A Physical Timer Changed My Work

My cheap Wal-Mart timer . . . red like a tomato!

If you’ve been around productivity blogs for any amount of time, you’ve heard of the Pomorodo technique. It’s great - work for 25 minutes, take a 5 minute break, repeat.

I’ve been an on-again, off-again Pomodoro-er. I really love the concept, and it does make me more productive, but it’s not until I started using a physical timer that it stuck. I always used FocusTime or Forest on my iPhone when I was doing Pomodoro in the past. They’re both great apps, and there are lots of other good options, but for me nothing is as good as a physical timer.

Why a Physical Timer is Better

No More App Shopping

I have a super-bad habit where I always wonder if the app I’m using for something is the best. Maybe there’s something better? I wonder if someone’s put something new on the App Store recently. Maybe I should check.

This goes on and on . . . and so I’d find myself constantly looking for a new and better time tracking app. And then I’d try it for a day and then try another one. And then I’d try out different features. All of this, just distracting me from really getting work done. The novelty of app shopping taking the place of actually being productive. Just the illusion of productivity.

The Commitment

I love the way the physical timer makes me commit. With an app, if I abandon a pomodoro, I just hit a button and that’s that. With a physical timer, I need to twist it back to zero. It still rings. Where the successful pomodoro’s ringing feels like crossing a finish line, the forced ringing of an unsuccessful attempt is jarring.

Having the physical timer makes the commitment to the pomodoro feel more real. And failure feel more disappointing. When I wind the timer, I feel like I’m committing to the 25 minutes. And I usually do.


The timer’s ticking highlights passing time in a very concrete way. Even the apps that had a ticking sound in them didn’t quite have the same effect. Where I place the timer changes the sound. If it’s sitting on the table it sounds different than it sitting on paper. It’s the sort of difference in hearing a guitar in person or hearing it on a recording. The sounds themselves may be more or less the same, but the way it feels is different.

It’s Sitting Right Here

The timer is sitting there, on my desk, looking straight at me saying “do you want to be productive today?” When I used an app, it’s just one icon out of a bunch. And it engages me in using my phone, which is dangerous . . . “let me just check Twitter super quick and then I’ll open FocusTime”.

I’m a believer in Pomorodo. I know it’s made me more productive, especially when I’m working alone. And I’m sure there are plenty of people for whom a digital timer works really well. I’m just not one of those people, and maybe you aren’t either. Try Pomodoro with a physical timer. It’s changed how I work, and I hope it can do the same for you.




Chief Technology Officer for the Cristo Rey Network of schools. I really, really, really, really like computers.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Mark E Bazin

Mark E Bazin

Chief Technology Officer for the Cristo Rey Network of schools. I really, really, really, really like computers.

More from Medium

SWDH — a time-efficient productivity system

3 Time Management Tips To Work Faster and Achieve more in less time

Beat the Winter Blues: 4 Ways to Stay Motivated at Work in the Winter

3 Goals A Day Make The Boredom Go Away