 minutes. And certainly everyone likes having the permission to take that five minute break.

What this does is get rid of the expectation that study sessions have to be marathon three hours long with no breaks. Nothing is gonna get into your head that way and you just end up thinking you’re learning. But you’re just gonna tire your neurons out and not learn at all.

#2. This is the cheesy part: You gotta want it. I use the Pomodoro technique as the thing I want. I want to keep my word to myself and really study for 25 minutes. Do I love the material I’m studying? Not all the time but I want to keep my promise and really study hard for the 25. The pomodoro technique or the new note taking app for iPad isn’t going to save your bacon if your insides don’t want to study. Dr. Oakley said to try to think of it as learning to love the process that is studying, and not the product of, “Ugh, let just get to the end of this freaking chapter.”

I love being able to look back and think about last week or last month and how hard it was to remember some of the terms but now they come to me pretty easily.

I’m a proud graduate of the Learning How to Learn Fall 2016 class and here’s my Completion Certificate (with Honors) to prove it!:

Verify at

What study habits do you use when you’re learning something new? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter @miguelmanalo

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