27 Oct

Managing Time – Have a timer?

Image borrowed from Sandytime for iPhone by Cuberoom.biz

I was recently talking with one of the very effective people that I know and found out that they break up their time into easy to handle chunks.

Why is this surprising? Most people know that a great way to work through a number of responsibilities is to use a to-do list. But also, as most people find out, a to-do list can represent an anxiety provoking experience in which one feels completely overwhelmed.

The solution is to break your time into chunks  and never spend more than 1 “chunk” of time on any individual to-do list item. How long is 1 “chunk?” Developmental psychologists will tell you that the human attention span is 18 minutes — though 18 minutes is a kludgy number to fit into an hour. Fifteen minutes would be a more workable number. Psychologists will also tell you that humans work best when rewarded for their actions. 

So how to put this all into practice?  How about working for 15 minutes and then rewarding yourself for 5? Or how about doing three 15-minute tasks and then rewarding yourself for 15 minutes? Sound good? Well you will probably need a handy way to keep track of the time. Fortunately for you: “there’s an app for that!” Search the web for the terms ‘timer’ ‘pc’ or ‘timer’ ‘mac’ and you’ll find a wealth of options — most of them free. You can also search for timers in your favorite “app” stores and find quite elegant solutions — like the one pictured at right. Some of the programs will allow dual timers so that you could set one for 15 minutes and one for 5 minutes. Then you can use the 15 minute timer for work and the 5 minute timer for play. Repeat this process as you work your way down your to-do list (crossing off items that you actually complete), then go back up to the top of your list and start working your way down again. You’ll find the process much more enjoyable and far less anxiety-provoking.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention what “play” means. It doesn’t have to be a game: it can be leisure reading, stretching your legs, watching a video, listening to some music, resting your eyes and so on. Email usually doesn’t qualify as play as you are bound to see emails that represent more responsibility or require the drudgery of reading first before determining whether you actually gain any pleasure from that particular email. One suggestion is to create a “play” folder in your email program and to put fun emails in there that you happen upon during your regular email review; then, when you are on playtime, you can go straight to that folder and have some fun reading through those mails.

So give it a try and let me know what you think. Also, if you have a good experience with a particular timer product post some info here to share the good find with other readers.

Now get busy!

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One thought on “Managing Time – Have a timer?

  1. http://www.pomodorotechnique.com/

    The technique is consistent with what you’ve described — a duration, breaks, chunks of time —

    I’ve found using my Android handset makes me paranoid about the battery running down. Cheaper timers don’t work because the manufacturing tolerances don’t line up the lines, so one is paranoid about accuracy (even though ultimately those variances might not matter). Pomodoro (named after a tomato-shaped kitchen timer) recommends a good stand-alone mechanical timer.

    The apps around Pomodoro technique allow the user flexibility in defining the time, which in part defeats the purpose and lends itself to over- or under-working.

    What the technique primarily addresses is the fear of the unfolding of time (“fear of becoming” as they say)- which I can only kind of restate as the fear of all the other things tha tare happening and not being done while a person dedicates him/herself to one thing combined with not having enough time to do finish that one thing.

    That said, work around knowing one’s purpose in life can help a person have less fear, because they’ll know whether the activity at-hand is supportive of their purpose directly or indirectly.

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