Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Getting through the BPTC with the Pomodoro Technique: a guest post by Matthew Rees

I am delighted to bring you another guest post from a former student. Even if I do say so myself, this post is a doozy. It is the bee's knees, the dog's nadgers... You will not regret reading this one. Seriously, this is the post which might actually change your life. 

Matthew Rees was an immensely bright and talented BPTC student I taught last academic year. Always prepared, always on the ball, always looking to learn more and improve his skills. Never one to rest on his laurels, Matthew had discipline and organisational skills from the beginning. Not the type of person who I thought had room for improvement when it came to working effectively and efficiently. 

Then, one Civil litigation session, he told me that he had started to use "The Pomodoro Technique" for improving time management, concentration, efficiency and overall achievement. He said that it had transformed his revision; he was revising for more time, revising more often, working more efficiently, covering more ground and achieving greater depth and breadth of learning. 

So I am delighted that Matthew has been kind enough to share his insights with you all. Please, read what he has to say. But don't stop there. Try the technique. Either use the Pomodoro app, or better still, just use a stopwatch or kitchen timer, so that you keep your mobile or tablet device well out of reach. You'll need to train yourself over the period of about a week in how to work in this way, but it will pay off from day one. 

Go ahead, try it. CHANGE YOUR LIFE!

Getting through the BPTC with the Pomodoro Technique

I rocked up at City University to study for the BPTC as a 33-year-old (supposedly) mature student. I’m not going to bore you with a CV but trust me when I say I’d already done plenty of academic study in quite a variety of subjects. I was very confident that I knew how to study well and what worked best for me.

I quickly realised that studying for the Bar Exams, in particular those centrally set by the BSB, was going to be a different kind of challenge to any of my previous studies because of just how much there was to memorise in a relatively short time.  Shortly after I’d taken my first exam, Snigdha told my class that one of her students had recently had a lot of success studying with the Pomodoro technique, and when I heard the details, I thought it sounded interesting.

How it works

The technique basically goes like this: you set a timer for 25 minutes (1 Pomodoro). During that 25 minutes, you only study. You don’t answer the phone, or check your email, or chat, or read a text, or go to the loo, you just study. 

When your 25 minutes is up, you have 5 minutes to do whatever you like: have a wee, stare out of the window, make a cuppa, do some push ups, sing a song, whatever you want to do; however, after 5 minutes, you set your timer again and study for 25 minutes more. 

The same rules apply. Repeat the process for 4 Pomodoros and then take a proper break for at least 25 minutes.

Keeping discipline

The best thing about this technique is it keeps you honest.  Before I started defining my study into strict periods I have no idea how much time I spent concentrating and how much time I spent sat in front of a screen or a text book gaining nothing but daydreaming, checking my phone or staring out of a window. It was easy to use up an hour of my time on ‘study’, and never really make any progress. Think about the time you spend ‘studying’ and try to be honest with yourself about how much of that time you spend completely focussed on the task in hand… If you can already stay focussed for the majority of the time then great. However, if like me your mind wanders off quite a bit, then setting yourself some boundaries could really help. 

Upping your game

Another way the technique helped me was by motivating me to push myself harder. I found a Pomodoro App for my phone (there are lots of them) which kept count of how many Pomodoros I was completing each day, and recorded a running total for the month.  As the exams got closer, I would feel guilty if I dropped below my average.  I found study guilt was a great motivator, and I often managed an extra 25 or 50 minutes just because I wanted to match the last few days or beat my high score.

Getting the most out of your time

What’s also great is that when you start counting Pomodoros you begin to realise that 25 minutes here and 25 minutes there can be really productive. Before I was using the technique, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to open my books if I’d had less than 90 minutes free. What that meant was I wasted quite a lot of time during the day before after and between classes. Once I started working in 25-minute blocks, I got through more work during the working day which meant I had more opportunities to have good-quality downtime in the evenings and at weekends.

Building study stamina

I quickly realised the technique was helping me study with greater focus because I found I was getting much more tired much more quickly.  For the first couple of weeks, I would struggle to do more than 12 Pomodoros in full day of study – that’s only 5 hours of study in total with 45 minutes of short breaks and 3 bigger breaks of at least 25 minutes – which didn’t seem much when I’d always thought I could study for 10 to 12 hours a day. Nonetheless, working at a much higher degree of intensity and focus, I started to get a lot more done. As the weeks went by my study stamina improved.  By the time all the teaching was finished and we were into full-time revision, I was able to set myself, and achieve, a minimum of 20 Pomodoros a day. I could never have done that before.

Matt Rees