Time Management/Study & HW Strategy: The Tomato Method

With readings days fast approaching and finals week close behind, we are all struggling at the end of the semester to find motivation for this last push before the summer break. Ugh, why can’t it be here already? If you’re like me right now, who is so close to feeling burned out, finding the patience and determination to stay focused on small or large tasks seem daunting and unrealistic. One method that I have heard and used as a great strategy for those with short attention spans or low drive would include The Pomodoro Technique, also more simply and commonly known as The Tomato Method.

This time management technique was developed in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo. It’s super easy to implement and can increase productivity when doing tasks. Look at it this way: it’s like you have to run miles and miles to get to your destination, but with the Tomato Method, you accomplish this by doing many sprints with short breaks in between. That way you don’t just procrastinate and give up at the beginning of the line. There are tasks when we can just fly through them, but others times, its just such a drag. In a way, this technique is a lot like chunking your time and task. Check out this short 2 minute video that explains how to get started. Here is a quick summary on how to it all works: tumblr_nnjxvcPVbz1senxz2o1_1280

If you want to use some other websites or other apps on your tech besides a simple time keeper, here’s a list from LifeHacker.com that might be useful as well:

  • Marinara Timer (Web) is a webapp we’ve highlighted before that you can keep open in a pinned tab. You can select your timer alerts so you know when to take a break, or reconfigure the work times and break times to suit you. It’s remarkably flexible, and you don’t have to install anything.
  • Tomighty (Win/Mac/Linux) is a cross-platform desktop Pomodoro timer that you can fire and forget, following the traditional Pomodoro rules, or use to customize your own work and break periods.
  • Pomodorable (OS X) is a combination Pomodoro timer and to-do app. It offers more visual cues when your tasks are complete and what you have coming up next, and it integrates nicely with OS X’s Reminders app. Plus, you can estimate how many pomodoros you’ll need to complete a task, and then track your progress.
  • Simple Pomodoro (Android) is a free, open-source timer with a minimal aesthetic. Tap to start the timer and get to work, and take your breaks when your phone’s alarm goes off. You can’t do a lot of tweaking to the work and break periods, but you get notifications when to take your breaks and when to go back to work, and you can go back over your day to see how many Pomodoros you’ve accomplished over the day. It even integrates with Google Tasks.
  • Focus Timer (iOS) used to be calledPomodoroPro , and is a pretty feature-rich timer for iPhone and iPad. You can customize work and break durations, review your work history to see how your focus is improving, easily see how much time is left in your work session, and the app even offers a star-based rating system to keep you motivated. You can even customize the sounds, and hear the clock ticking when you lock your phone so you stay on task.

Say “bye bye procrastination!” with this technique. Try it out! Or come into Weingarten to try it out with a Learning Instructor.

Staff Writer: Victoria Singh Gill


Scheduling to Reduce Stress Part 2: Google Calendar Edition

As promised, here is part 2 in the scheduling series. This time we will be focusing on the features of Google Calendar to schedule, plan, create and keep track of tasks.

Calculating Hours and Setting up Google Calendar

As in the last article, I recommend starting with a list of your classes and calculated estimated weekly hours needed to maintain academic success. A typical schedule may look like this:

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 7.23.36 PM

The next step involved is also the same as before with a few extra steps that will save you time in the long run. Create a schedule in Google Calendar on an hour by hour basis starting first with weekly events (such as classes, meals, meetings, etc.) that are consistent from week to week. Set each weekly item to repeat by clicking on “edit event” in the event creation pop up box. Below the time and date you’ll see a checkbox to repeat the event. Once you check the box, you’ll see a pop up that allows you to select different options:

Repeat box


I recommend setting the repeats to automatically end on the last day of classes. This is an important step because when you set up notifications later on, you won’t be left with notifications over the summer that you get used to ignoring.


Once you’ve finished building the schedule, it should look something like this:

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Calendar Notifications and How to Use Them

Google calendar has a multitude of notification options and I suggest trying out different ones to see what works for you. There are options for SMS notifications, traditional phone notifications and a daily agenda. The daily agenda is a rarely used and well hidden feature that I highly recommend. The daily agenda is an email agenda sent automatically every morning at 5am to your Gmail account that gives you an hour by hour schedule to follow for the day. You can turn on the daily agenda by clicking the small gear icon at the top right of the screen under your Google avatar then select the following: settings> calendars. Then find your main calendar and on the same row select “edit notifications.” On the next screen you’ll see many options to add notifications but scroll to the bottom to find the “daily agenda” and click the checkbox to activate it. The other options are available for both hourly events and all-day events with distinct options for both including email, SMS and notifications (via phone or browser).

Using Google Tasks with Google Calendar

Screen Shot 2017-03-28 at 2.45.07 PMIf you’re using Google Calendar for your scheduling, I highly recommend using the integrated Google Tasks function along with the calendar. It is somewhat limited in that tasks are only available on the desktop version and not the app, but the seamless integration is worth the minor inconvenience. By default, Google Calendar integrates “reminders” in place of tasks. To use tasks to you have to click the small triangle next to the reminders option and choose “switch to tasks” as seen in the screenshot above. Once you switch to tasks you can now add a task either by adding an item to the task list on the left-hand side or to a specific day. To add a task to a specific day, click on the day the same way you would to add an event and you’ll see an option to switch from event to task in the create an event popup widget.

Once you add tasks they will show up on the task list, and on the calendar day if they are added to specific date.


Staff Writer: Randall Perez


Bigger Pictures: Make a Note

“I don’t know what I think until I’ve written about it.” ~  Various Attributions

Of all the things I talk about here at your learning center, the one I always feel a little bit guilty about is notetaking. I always feel like the subject is like a benignly neglected child in a big family, the kid who basically raises herself in a household that is far too stretched and busy to worry about someone who is more or less okay. That’s notetaking.

Lombard_scribeAcademic notetaking has been largely conscribed by one thing:  the lecture. And historically, this makes sense. Back in the mists of time, professors would intone and, well, profess, and students would scratch away, trying to get down every word. It wasn’t uncommon for “serious” students to learn how to take shorthand in order to get down every word.  This technique can be described as truly Mediaeval, with its roots planted firmly in the monastic scriptorium, where sacred text was read aloud while Brother Scribes took down copy. What a gig.

Academia has embraced a few technological advances since the Monastic era, most notably the slide deck. Ah, yes. PowerPoint. Our frenemy. No matter where you come down on the ubiquitous deployment of PowerPoint in the higher ed classroom, there is one undeniable plus: the mad rush to get down every word has been alleviated, at least somewhat. So long as the slides are made available, you don’t have to worry about copying out the entire slide during class. All you really have to worry about is what is said off slide.

But there is another part of notes that gets routinely neglected, and that is the notes you make to yourself, and if you don’t do that now, I’d encourage you to give it a go, especially if you are currently in the type of humanities or social science courses that require you to come up with your own paper topics. These notes capture what you think about the lecture topics or reading material. Think of these kinds of notes as the record of what you think.

And one more thing: these types of notes don’t have to be declarative. Solid questions arising from the reading material count as notes too.

Staff Writer: Pete Kimchuk, Senior Learning Instructor

Tech Tuesday: Apps for Group Work Collaboration (GroupMe, Slack, GoogleDocs)

You hate it, I hate it; yet everyone assigns it: group work.  Before the internet, group work consisted of wrangling everyone for their availability before finally getting together in person and just wasting away a full day when really, we know one or two people will finish the whole thing. Nowadays,  thankfully, we live in the 21st century and no longer have to be bogged down with that outdated and fully infuriating methods. With technological advancement, so many apps and programs are geared towards collaboration and can be carried out remotely according to one’s own pace. In this blog post, the commonly used ones such as GroupMe, Slack, and Google Docs/Slides are covered.

GroupMe: Owned by Microsoft, GroupMe is a mobile group messaging and photo sharing app. It’s free, works on every device, and is geared towards working with multiple groups. For example, people usually have a group chat for family, friends, coworkers, clubs, etc. Here, students can create a group chat and plan when, where, and if to meet. Or simply, discuss how to divide and conquer and then casually check in for any questions, comments, or concerns. Each group member gets to decide who they want to interact in the chat on their own. For more detailed steps on how to use GroupMe, click here. Screen shot 2015-01-12 at 1.43.24 PM

Slack: If you’re looking for a more professional and business feel, users tend to prefer Slack over GroupMe. Slack has a free version and is an app for all devices. What makes this more professional than GroupMe is that it has not only messaging capabilities but also voice, video calling, and file sharing. With that comes a search and archiving features too.  “Channels” are like chat rooms and where projects are discussed. For more info on how to use Slack, click here.


Google Docs/Slides: Google Docs was created to compete with Microsoft Word and Google Slides was created to compete with Microsoft Powerpoint. What Google has on these programs is that it is all online and can be collaborative and worked on in real time. If you have a gmail account, you automatically have access to these programs as part of your Google Drive. They are free and online and just because you don’t have internet doesn’t mean you can’t stuff done either. You can see people make changes to the documents as they type it in (if you’re logged on at the same time) and also leave comments on the side for to update the team on your thoughts and feedback. Again, like the others, these tools are available across all devices. For more detailed support on Google Slides, click here and for Google Docs, click here.



Google Docs Sample

google slides

Google Slides Sample

For more one on one consultation on a current group project, paper, or presentation, feel free to come into Weingarten for support! How do you use these apps? Leave a comment below if you want!

Staff writer: Victoria Singh Gill

Scheduling to Reduce Stress

Many of the students I see in the Weingarten Center come in because they feel like they are not using their time efficiently or are studying all the time. When I ask them how they schedule their day and manage their workflow, many students pause then explain that they keep their schedules, deadlines, and assignments in their head, referring to planners or schedules as too rigid. There are many stated reasons that students dislike the rigidity of keeping a planner or calendar, but the most common objection is that the perceived rigidity stresses them out, or they feel they don’t have enough time in their day as it is, so planning daily would be another burden added on to an already stacked plate. The reality is that it takes time to develop new habits and planning sufficiently should reduce feelings of stress over time. There are a variety of resources students can use to fit all working styles such as Google Calendar, Apple iCal, a traditional paper planner and methods of planning referred to as “unscheduling.” This last one tends to resonate with students most hesitant about traditional planning methods.  This blog post is the first in a series that will cover each one of these methods in detail. This first post will focus on traditional paper planning with electronic planning (via Google Calendar and iCal) and unscheduling to follow in subsequent posts.

For most students, my preferred approach to planning includes a combination of setting a regular but flexible weekly schedule, combined with making a daily task list. The first step I suggest to students is to make a list of all of their classes and then estimate a total number of hours of study time necessary to maintain academic success in each class. A typical schedule for a Penn student might look like this:

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 7.23.36 PM

The next step in the process is to map a typical week on an hour by hour basis including class schedule, meals, work study, athletic requirements, sleep, and any other regular weekly meetings other commitments you might have and then fit in study time and self-care/free time in the remaining space.  A typical student schedule may look like this:

Sample Schedule

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 7.26.11 PM

This approach is also helpful when registering for classes. It is important to consider the demands of each class and how demanding they are of your time. There is only so much time in a day and making time for things such as self-care, exercise, sleep and free time is essential to prevent burnout and promote academic success. You may have noticed that I scheduled in general study time instead of assigning work for specific classes in each of those spaces. This is to allow for the flexibility that is necessary for the changing workloads typical in classes throughout the semester. A heavy week in one class may be paired with a light week in another class. I suggest students spend the first 15 minutes of their study time each day making a task list of work for the day. Make sure to break up assignments into smaller tasks of approximately 45 minutes for each task. This is referred to at Weingarten as “chunking your work” and should help to mitigate the desire to procrastinate. You should also take frequent study breaks of about 5-10 minutes after every 45-60 minute work session. This will help maximize productivity and increase knowledge retention.

Staff Writer: Randall Perez

Bigger Pictures: Keep It Classy, Quakers

“Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers”   ~  Sana, Weston & Cepeda

Is it even possible to run a spoiler alert before the title of an academic paper?  Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers.  Talk about ruining the ending.

In any case, I’m not planning to rehash the paper – I trust you can read that for yourself, and I hope you do.  What I am going to talk about is something far more basic.

So, first, a question:  how many times have you yourself watched another student “multitasking” during class?  I’m not talking about watching someone type lecture notes, I mean watching somebody respond to their email, update their Facebook status, check out 21 Adorable Child Stars Who Grew Up Sooo Ugly?

Okay, now how many times has that been you?

Yeah, I know.  But don’t worry.  It’ll be our secret.  Not that you and I keeping our mouths shut about these multitasking indiscretions matters, because someone else knows, too.  Do you know who that is?

digit 2

That’s right, your professor.  More than likely, your TA as well.  Don’t think for one minute that the person tasked with operating the front of the house is somehow clueless about what’s going on out there in the rest of the room.  They see.  They know.  Some of them even keep tabs.

But even that’s not the bigger issue here.  Sure, it is bad if you don’t get the full 10% for class participation.  That piece of the final grade might make the difference between a B+ or an A-, and I always advise students to never leave points on the table.  The bigger issue here is that “multitasking” during class is, quite simply, rude.  Your actions tell your teacher that what’s going on in the front of the room is far less interesting and of far less import than what’s going on in social media.  So don’t do it.  It’s not nice to passively insult these people.

Staff Writer: Pete Kimchuk, Senior Learning Instructor



Study Spot Feature: David Pottruck Health and Fitness Center

The Spring semester is progressing, and by now you are becoming increasingly aware of your own learning style. You may ask yourself, “How do I learn best, at which pace (or variation thereof), and under what conditions?”

In terms of study spaces – dorms, individual schools, libraries and even neighborhood cafes – are well utilized, and many offer a variety resources, such as lounges, study rooms (reservation required for most), tables, cubicles, cafes, kitchens, and restrooms.

Depending on your preferred study style, you may decide to mix things up a bit and alternate study spaces. For example, some people work best with a little activity and/or background noise around them. When considering alternative study spaces, you may consider factors such as familiarity, convenience, and proximity, including building time efficiencies, and fostering wellness and/or fitness.

If you are a member of the David Pottruck Health and Fitness Center, which is conveniently located at 3701 Walnut Street, you may have noticed that there is new furniture in the atrium space, as soon as you pass through the main entrance. For students who prefer to study and exercise right after or vice versa, the Penn fitness center (or your local gym) may provide an ideal alternative study-and-fitness hybrid space. Per Sarah Sarnocinski, Director of Programs, Penn Recreation, students are welcome to utilize the tables, chairs, and leather sofas to study, eat, relax and/or socialize.

 In addition, the Energy Zone café provides healthy nourishment:

Located in the atrium of the Pottruck Health and Fitness Center, the Energy Zone features a full selection of smoothies, sports drinks, energy bars, and fresh fruit. Our shakes are 100% natural with no preservatives, no refined sugars, no fat, and completely lactose free. The Energy Zone also sells locks for $5 that can be used with any day use locker at the Pottruck Center (PennRec website).   

In addition to the pre- or post-study fitness options (e.g., fitness machines, rock climbing) available at the Penn fitness center (or your preferred fitness space), there is a multi-purpose room, which is used for other fitness and wellness related functions that students can also take advantage of when available.

What is your favorite alternative study space? We would love to hear your ideas in the comments section!


Staff Writer: Min Derry