I wasn’t surprised to read in Fast Company that a clock designed to help kids tell time is a favorite time management tool in a number of Silicon Valley tech companies. For years I’ve relied on a dead simple kitchen timer to keep myself on track during the day.

I use it to tell me how much time I have before the bus will arrive on the corner, to remind myself to do High Intensity Interval exercise every few hours, to time naps or a laundry cycle, or 15 minutes of writing time before I have to run to a meeting, and of course boiling eggs and other cooking processes.

Somehow, though, my kitchen timer has never spurred me to work in the short 20-to-30-minute bursts recommended by a number of the productivity/time management techniques I’ve written about, like Pulse and Rest and The Pomodoro Technique.  They espouse working in discrete blocks of time with a short rest in between, a method that has proven to yield focused work by constantly refreshing the mind.

Sally Schneider

But, when I set the simple, clever Time Timer to 25 minutes, it graphically shows the countdown of minutes in red, and then rings a bell.  According to Christen Barbercheck of Time Timer, “the red disk rotates in the opposite direction (intentionally) so that it reinforces the movement of the clock,  therefore tapping into what your mind already knows about time remaining, and representing it in a visual, clear way”.

The red space acts like a sort of container of time, with the implicit message: this is how much time I have to do this. It DOES focus me to do a specific chunk of work within a set time period

Then I set the timer to 5 or 10 minutes of “rest”, that is, doing something refreshing like stretching, doing a short chore, or reading a poem or stepping out on the terrace, anything that renews energy. Then I repeat, 25 minutes of focused work, 5 of rest, for four or five cycles.



So far, the Time Timer has proven a useful visual aid to helps me focus on whatever I need to make headway with, and then get up and take a break, disrupting the obsessive overfocus I’m prone to. The overall effect is a feeling of more even, sustained energy. I’m seeing that my old way of working —doing more and longer — doesn’t necessarily mean I’m getting more done.

The Time Timer comes in a variety of styles, including a big oversized ones you can hang on a wall…It is also available as an iPhone app.  We prefer the visuals of the Time Timer Mod.   You can see the trove of different Time Timer iterations, explore uses and read research, at timetimer.com.

Fond of the clock
because of the hours
it has told 

—  W.S. Merwin

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