How a Simple Timer Can Magically Improve Your Productivity


I’ve got a timer ticking away as I write this.

Why? Because it helps me concentrate.

If you struggle to stay on task, if you feel like your productivity could do with a boost, or if you find that you never get round to starting those “someday” projects, then a simple timer just might be the magic solution that you need.

Sure, you could pay hundreds of dollars for life coaching or seminars, or spend days devising “productivity systems” which never quite work …

… or you could set a timer going. Here’s how it can help:

Staying Focused
I’m sure you’ve had times when you just couldn’t seem to concentrate. Perhaps you had a hard or dull task to do – maybe writing a tedious report.

Did you sit down and work steadily and consistently through it? Probably not.

Chances are, you got distracted. Maybe you stopped in the middle of typing a sentence, and found yourself checking your email. Maybe you were supposed to be looking up a quick fact or figure, but you somehow ended up reading web comics. Maybe you went to get a glass of water, and ended up chatting to colleagues for a few minutes.

Timers will help. When you tell yourself that you’ve got to sit and focus for 20 minutes – and you have a timer running to prove it – then it’s easier to think No, I don’t need to check my emails right now.

Being More Productive

Timers don’t just keep you focused, though; they also let you work faster.

Have you ever noticed how efficiently you can work when it’s 5pm and you’ve got to get something done before you leave the office at 5.30pm? You get the same sort of effect with a timer.

Try challenging yourself to complete something in less time than it’d normally take. Perhaps you think you’ll need an hour to clear your inbox – so set your timer for 45 minutes. You just might surprise yourself with how fast you can work.

Starting Your “Someday” Projects
I’ll bet you’ve got a list of goals or projects which you never quite get round to starting. Like:

  • Clearing out the garage
  • Writing a novel
  • Researching a new career
  • Learning a musical instrument

Whatever your project is, it’s probably something which doesn’t have any sense of urgency attached – it’s easy to keep on and on putting it off. Plus, if it’s a big project, the idea of getting started can be overwhelming.

Once again, timers work brilliantly to get you moving. Sure, “write a novel” is a huge (maybe terrifying) goal – but “write for 15 minutes” is so easy that you’ve not got any excuses. And however busy you are, you can spend 30 minutes cleaning the garage this weekend, or 10 minutes practicing scales on the piano.

Maybe you think that a timer can’t really make any difference – after all, it’s just a clock ticking away in the background. But give it a try, and let us know in the comments how you get on.

(If you’re looking for a timer to try out, I like Tick Tock Timer and e.gg timer.)

Written on 4/12/2011 by Ali Luke. Ali writes a blog, Aliventures, about leading a productive and purposeful life (get the RSS feed here). As well as blogging, she writes fiction, and is studying for an MA in Creative Writing. Photo Credit: modomatic

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