What do tomatoes, the number 8, and tortoises have in common with your Intellectual Wellbeing?

What do tomatoes, the number 8, and tortoises have in common with your Intellectual Wellbeing?

November is Intellectual Wellbeing Month at Wake Forest. Intellectual Wellbeing incorporates one’s curiosity and sense of lifelong-learning. Ultimately, your time at Wake Forest will provide you with a liberal arts background to boldly go and explore strange new disciplines and civilizations. However, in the more immediate time and place, you may experience struggles as you adjust to the rigors of the collegiate academic environment. Beyond expanding your mind or thinking outside the box, sometimes Intellectual Wellbeing includes adding new skills to your own toolbox to be a more efficient and effective learner. This is where knowing about tomatoes, the number 8, and tortoises can be helpful.

Tomatoes. To-mah-toes. How do they relate to your Intellectual Wellbeing and learning? I’m not just talking about their nutrition. It all goes back to Francesco Cirillo and his tomato-shaped kitchen timer he used as part of his Pomodoro Technique (Pomodoro means tomato-based sauce). Cirillo found that when you work intensely for periods of time and take scheduled breaks, productivity increases. This technique is especially useful when you have to complete a large task that requires a lot of mental energy, such as writing a paper, lab report, reading textbook chapters, or studying for an exam. How can you use Pomodoro to increase your focus and productivity?

  1. Choose the task you wish to work on
  2. Set the timer for 25 minutes. If you find you can’t focus for that long, try 15 minutes.
  3. Be focused and work on the task for 25 minutes. Put away all distractions. If someone talks to you during this time, ask them to come back during your break. After 25 minutes place a checkmark on your paper
  4. Take a 5 minute break. Use your timer here too! This is the time you can use to check your phone, email, or chat with a friend.
  5. Set the timer for another 25 minutes Pomodoro session. Repeat steps 1-4 until you have 4 checks on your paper. Then take a longer 25-30 minute break.

Using the Pomodoro Technique can increase your focus, productivity, motivation, and mental energy. Interested? More information can be found here: Pomodoro Technique

The Number Eight. One common struggle in the college environment is time management. How can you fit it all in one day? This is why the number 8 is great – you have 8 hours a day for schoolwork, 8 hours a day for social/personal time, and 8 hours a day for sleep. Yes, 8 hours for sleep. Too often, students “borrow” time from sleep at the detriment of their intellectual and overall wellbeing. Sleep is vital for our learning and memory. Sleep deprivation can impact your ability to encode (store) memories and cause other neurocognitive impairments (Curcio, Ferrara, & De Gennaro, 2006). Bottom line, if you want to learn, and remember what you learned, you have to get good sleep consistently. If you find yourself wanting to know more about good sleep habits check out the Sleepin Deacon resources through the Thrive office. Now, after you have 8 hours of sleep, you still have 8 hours a day for schoolwork and 8 hours a day for social/personal time. Make sure you consider and enjoy your personal/social time as well. This will give your brain the break it needs to help find new things to explore or just to recharge. Being bored can lead to creativity… but we can save that for another blog post.

Tortoises. Aesop’s fable of the Tortoise and the Hare is a well-known story. The Hare races along, takes a break, then tries to finish fast at the last minute. The Tortoise slowly and steadily wins a little bit at a time. The take-home point, “slow and steady wins the race” can be applied to studying. Research has shown (Benjamin & Tullis, 2010) that students who study a little every day, instead of cramming a few study sessions right before the test, have a better understanding of the material and higher test performance. This is known as “Spaced versus Massed practice.” Athletes use this frequently. When people train for long-distance running or other sporting events, the training does not start a day or two before the event. Long-distance running training can take place over weeks or months. The World Series of Baseball is in October, but training starts in the Spring. By treating your learning like athletes treat gaining athletic skills, you will build up your brainpower and knowledge. Finding pockets of time, like a few minutes before or after class to review your notes can be one step to increase your daily studying time. Try to find 30 minutes to review material from your classes each day. For more help on how to implement spaced practice in your study, you can check out the Learning Scientists resource guide.

These are just three more tools you can put in your toolbox as you build your Intellectual Wellbeing and prepare for finals. You can find even more resources at the Learning Assistance Center-Disability Service (LAC-DS) office! Through one-one-one academic coaching sessions, we can help with time management and study skills. Peer Tutoring is also available and you can sign up through our website! You can find more information at: lac.wfu.edu or call our office at 336-758-5929. The LAC-DS Team is committed to your Wellbeing, and we’re here to help you along the way!

Ashley Lewis Heffner, PhD

Staff Psychologist

Learning Assistance Center-Disability Services Office



Benjamin, A. S., & Tullis, J. (2010). What makes distributed practice effective? Cognitive Psychology, 61, 228-247.

Curcio, G., Ferrara, M., & De Gennaro, L. (2006). Sleep Loss, Learning Capacity and Academic Performance. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 10, 323-337.