Using a Timer to Get More Done

A planner and To Do list are great tools for helping us be more productive, but sometimes we need an extra boost to keep us focused.


I have learned that when a similar idea or concept pops up repeatedly in my life, that is a clue that I should be paying attention. When a friend talked about using a timer for productivity and then I heard about the Pomodoro Technique, I decided I should give this a try.

The Process

As with all good productivity hacks, the process is simple: set a timer for a predetermined time and work until the timer goes off. Then set a second timer for a much shorter length of time and take a break. Determining the “correct” length of time is the tricky part.

My friend Edie accidentally discovered her optimal time while working between loads of laundry. The length of her dryer cycle allowed her to get quite a bit of work done while the time folding the laundry gave her mind a break from the task she had been concentrating on. When it was done, she was ready to go again. Through this process, she discovered she could work on tasks that required deep concentration for more total productive hours in a day by breaking it up into smaller chunks.

Pomodoro Specifics

The Pomodoro technique works around 25 minute intervals, but ultimately, I think each of us will have a different amount of time that will maximize our effectiveness. For myself, I find 50 minutes on, 10 minutes off to work surprisingly well. This is how I implement the system:

  1. Because most of my work is done at the computer, I utilize an online timer at TimeAndDate.com.
  2. I set up two timers: one for my work (50 minutes) and one for my break (10 minutes), and set them to start in sequence.
  3. I pick a task from my task list (or several if I think I can get more than one complete), start the timer and work on them until the alarm sounds.
  4. Then I take a break — browse social media, refill my water, use the restroom — until the second alarm sounds.
  5. I repeat Steps 3 & 4 until my tasks are complete or my work is done!

Why it Works

Most of us can focus for longer periods of time, but by breaking our time into smaller chunks, we are able to stay fresher and more alert. It also allows us to put off the things that might normally distract us. If the next break is no more than X minutes away, we can wait until then to engage in the “distraction” activity.

Most importantly it gives us a focus for getting a task (or tasks) done in a limited period of time. It is very easy for work to expand to fill the time that is available! By keeping those boundaries smaller, we are more likely to be efficient in the work in which we are engaging. A perfect example is this post — done in one work cycle where otherwise it might take 2 hours or more!

Give it a Try

Honestly, I don’t use this technique all the time. But when I find it hard to get actively engaged or feel like my productivity is low, I turn to my timer. I was skeptical when I first heard of it and it took some tweaks to figure out the correct balance of work and break time for me, but in the end I know this discovery has allowed me to be more productive in many ways and at times that would have otherwise been lost to distraction.

Let us know your results: Give this technique a try for a day (if you don’t already) and share what turned out to be your best balance of work and break time.