I often feel like I’m short on time—there just doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to get everything done! However, when I stand back and look at the things I need to accomplish and the time I have available, I can see clearly that most days my problem is not having too much to do, but not using the time I have effectively.
Over the last several months, I’ve realized that timers can help me stay on track and get tasks checked off my to-do list. Here are five ways timers are helping me be more productive.
How timers can help increase productivity
- They can help you conquer procrastination. I often put off tasks that I don’t want to complete. Regardless of why I’m averse to the tasks, the result is typically the same: They loom over me so I feel weighed down and/or they snowball, becoming bigger than they would have been if I would have completed them promptly. I use a timer to get started on these tasks. I set the timer for anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour (depending on the task) and I commit to work hard at a task for that time. If I need extra motivation, I promise myself a small reward (like reading a book for a few minutes) when that time is over. Usually working on a task for this short period of time builds momentum so I’m able to see it to completion. Sometimes it’s even enough time to complete a task!
- They can help you avoid mindless use of social media and other entertainments. Have you ever sat down to check Facebook and it seems like you’ve been looking at the screen for only a couple of minutes, but half an hour has actually passed? This has happened to me. It happens when I’m reading books, too. I’ll intend to read for five minutes, but 30 or more will pass before I realize what has happened. I’ve been using a timer to prevent this from occurring. I set my timer for 15 or 20 minutes so I can enjoy these forms of entertainment and then, when the timer sounds, I move on to something else. You may not use social media or enjoy reading, but this strategy is applicable to whatever you do for entertainment (watching TV, sewing, reading magazines, etc.).
- They can help you start with fresh focus and enthusiasm. Psychologists often tell students to study in short spurts. This is because breaks help embed learning (source). Students often have very good recall of the first thing they studied after a break and the last thing they studied before a break. However, they don’t always recall everything they studied in between. I find that something similar happens with other tasks. When I get started after a break, I feel refreshed and I’m able to fully apply myself. After a while, my concentration and effort wane a bit. However, if I know a break is coming soon, I’m able to rally myself and finish strong. I use a timer to remind myself to take breaks. I work for a time and then take a break. When I return to the task (or move on to the next one), I feel refreshed and I’m able to work enthusiastically.
- They can help you break overwhelming tasks into manageable pieces. Sometimes I feel paralyzed when I face large tasks or tasks that are particularly complex. When this happens, I find it helpful to break the tasks into manageable pieces so they aren’t large or complex. I use a timer to help me whittle away at these pieces. I set the timer for a spell and address the first piece of work I need to complete. Then I do the same for the second piece of work and so on. The task is no longer overwhelming! Even if I only get a little done each day, I make progress.
- They can help you remember important tasks. On occasion my productivity is hindered because I forget to do things. For example, I sometimes forget to move the laundry from the washer to the dryer. When I need a clothing item from that load, it’ll still be wet. What a help a timer is in remembering these things! I set the timer to remind me to transfer the laundry or whatever it is I need to do. It doesn’t matter what distractions happen around me, the timer will sound as scheduled and focus my attention back on the task.
There are lots of different timers available. Sometimes I use the one on my phone and sometimes I use a digital kitchen timer. There are benefits and drawbacks to each of these. I almost always have my phone with me, so the timer on it is available whenever I need it. However, it’s easy to get distracted by my phone (checking email or something like that) when I set the timer. I never get distracted by the kitchen timer, but I don’t always have it with me. I have to track it down and be intentional about carrying it with me if I want to use it in another part of the house or out of the house. Either type of timer will get the job done if you give it a chance!
Do you ever use a timer to help you get things done? How does it help you be productive?