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Productivity Hack: Set A Timer

It’s a mind game, I know, but if I tell myself I only have to do something for 10 or 20 or 30 minutes, I will do it. The deal I have with myself is that I don’t have to finish the task, I just have to get started.

We’re going for progress here, not perfection. Getting started always seems to be the hardest part.

Here’s what you do: First, turn off all email and phone notifications, then set a timer (any timer will do: the timer on your watch or on your phone or an old fashion kitchen timer or even a beautiful hourglass) for some amount of time (usually somewhere between 10 – 60 minutes), and get started.

  • Pay your bills.

  • Start your novel.

  • Weed the garden.

  • Build that presentation deck.

  • Anything, really, that’s on your list and that you’re resisting.

You will be pleasantly surprised at how much you can get done with practically any amount of focused effort. You’re smart and effective – give yourself a little time to prove it.

Okay, but how long? The perfect length of time is whatever your resisting self will accept. If the thought of 10 minutes of cleaning gets you to empty the dishwasher, then 10 minutes is perfect. If 20 minutes on the timer allows you to sit down and crank out a draft of the proposal hanging over your head, then 20 minutes is just right.

You choose.

It never fails to give me a a warm glow of satisfaction when something in my life is strated, or is moving forward, or is actually done.

Once you begin, one of two things will happen:

1. You will make progress. The outline and magnitude of the project will begin to emerge. If there are obstacles that require help from others, they will become clear. Your next steps become obvious and attainable.

2. You’ll get it done. Sometimes I find the task is not so onerous as I had imagined it would be. Once I make a start, pieces start to fall into place, and I can envision the finished product. This often energizes me, and I willingly continue working on the project after the initial time has elapsed.

Either way, it’s a win:

Progress occurs.

Crises are averted.

Control emerges from chaos.

Success becomes inevitable.

My To Do list today looks like this:

  • Pedicure

  • Stretching/mobility workout - 30 minutes

  • Taxes - 30 minutes

  • Deep dive into financial statements

  • Dinner with darling daughter

You guessed it: neither the thought of working on our taxes nor the workout enthuse me. But checking off my to do list is pleasurable and 30 minutes is a number my procrastinating self will accept today for these two tasks.

I’m not suggested that setting a timer will guarantee you a life free from suffering. But I do promise that you’ll hold back the inexorable tide of hopelessness that comes from feeling you have no control over your life. You can make peace with your procrastinating self by making a deal with time.

If you try it, let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear!


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