Episode 134: Need More White Space in Your Life? Use a Timer

Dawn shares several ways using a timer has helped her gain understanding and better efficiency in her quest to add more white space to her life.

Show Transcript:

Welcome to the SimpleMoney Podcast, where we make personal finance less intimidating. I’m Dawn Starks, a financial planner and lover of the simple life. I’m here to talk about money and simplicity. Let’s dive in. This is episode 134: Do you Need More White Space in Your Life? Use a Timer. Do you struggle to fit everything into your week?

Or do you get frustrated when you repeatedly move items on your to-do list to the next day, and then the next, and then the next? Of course, you don’t know anybody like that? Right? So, of course I never do that! Yes I do. So this is a frequent issue with productivity. It’s that disconnect between how long you think a task is going to take, and how long it actually takes.

I am so guilty of this. I’m not a hundred percent reformed, but I have made a huge amount of progress over the last, I don’t know, couple of years as I’ve worked, and worked, and worked on improving my time management. Because I am super guilty of being the type of person who thinks, “Oh, I’m going to get all ten of these things done.”

And the fact of the matter is, is there just simply isn’t enough time to get all ten of those, or however many, things done. So I don’t really think, I don’t take the time to think through how long things are going to take. So, but really lately, what I’ve done is focused on how much time things take. Now, that sounds really basic and silly,

but that has made a huge difference for me. And so what I’ve done is used a timer in order to assist me in figuring out how much time I need to actually allot, or block out, for particular tasks. And, I tell you it’s helped a lot because not only has it brought more awareness to how much time certain tasks take,

but it’s also decreased my frustration because I actually then can plan the right amount of time, or at least have a better approximation of the right amount of time, and not feel really frustrated when the end of the day comes, and I got two out of the ten things done that I thought I was going to get done that day. So here are some techniques that I’ve used with the timer that may or may not help you,

but if you’re striving to try to improve your productivity and get more white space in your life, by getting things done more efficiently, then this might help. So the first thing is to just simply time your tasks. So when you block out time on your calendar, if you’re a time blocker – and I did a podcast episode on this awhile back,

it’s called something about adding white space to your life by using time blocking – this is something that I do all the time. I put some time in the calendar and I actually block it out. So like I have my day blocked out by hours, and well half-hours really. And so I can block out and say,

“Okay, well, during this period of time, I’m going to work on this. And during this period of time, I’m going to work on that.” And I used to feel really proud that I was putting things off of my to-do lists and calendaring them. I was getting them on the calendar, and making sure I had space for them.

But, then what would happen, is I would get derailed by this plan because things would take way longer than I anticipated. And so I simply did not block enough time out for those. So now, what I’ve done is, when I find a task, or I’m going to do a task that I know, historically, has been one that takes longer than I think, or sometimes I’m kind of delusional,

like for example, paying bills, I used to think, “Oh, it just takes an hour.” So I would block an hour out to pay, and when I say pay my bills, there’s a lot of financial tasks that fall under the header for me of paying bills. So when I say paying bills,

I’m really talking about a handful of different financial tasks. So I would block that out of my calendar for an hour, and that was just crack smoking. I just, there was no way I was going to get that all done in an hour. And so I was always frustrated because it ended up taking longer and it bled into whatever the next activity was that I had blocked.

And then I would feel frustrated because I wouldn’t get things done. Something would either go completely undone or I would have to interrupt my bill paying in order to switch to the other task. So what I did is I just timed myself. So I wrote down and said, “Okay, how long does it take me to get all of my financial things organized to get going?”

And I wrote that down. And then I timed, how long does it take me to balance or reconcile all the accounts? And then I wrote that down. And so I kept track of all the different tasks that I do under that header of paying bills. So basically our financial tasks and I wrote it down and I added it all up.

And so now I know that it takes really more like two hours. And so I need to know, I need to know that because I need to be able to block two hours now, instead of one hour, if I need to do all those tasks, or I know what those individual components, I know how long those take me. So now I know,

“Hey, if I only have a small window here, I can at least get started on my bill paying by taking 20 minutes to get everything organized.” And then the next day I can finish the bills or whatever. So I can break the big project down into its subsequent or sub-tasks and be able to block those in

in small pieces on my calendar, if that’s the way I need to do it. So using a timer is super useful because it helps you, and it helps inform you when you’re making your schedule. So another thing you can do with a timer is you can gamify, which is another one of my favorite things to do. You can actually try to beat your time.

So once you start tracking how long different tasks take you, for example, how long does it take you to vacuum the entire house? Well, if you know that it takes you 45 minutes to vacuum the entire house, well, maybe you want to try to get it done in 40 minutes. So you make it a little bit more fun to do the task by trying to beat your prior time.

So I’ve done this for a few years now when I prepare my taxes. So I know how long it takes. And each year I strive to be more and more efficient and get it done faster. And I’m not cutting corners here, that’s not what this is about. What it’s about is maintaining the focus on the tasks so that you get it done faster.

Because, sure as the world, when you’re doing those sorts of tasks, whether it’s housework or working on your financial tasks, you’re going to be distracted. And so if you can cut down on those distractions and really stay focused because you’re racing your previous time, it really does help. Sounds silly, but you should give that a try. Okay.

Another thing that you can try is to work on motivating yourself. So a timer can be motivating because if you feel like, “Ugh, I just don’t want to do this task, these dreaded tasks.” I always feel this way about my taxes. It’s just hard to muster up enthusiasm. When you know, something’s going to take you a long time. For me,

I know it’s going to take me about five hours, start to finish, to finish our taxes. And so knowing that is just dreadful, because – it’s good in a way, because then I make sure I block the right amount of time or plan accordingly – but it’s dreadful because like, who wants to start a task that you know is going to take you the better part of a day?

So instead what I do to motivate myself is I say, “Okay, I’m just going to work on it for 30 minutes and see how far I can get, so I can set my timer for 30 minutes and then go.” And so then I try to scurry through as much of it as I can. And then at that 30-minute mark,

more often than not, I’m motivated to continue going because I’m into it now. And so now I’m in the groove, and I’m in the flow, and I can keep going. But I only committed to 30 minutes, so I can stop at that point because that was what I agreed with myself that I would do. So this motivating yourself to just start projects by getting yourself going on them

it will work really well with decluttering projects too. So oftentimes your closets, or your drawers, or your cabinets, if they’re just, it’s overwhelming the idea of emptying them all and getting them cleared out, it’s really, it’s daunting. You don’t want to think about wow, pulling everything out of your closet and starting with – well, you might want to do

that but it’s a daunting task, or thought, to have that you’re going to pull it all out and have it piled up somewhere while you’re sorting through it and getting it back in the closet. So instead, what you can do is just set your timer for ten minutes and say, “Okay, I’m going to work on this one drawer for ten minutes”,

or “I’m going to work on this one section of the closet for ten minutes”. So you can motivate yourself because you can pretty much do anything for ten minutes. It’s not that bad. Ten minutes goes by really quickly, especially if it’s the sort of task you can listen to music, or a podcast, or a book, an audio book, you can keep your mind occupied while you’re doing something that is not a very

strenuous brain task. So just set your timer for ten minutes and then start. When your ten minutes is up, you can do another ten minutes. You know, or you can say, “That’s it. I’m done. I did my ten minutes.” And then go do something, something else. I actually find this technique works really well with kids too.

So when they really don’t want to clean something up, or they don’t want to clean their rooms, I’ve done it with my daughter Rowen, I’ll say, “Okay, listen, we’re going to both work together, and we’re going to do a ten-minute quick cleanup. And I’m going to set the timer and we’re going to just go,

go, go. And we’re going to see how much we can get cleaned up together.” And so that’s really fun when you do that with your kids. We put on, sometimes I put on the Mission: Impossible theme music, and just let that go in the background while we’re cleaning. And that motivates us to move faster as we’re doing it.

So that’s kind of fun. Okay. Another timer technique or strategy you might try is to use the Pomodoro technique. I believe I’ve talked about this on a prior podcast episode, not sure exactly when that was, but the Pomodoro technique is a strategy where you’re going to work on a task for only 25 minutes, and then you’re going to get a quick break.

And so the reason for 25 minutes is because that, some study went into how long people can maintain their focus. And 25 minutes was considered to be kind of the sweet spot. And so if you set your timer for 25 minutes and you say, “Okay, I’m going to work on writing this chapter”, or “I’m going to work on cleaning out the closet”,

or “I’m going to work on cleaning the house” or whatever the task is you have to do, “I’m going to set the timer for 25 minutes. We’re going to get to work.” Pomodoro technique works especially well when it’s brainy tasks, when it’s things like writing, or doing some sort of work that involves a high level of concentration, Pomodoro works great for that because essentially what you’re doing is you’re telling yourself,

you’re telling your brain, “Okay, you only have to focus here hard for 25 minutes, and then you get to take a break.” Okay. And then when that break comes, you take a small break, and you make a little hash-mark on your paper because you’ve completed one Pomodoro. So one 25 minute session is called one Pomodoro.

Okay. And then after you complete four rounds of Pomodoros, you get a bigger break. So maybe you do four sets of 25-minute Pomodoros, followed by a very small, you know, maybe like five-minute break. And then you get a longer break after you complete four rounds of the Pomodoros. Okay. So this technique works well, whether you’re working at home, or whether you’re working in an office.

If other people are your typical distraction, if you’re working at a workplace, and you often get interrupted by other people, you can put a sign on your door that says don’t disturb you until “X” time. So you can write the time of the end of your Pomodoro. And so it’s remarkably effective. If you just tell people when they can touch base with you,

when you will be available again, they will frequently wait. Okay. So just try it. And you can also put your phone on Do Not Disturb, and you can just work like a maniac for those 25 minutes. And then you take a break. So here again, just like the ten-minute timer deal, the 25-minute Pomodoro, it really goes much faster than you think it will.

And the whole idea behind Pomodoro is getting yourself to be very focused on your one task for that 25 minutes. And you’ll find that by doing that, you’ll get more done over time, because you are sticking to one task when you’re doing that. Because really one of the things that kills our productivity is task switching. When we switch from one task to another, to another.

So I am horribly guilty of this because I can be working on something, and, you know you get stuck in a spot where you’re writing something, you get stuck and so you go, “Oh, I’ll just check my email.” or, “Oh, I’ll just check the weather.” or whatever. So you pop over to something else, and then you’ve got to pop back to your task,

whatever you were working on. And then you have to get yourself back in the zone. And so that’s called task switching and you lose a remarkable amount of time each day because of task switching. So Pomodoro tries to limit that by getting you to focus for short bursts. Okay. So what do you do to keep yourself on task?

Do you have other thoughts about how to maintain your efficiency? Do you use a timer? I would love to hear how you use a timer, or just other strategies that you employ to keep yourself on task. You can email me at dawn@simplemoneypro.com, or if you’d like to discuss it with other like-minded friends, you can join us on Facebook in the SimpleMoney Community.

It’s a free community, and you can share your thoughts there. That’s it for today. See you next week. If you enjoy the SimpleMoney Podcast, please be sure to subscribe and leave us a review. You can support the SimpleMoney Podcast by becoming a patron. Visit patreon.com/simplemoney. That’s p-a-t-r-e-o-n.com/simplemoney.

Find more great information about the blog, podcast, courses and my book by visiting simplemoneypro.com. My book, Simplify Your Financial Life, is available for purchase online, or you can ask your local bookseller or library to order it. See you next time.


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