How a Simple Timer App Helps Me Stay Focused and Productive

Image: ©

Do you plan your working day so that each project that you want to work on has a defined start and end time?

Writer Jason Weiland recently discussed how he is trying out a new story writing approach in which he maps out his day into different writing-related blocks of time.

He notes:

This new process is much different than the process I normally use to write, but I am hoping that it will make a huge difference.

I’m sure it will. It sounds like a great plan, although, as I discuss below, it’s probably not one that would work so well for me.

Jason’s article got me thinking more closely about how I structure my days and it prompted me to write this story.

For many busy people, dividing the working day into task-focused time blocks is no doubt a great way to increase productivity. Depending on the type of work you do, such planning might even be essential.

But, it’s not the right approach for me.

I don’t work set hours. I operate my website business from home, and I don’t see the need to rigidly define my working hours. Sometimes, I’ll do my best work in the evening after dinner. Other times, I’ll be most productive when I first sit down at my computer in the morning. Occasionally, because I’m a hopeless insomniac, I’ll even do work in the middle of the night.

So, often, my “working day” consists of several sessions of an hour or so spread over a 16 or even 24-hour block of time. With plenty of downtime for walking, shopping, cooking, reading, Netflixing, taking photos, sleeping, and other things in between.

I’m endlessly thankful that I have the luxury of being able to work within such a loose and flexible schedule. This was not always the case. At earlier times in my life, I endured a succession of thankless jobs that left me unfulfilled and had little flexibility regarding the hours I worked or the tasks I had to do during those hours.

And, to me, the type of “work” I do now — writing, researching, and maintaining websites — does not seem like work at all.

So, I’m genuinely grateful that I’m lucky enough to make my living in the way that I do.

That said, I still need to ensure that I get a reasonable amount of work done each day. This work commitment is vital to the continued success of my business. Even the most flexible work schedule must have some rules and guidelines.

Without checks and balances, it’s easy for those of us who work from home to neglect important tasks as we pursue shiny objects, wilfully procrastinate, and meander off on pointless tangents.

With no controls in place and no compelling deadlines, productivity can flounder.

Here’s what I do to maintain a flexible work schedule while still ensuring that my work gets done.

I define a MINIMUM time that I want to spend working on my business each day. It doesn’t matter to me WHEN I do this work, so long as it gets done within that 24 hour period.

For example, on a particular day, I might decide that I want to spend at least two hours working on my website and at least two hours writing for Medium. So, I’ll commit to four 60 minute sessions — two for website work and two for Medium work.

To facilitate this approach, I use an excellent little app called TimeTimer.

TimeTimer allows me to set multiple timers and display them in various ways. I can quickly glance at the interface to see how much time I have left for a session.

I can also pause or reset a timer whenever I like. And an alarm alerts me when my session is finished.

It only takes seconds to create a new timer, set a duration, and choose a snazzy colour. Then, you are good to go!

When I’m ready, I’ll start a timer for the specific area of my business that I want to work on. I’ll also define the actual tasks that need to be completed for each session using a task manager app.

I usually set my timers for 60 minutes, and I try to work uninterrupted for the full hour.

Knowing that the timer is active and slowly counting down the hour helps me avoid distractions. I give myself permission to spend time checking non-work related emails and social media feeds after the timer finishes. This helps me resist the sometimes compelling urge to disappear down Internet rabbit holes when I should be working.

But, if an unavoidable interruption does come my way, I can pause the timer and then restart it when I’ve dealt with the interruption. That way, I still get the full hour of work done.

To reiterate, the four daily 60-minute sessions that I set up represent the minimum amount of work that I want to get done for my business on that day. Often, I’ll keep working long after I’ve completed the day’s defined work sessions.

But this simple system ensures that I dedicate at least 4 hours of productive and focused work to my business each work day. And, that’s a great baseline to build upon.

I like TimeTimer because of its bold and cheery interface and its ease of use. TimeTimer sells physical timer devices as well as computer and smartphone applications.

An alternative view of the timers

I use the Mac version of the app, which costs around $20.

But, there are also dozens of free timer apps that will do the job. Even the simple timers that ship with your computer or smartphone will work at a pinch.

How do you structure your work day? What productivity tips or applications do you find helpful?

I’m always interested in hearing how other people get things done. I’d be glad to see any responses you’d like to add.

“Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back.” ~ Harvey Mackay