The Simplest Tip for Productivity: Set a Timer

Feb 12, 2020, Written by Rachel Isbill

There is a never-ending list of tools, tips and tricks out there for increasing your productivity. Instead of helping you accomplish more, keeping up with the different tools can be overwhelming, add to your load and become a whole other set of responsibilities!  So before we get started, know this is not another platform you need to buy or software you “just can’t live without.” Instead I’d like to offer a simple, timeless, and free daily action that I hope can add some simplicity and freedom.

Set a Timer

How often do you look at your to-do list and become paralyzed? For me it’s far too often. I become overwhelmed by my need to produce and get lost chasing down whatever urgent task pops into my mind in the moment.

After an hour I’ll have halfway completed 5 different tasks but failed to fully complete any! At the end of an afternoon of production I wonder where my time went and how I worked so hard with so little to show for it.

Setting time limits for a task can be game changing.

It’s as simple as it sounds. Use the timer on your smartphone or Google “15 minute timer” and the clock starts immediately. Here’s what a timer does for you:

Breaks work down into bite sized pieces. Choose one task at a time and know that it’s all you have to think about for the next 5, 10, 20 minutes. Make your first task of the day 15 minutes of making your todo list and going through your email inbox. Start off on the right foot and take one task at a time to reduce overwhelm.

Keeps you focused on one task so that you actually complete it. If you know for the next 20 minutes you are writing a blog, as other reminders popup and tasks come in you can know that you’ll get to them when the timer goes off. Try keeping a sticky note next to you that you can quickly jot something down without getting too off track. You’ll accomplish the task at hand and be ready for the next thing when the timer starts ringing.

Increases your efficiency by providing parameters. Do you work well under pressure? Watching those seconds tick away will help. You might be surprised how quickly you can accomplish some things when you’re trying to beat the buzzer. If you have an undefined time limit for a task, you’re likely to take longer to complete it than if you work within parameters.

Helps you stomach things you don’t want to do. Have you ever gone to a workout class and heard the coach shout “you can do anything for 60 seconds!” Same concept here. We all have tasks we put off and avoid because we just don’t want to do them. If you set that 15-minute timer, you know you’ll be out of your misery soon. Let’s stop letting those looming tasks get us down. Conquer them with your newfound efficiency and move on to bigger and better activities. 

Allows you to tell your time where it goes instead of the other way around. When you plan your time, you’re in control of it. If you don’t put intentionality toward it, then it controls you! Setting a timer gives a flexible intentionality to your tasks so you decide how you’re going to spend your time throughout the day instead of ending just as overwhelmed as you started.

Not every task fits perfectly into this system. However, it’s a helpful practice for organizing your day and managing that list.

Here are some ideas of tasks you could use a timer for:

  • Responding to unread messages in your inbox- 10 minutes
  • Writing down your top 3 priorities for the day- 5 minutes
  • Knock out 5 small tasks on your todo list- 20 minutes
  • Log your business expenses for the week- 5 minutes
  • Take a break and eat a snack- 5 minutes
  • Write a blog for your website- 1 hour
  • Tell an employee they’re doing a good job- 5 minutes
  • Follow up on a proposal you sent out last week- 10 minutes
  • Tidy up your house before bed- 30 minutes

As for now, my timer is down to 33 seconds on my writing time. So I’ll leave you with this: there is freedom within structure. Setting parameters for your tasks allows you to get more done with less stress along the way. Give it a try and let us know how it goes. We’d love to hear what works for you!

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Rachel Isbill

Rachel Miley serves clients as Crossroads' Marketing & Communications Strategist. Her desire is to meet clients’ goals through effective and innovative content development, strategic planning and coaching. A prior career in the non-profit sector has brought Rachel to Crossroads with a mindset of creativity and resourcefulness. Her desire is to help individuals discover how to glorify the Lord in and through their work.

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