You sit down to check your email. Forty-five minutes later, you’ve only responded to six messages. You think to yourself: ‘Where did the time go? I barely made a dent in my inbox.’
Does this sound like you?
It happens to the best of us.
We sit down to “check our email”, and our focus quickly drifts to other tasks. We remember a text that needs replied to, we Facebook message a friend to figure out weekend plans, we rummage in our desk for a granola bar to snack on. Before we know it, we’ve managed to kill 45 minutes of our day and have little to show for it.
In the first lesson of my new email course, Crush Your Week, I ask readers to reply with their biggest frustration with their current weekly routine/schedule. While the answers have been incredibly varied, I have noticed some trends. One of the common struggles readers have is getting distracted and losing track of time.
So, today I’m sharing one easy productivity tip I use to stay on task and focus on the project at hand. I hope you’ll give it a try and see if it helps you!
My Productivity Tip: Set A Timer
Timers scare away procrastination. They motivate you to work faster with more focus.
Setting a timer is a strategy that works wonders for keeping me focused on a specific task. When you put a time limit on your to-dos, you’ll be surprised how much you can accomplish!
Giving yourself a specified amount of time to do something is incredibly motivating. It’s similar to that paper deadline back in school. You may have had all semester to work on your paper, but we all know the last couple days is when the bulk of the work was done. That’s because you had a clock counting down the time, and you could no longer put it off. Setting a timer for tasks on your to-do list is a fantastic way to give yourself self-imposed deadlines.
Here are some reasons why using a timer is so effective….
Update: I chatted about this topic on Facebook live:
5 Ways Setting A Timer Increases Productivity
1 | You Work With More Focus
Setting a timer for 20 minutes will help you tune out distractions, because you know you need to focus in order to complete your task before time runs out. You also know exactly what you need to accomplish during that time frame, so you won’t waste time trying to multi-task.
2 | You Turn Work Into A Game
I’m all about games. And tricking myself with self-imposed deadlines works surprisingly well! If I have a task that seems daunting or that I really don’t want to do, I turn on the timer and challenge myself to beat the clock. I’ve found this works really well with yard work. The giant tree in front of our house drops mounds of leaves to rake up every fall. Although raking leaves isn’t all that fun, I challenge myself to see how fast I can rake a section of the lawn. Playing “beat the clock” can be very motivating!
3 | You Work Faster
Tasks expand to fill the time. If you don’t have a time limit, you can probably spend hours “working” on something. For example, if I decide I’m going to spend Saturday morning cleaning the house, I will wander from room to room “cleaning” all morning long. But when lunchtime rolls around, the house will still need more cleaning. This is a totally different story if I’m expecting company to arrive at 11:00. With a deadline, I will work much faster and be far less distracted. I’ll get more cleaning done in less time. Remind yourself that tasks expand to fill the time you give to them. Giving yourself less time will motivate you to work faster and resist distractions.
4 | You See The Finish Line
If you’re dragging your feet to do a chore, set a timer and get started. You can do anything for 10 minutes, right? I often do this when washing dishes. I don’t want to do the dishes, but I can surely handle 10 minutes! I set the timer on the stove and get started. When the timer beeps, I get to stop. If there are still dishes left, I’ll come back later and work on them for 10 more minutes. When you give yourself a short block of time to work on something, it helps you focus on the task at hand and helps you see the finish line. That’s a great motivator for getting started, especially if it’s a task you are dreading.
5 | You Make Progress On Huge Projects
If you have a big project on your to-do list with a far-off deadline, it’s really easy to keep putting it off until tomorrow. It doesn’t seem urgent, and there’s no way you have time to work on it today, right? Many writers use a timer to motivate them to finish chapters of their books. A huge project, like writing a book, can seem daunting. Projects like this are often so big that we feel paralyzed to even start. But choosing one small piece of that project to work on today and setting your timer is a great way to push yourself to dig in and get to work. If you break that project up into smaller tasks with mini deadlines or time limits, you’ll slowly chip away at it. It will help you make progress on the project without getting absorbed in it for the entire day. When your time runs out, it’s time to take a break and move on to the next thing.
Setting a timer helps me stay on task and knock out everything on my to-do list. When I talk about how I schedule everything in my weekly routine, I sometimes get asked what I do when things take up more time than I scheduled. Well, sometimes they really do take more time and I have flexibility built into my schedule to account for that. But most of the time, giving myself a time limit helps me focus and finish a task before it’s time to move onto the next thing in my day.
My phone timer just went off, so it’s time to wrap up this productivity tip! Try using a timer today and see how it works for you. I usually use the timer on my phone or the one on our stove. And if you have a really hard time avoiding distractions, put your phone in airplane mode and get to work!
P.S. If you’re looking for more ways to get more done in your day, check out my free Crush Your Week course! You’ll learn how to organize your time and design your ideal week in just five days.