#7: Timer tricks

Procrastinators have long known that setting a timer can help bust through tasks. Whether it’s FlyLady setting a timer for 15 minutes to throw away trash, Merlin Mann advocated doing a “dash” to beat procrastination, the two-minute rule of David Allen’s GTD (Getting Things Done), or writers “sprinting” during NaNoWriMo, using a timer gives lots of us a push to really get things done.

The current biggest fad in timer-based productivity is the Pomodoro technique, named after a tomato timer apparently. I’ve used the pomodoro technique off and on. The essence of the pomodoro technique is to use a 25 minute timer for a stretch of work, followed by a mandatory short break (3-5 minutes). After four pomodors you take a longer break. You also track the pomodoros you spend on tasks, potentially helping you get better at estimating your time. There is also a discipline to using the pomodoro technique because you are not allowed to split or pause a pomodoro. If a distraction comes up you write it down and keep going on your original task. If you stop to address something, you have to start the pomodoro again and it doesn’t “count.”

The pomodoro technique isn’t my favorite because I don’t like the fixed time of 25 minutes, both because it isn’t a nice chunk of time (it is a very awkward fraction of an hour — I prefer 5, 10, 15, 20, or 30 minute chunks) and because I find I really need to vary the time that I use depending on my mood and the task at hand. If I really am dreading a task I need a 5 minute timer. I’ll never do it if I have to spend 25 minutes. On the other hand, if I am really into a task there is no way that I am taking that break. It doesn’t really work that well for me because I find I need something with variable times.

I have, however, used a lot of pomodoro timers. Most of them let you set variable times instead having to stick with 25 minutes. The best ones keep track of the number of pomodoros you spend on your various tasks. Pomodairo and Focus Booster are both pretty good ones that I have used. While I love the idea of tracking the time I spend on various projects and tasks, I’ve never been really happy with any of the ways I have found to do the tracking. These days if I need a timer, I tend to use 30/30, which gives me lots of flexibility to set up different repeating timers and routines.

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