Using a Timer to Instantly Boost Productivity

It's about Time

Trying to get myself organized this month, working on productivity tips, and effective time management in the face of hilarious executive function skills.

I’ve said before that I’m a collector of productivity habits and tactics and skills and haven’t been able to get any of them to stick. I may sometimes even stick with a system for months and then it all unravels catastrophically.

And I suspect that’s because I haven’t gotten into using a timer consistently.

Using a Timer

using a timer

For people with executive dysfunction, whether from ADHD, ASD, or anything else (or even many neurotypical people with certain specific tasks), one of the biggest roadblocks for us is that we don’t even realize that time is passing. Using a timer is a way to offload this from our brain, which is absolute shit at this task, to an external tool.

What Timer?

The most obvious answer is to use the timer on your phone, or on your watch/fitness tracker if you have such a thing. But if you’re at home and have an Echo or Google Home device (such as the one you can get for free as a Spotify subscriber) you can totally just ask out loud to set a timer for you. 

Voice assistants on your phone (like Google or Siri) can do the same thing if you have them enabled.

And, this may sound wild, but they also make these things, usually for the kitchen, where you can set a certain amount of time and when that time is up they ring. For some people, the low-tech egg timer is perfect for these short little blocks.

For Hyperfocus

If you sit down to play the Sims for an hour, guarantee that you won’t look at the clock again until three and a half hours later. 

But if you set a timer for forty-five minutes, you’ll actually know when your time is almost up and can start to wrap things up. Don’t forget to set another timer for the last 15 minutes! 

If you want to limit the amount of time you engage with something you know can trigger your hyperfocus, do not turn off your timer until you are completely done with the task. 

Even if you go over your one hour limit, keep snoozing the alarm every 10 minutes until you actually close the game and move on to your next task. You need the reminder that time is still passing and to know how long you actually did play.

For Procrastination

Using a timer isn’t limited just to the things that you have a hard time stopping, but also the things you have a hard time starting.

What kinds of goals do you have? For me the big one is housework, but family time is huge too. Set a timer for 15-20 minutes every single day for “decluttering” where you go through and pick up anything you see that isn’t where it’s supposed to be. 

When the timer stops, you stop. Spend those 15 minutes totally engrossed in gathering everything you can as fast as you can and don’t worry about putting everything away one at a time. (It’s basically NaNoWriMo for cleaning. Just clean, don’t edit.)

Feel free to set the timer a few times a day. 15 minutes four times a day is far more palatable for me than spending a whole hour focused on general “cleaning” as a nebulous project.

I also like to set a timer for reading to the kids, or playing with my gal Friday. That’s a time when I put my phone aside and don’t worry about anything else at all. I give myself 100% to my kids for that period and let them guide what we play.


One other alternative, or possibly first step, is to actually use a stopwatch instead of a timer at first. That’s a great way to help yourself learn how long your tasks actually take. That’s how I learned recently that unloading the dishwasher – a task my brain absolutely abhors – actually only takes me literally three minutes.

Figure out how long things actually take so you know how long to set your timers.

Scheduling Down Time

As a corollary to using a timer, all of us (including NTs) have those things that just suck us in (I’m looking at you Facebook) and an excellent way of dealing with this – without trying to restrict ourselves or cutting off our social media altogether – is to schedule time for these things. 

Put it on your calendar if you can. If you have kids home with you all day though and need to be responsive, just write down your goals: maybe one hour of Facebook a day. Write it down and then give yourself 30 minutes two times a day. 

Set that timer and make sure you’re doing the things you want to do the amount that you want to do them.

Your thoughts?

These days we have a zillion things working really hard to steal our time and attention and in the end, all these ideas are ways for you to reclaim your time to be used the way you want it.

Let me know if you ever use timers in these ways. Hit me up in the comments or on Discord!

All that Nerdish

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