W hat’s your go-to tool or strategy? You know that thing you rely on to help you when you’re in a tough spot or when you’re frazzled. Do you have a strategy you can quickly whip out when your plan has gone awry or perhaps when you’re simply trying to salvage something from a day that has gone wrong?
The TIMER serves as my productivity Swiss Army knife, the versatile tool I rely on to resolve a host of challenges.
Situations for a timer:
- Feeling overwhelmed—Need calming
- Confused and not sure what to do—Need some direction
- Tired and distracted—Need a break and a little fun
- Office or home messy or disorganized—Needs some order
- Time to get started writing—Need some motivation
- Overly scheduled week—Need to keep long-term priorities alive and active
- Important deadline approaching—Need to facilitate focused attention
Wow—that’s quite a list of varied and important situations and needs. I hope you’re beginning to understand why I love my timer.
Are you skeptical? Wondering how a timer can calm, offer direction, fun, order, motivation, focused attention, and salvage long-term priorities?
Timer is a proxy for constraint! Constraints offer the real magic.
- Constraints narrow your attention. When you’re feeling overwhelmed and confused,
narrowedfocus becomes a plus. Additionally, when challenging, focused work demands your full attention, narrowed attention is a prerequisite.
- Constraints narrow your options. When many possibilities lead to continuous mulling and even paralysis, limiting your options can yield a clear direction, a place to start.
- Constraints ignite activation energy. When time is constrained by a deadline with significant consequences, procrastination fades as motivation and focused attention rise.
- With constraints, you can limit your misery.
- With constraints, you can carve out time for neglected breaks and long-term projects.
Situations for setting constraints with a timer:
- Situation: You’re overwhelmed—your mind is racing from one thing to another. Each time you start one thing you become distracted by something else that feels even more urgent. Constraints to the rescue!
- TIMER: Stop, set a timer for a short time and do a quick thought dump of all the urgent and important things vying for your attention. Pick ONE and do it by setting a timer. For a more thought exercise to use when you’re in distraction chaos, read Triage the Chaos
- Situation: You’re tired and distracted but think you have too much to do to stop.
- TIMER: Take your much-needed walking and/or stretching break to stimulate oxygen and blood flow that will spark some energy and renew your focus. But, set the timer, and limit this break to 10 minutes or less.
- Situation: You need to bring some order to your office.
- TIMER: Don’t make a perfectly ordered office the measure of success. Instead set a time limit for making progress. Measure your time with music, bringing a bit of fun and energy to the dreaded task. Choose between 3-5 much-loved songs as your 10-20-minute session timer.
- Situation: You’re developing a daily writing practice but wrestling with excuses and resistance.
- TIMER: Set a timer with a short time limit. Close ALL electronic distractions. Sit and write. Apply this use of the timer to ANY task you’re procrastinating.
- Situation: You’ve got significant grading awaiting you.
- TIMER: Tackle rather than delay the grading with classic Pomodoro timed sessions—25 minutes of timed, focused work followed by a 5-minute break, repeat taking a longer break after 4 sessions. Of course, you can modify the number of sessions and the timed minutes to work.
- Situation: Your week is filled with meetings, classes, and other commitments that usually sabotage work time on long-term research projects.
- TIMER: Instead of doing nothing, keep that long-term project alive and percolating in your consciousness. Set a timer every day, for at least 30 minutes, and complete a task related to the long-term project. This time can also create a needed respite from the high priority weekly tasks.
Types of Timers:
- Easiest—phone. While this ubiquitous companion comes with other distractions, it’s readily available for most people.
- Simplest—stand-alone timer (egg timer for example). These have no other distractions but you might not always have it handy. You can add elegance and engage your senses with beautiful stand-alone timers, such as hourglass timers with smooth glass and colorful sand.
- Most fun & helpful—Focus@Will, online service that offers a timer with a broad research-based library of music designed to help you focus! I love it and use it regularly. But it is a fee-based service. Similar services are Brainwave Power Music (YouTube channel) and BrainFM.
Caveat. Many challenging situations need constraints, but of course, constraints are not a ubiquitous subscription for getting things done. Some challenges need the very opposite—expansion,