I use my kitchen timer all throughout the day. In fact, I started using the timer as a productivity tool when I was in college. My roomates and I would set “power hours” for studying through the night- we’d set the timer for an hour and focus completely on our work. Then when it would go off, we’d give ourselves a “treat” for 15 minutes– sometimes it was watch TV, or go get frozen yogurt or paint our nails– then back to another study hour.
The fact that it was a fixed and finite amount of time allowed us to completely focus on the task at hand and keep the distractions at bay that would normally keep interrupting our study time.
I’ve carried on using the timer in many others ways since my college years. Now that I’m a Mom and running a household, I use it more than ever. Here are some ways setting a timer can be a very effective way to help you focus and get things done!
1. When you have so much to do, you don’t know where to start.
There are many times when my list of things to do feels overwhelming and without a clear plan of attack, I can often feel paralyzed and wasteful of the time I do have. When I use the timer in these moments it helps me take that first step. I avoid the mental trap that says “if I can’t get everything done I might as well not even try” by setting my timer and commit myself to getting something done. I suprise myself every time with how productive I am.
2. To move you efficiently through a cleaning session.
Every week I take a couple hours when the kids are out of the house and I do as much of a complete house cleaning as I can. On some occasions I have found myself getting “lost” in the details of a cleaning or organizing project instead of working my way through all the major areas of the home that need some attention. So for my cleaning days, I set my timer in 20 minutes increments. Every room gets 20 minutes. Once the timer goes off I move to another room (or task). If I have extra time I can hop back to something that I wanted to finish up more thoroughly, but this allows me to do a decent job with the whole house and not get sucked into a detailed project.
3. When you are stuck and aren’t feeling creative.
It may seem counterintuitive to use a timer when you want to be creative and flowing. But it works so often for me, it’s a normal practice. When I want to sketch in my journal or paint or create something and I get that overwhelmed, where to begin feeling…or that flat, no inspiration feeling, I set the timer for a short period of time and force myself to just start doing something. No expectation on finishing or even liking the direction I’ll head– just start moving. 9 times out of 10 I get into a groove quickly.
4. Helping your kids focus and stay on task.
My toddler needs this as much as I do. As I am teaching him about chores and house upkeep I use the timer. Generally I never exceed 5-7 minutes. But we set the time and go off to straighten our room, or bring our laundry down or sort the socks. This helps him know there is an end to the task if he is reluctant and the game often becomes “Can we finish before Dingy goes off?”!
5. When you need to ensure you take “me-time”.
How many times have you had the opportunity to refuel, relax, and replenish only to use that time doing some task or to-do item? I must confess this happens often with me. I tell myself I’d feel better if the dishes were done so instead of that bath I really need, I’m there at the sink again. Making our self-care a priority often requires us to break the habit of always putting our needs off. I have used the timer to ensure I give myself relaxing time. Set it for an hour and only allow yourself to take care of yourself. The dishes will wait for you, I promise!
6. When you want to avoid the “no more TV” struggle.
If you have kids that want more TV time than you want to give them, this may be helpful. Before the TV goes on, let them know how long they can watch. Then set the timer. The great thing is that when the timer goes off, it deflects the attention from you. “Look, the timer went off, it’s time to turn the TV off.” It is now less about you removing the TV from them, but just following the plan as it was set out from the start.
7. When you need to let the to-do list go and just be present and spontaneous with your kids.
When I become too focused on keeping the household running, being available for play and focused attention with my kids can feel like a distration instead of the priority that it is. If I give myself intervals throughout the day where I am completely free to just be with them to play and talk and read (not feeding, changing, or cleaning them) I can turn off the tendencies I have to want to get things done– and my days are punctuated with magical moments that I would have missed. I sometimes use my timer for these spaces too because it is a visual reminder for me.
8. When you enter potentially difficult or dragging conversations.
My husband and I are taking the Financial Peace University courses right now. Though we have always enjoyed a healthy and open level of communication, this course has required us to have many more conversations about money and budgets than we used to. Most of these talks are about the details and mechanics of our budget as we work to fine tune it. While they are not heated or upsetting conversations, we have found they can become long and exhausting. Enter timer! To help us stay open to having these talks we have instituted the timed talk. When we have a budget talk, we set the timer- sometimes 20 minutes, sometimes an hour…but when the timer goes off, we stop. Period. It has helped us stay on track with the important points we need to work through and not fear that these talks will consume a whole evening.
This can be effective for any difficult or long-winded conversation. Setting a time that the talk with end (and can of course be picked up later) releases the tension that if you open this up it will be a “never ending” conversation. It also helps you stick to what’s important.
9. When you need power work/homework sessions.
Just like my time in college, I use the “power hour” to help me grind through work I need to get done. In these cases I always set up a “treat” after the hour so I have something fun to look forward to. The other benefit of the treat is that it almost always involves the “other side of my brain”. If I’m working on tasks that include a lot of linear, logical thought and focus, then my treat is often a walk or stretch or listening to my favorite music. Then if I need to go back to another power hour my left brain has had a chance to turn off and rest as well.
Kids need this too. If your children are at homework age or are homeschooled and doing lessons, try timing the focus intervals and interweaving an “other side of the brain” activity between them. I used to teach high school Chemistry and I set up my classes like this. We would do analytical focused work for 20-30 minutes, followed by 10 minutes of abstract or movement based work (or just a fun no-brainer treat)…then back to the focused work. It was amazing how effective this was for the students.
10. When you need to wipe out tasks that you keep avoiding.
Pretty obvious here. Have something on your to-do list that never seems to get done? Wipe them out in one fell swoop. Set the timer and attack them directly.
11. When your child needs a time-out to calm down.
I’m still working through different discipline strategies with my son, but one thing I do know is that when he physically acts out against a person (often his sister) he needs me to help him learn to calm down so he can resume healthy positive play. When I use the timer with a “calm down/time out” it takes the focus off “punishment”. We set the timer and he goes into his room until he hears Dingy go off. He knows this time in his room is for him to calm down and when dingy goes off he will have the opportunity to come back and play again. So far this has been tremendously helpful in keeping a smooth and happy household.
Balancing so many needs in the course of a day requires creative strategies. What tips help you run smoother, more productive and enjoyable days?
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