Do you struggle to fit everything you need to do into your week? Do you get frustrated when you repeatedly move items on your To Do list to the next day, then the next day, then the next day?
A frequent issue with productivity is the disconnect between how long you THINK a task will take versus how long it ACTUALLY takes. Me? Guilty, as charged. While I’m not 100% reformed on this issue, I have improved my time management quite a bit by really focusing on the time part of the equation.
Here are some techniques using a timer that I have found to improve my productivity, thus allowing me to end up with more time to spare – more white space – in my life.
Time your tasks
One calendar killer is when you block out an hour for a task that is actually going to take you double or even triple that amount of time. I used to do this all the time. I would feel so proud that I was calendaring my to-do items, only to be smacked in the head with the reality brick when my day was instantly derailed due to my lack of planning.
The solution for this is simple. The next time you are doing a task that routinely takes longer than you think it will, time yourself. I did this recently with my bill paying. I figured I usually take about an hour to balance my checkbook registers, enter all my autodrafts into my register, and pay any paper bills we might have received.
It took closer to two hours for those tasks. Instead of feeling frustrated, I was happy to know how long it really took, so that I can plan better in the future. Since those three tasks could be independently performed, I can now either block out two hours for the entire job, or just do one of the three tasks if I am pressed for time.
Beat your time
Relatedly, once you begin to time yourself on tasks, make a note for yourself how long the task took and challenge yourself to beat your time next time. I started doing this on my tax preparation a few years ago, and it makes doing our taxes just a wee bit more enjoyable knowing that I’m working to beat my previous year’s prep time.
I find this technique is also useful on housework. If you know it takes you an hour to clean your bathrooms thoroughly, see if you can set a timer and do the job in 50 minutes instead. Racing against your time causes you to discover efficiencies that will reduce the time required for the task.
Please note that I’m not suggesting cutting corners. That is a very different thing than finding efficiencies.
A timer can also be useful when your motivation for a task is low or non-existent. Every year, I feel that way about preparing our taxes. Now that I KNOW exactly how long it takes (five hours start to finish), it is hard to muster up the enthusiasm to begin a five-hour ordeal.
Instead, I tell myself I only have to work on it for 30 minutes for now, and I’ll finish another time. I set my timer and off I go! Most times I will just keep going after reaching that 30-minute point, and I don’t stop until the entire tax return is complete.
This technique works extremely well for decluttering projects. Often your closets, drawers, or cabinets are overwhelmingly full, and the thought of decluttering the entire space makes you find a new distraction. Instead, set your timer for 10 minutes – you can do ANYTHING for 10 minutes, it’s not so bad! Start your timer and get down to work. When your time is up, you can decide whether to go for another 10 minutes or quit for now without guilt. You put the designated time in!
Try the Pomodoro Technique
A timer can also be used throughout your workday. If you have difficulty focusing on a project due to distractions and interruptions, experiment with the Pomodoro Technique. Here’s how it works. First, decide what task you will work on. Set your timer for 25 minutes and get to work. The idea is that for 25 minutes, you will stay on task and won’t give in to distractions or interruptions.
When the timer sounds, make a hash mark or checkmark on a piece of paper and take a short break. After your break, come back, set the timer, and do another 25-minute Pomodoro. After you complete four rounds of Pomodoros, you get a longer break.
This technique can work well whether you work from home or at an office. If other people are your typical distraction, put a sign on your door not to disturb you until you open it again. Put your phone on “Do Not Disturb” and work like a maniac for a mere 25 minutes. You CAN avoid distractions for that long, I promise. It’s only 25 minutes!
There you have it, four techniques to improve your productivity using a timer. By focusing your efforts in this way, you will have a better sense for the true length of time various tasks will take. You will also gain the focus needed to get your projects done in no time.
Be sure to use any time you free up to just breathe and relax. The last thing you want to do is shorten the amount of time it takes to do your work and then immediately fill up the blank time with more projects. Don’t sacrifice your newly won white space!
Do you use a timer to keep yourself on task? Share your thoughts and let’s chat. Here’s how:
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