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7 Reasons to Borrow Grandma’s Egg Timer

7 Reasons to Borrow Grandma’s Egg Timer

    If you’ve been looking for the edge in getting your task list done, you should consider investing in a timer. Picking up a timer stands out as the one thing I’ve done that significantly increased my productivity.
    What’s so great about a piece of plastic with a couple of wires on the inside? After all, something that you can pick up at the dollar store can’t be a huge influence on our ability to get things done, or we’d all have one already. It turns out that it isn’t the gadget that really provides the benefit, at least for me: it’s the ability to set firm boundaries on my time

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    How many times have you opened up your email, swearing that you were only looking for one message and as soon as you responded to it, you’d shut your email? And how often does that one email turn into twenty minutes of reading email and sorting through spam? I’ve noticed that when I have a boundary on my time — when the ringing of my timer reminds me that my time is up — I get back to the tasks that I really need to be working on.

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    Your timer doesn’t even need to be fancy: you can pick up an egg timer at the grocery store (or borrow it from the kitchen), install a piece of software, use your microwave’s timer — you can even use a song as a timer, or an album if you need a longer setting. The key to a good timer is knowing when your time is up.

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    1. Race the clock. There are certain tasks that I simply want to get done and over with, like certain household chores. Rather than putting them off and being miserable about what I have in store for myself, I’ve set aside ten minutes in the morning to get those chores done. I set my timer and try to get all of them done in the allotted time, as a sort of race against the clock. Most days I can actually get everything done in that 10-minute race, though it would take me an hour of moping around to get them done without my timer.
    2. Take a break. I try to break up my work each day by stepping away from the computer. I might give myself 15 minutes to read a book or 30 minutes to take a walk. But, without the sort of boundary my timer provides, I often run over — way over. I’ll read without looking up from a book, and find that I’ve read for an hour, and ate up all the time I planned to spend on a given task. I’m not a compulsive watch checker: without my timer telling me the time, I don’t know that I’ve gone over.
    3. Process similar tasks. I always have emails to respond to, blogs to read and other similar tasks — all of which I could spend hours a day on. Instead, I set my timer for 20 minutes, or so, and try to get through the most important emails (or other tasks). I’ve found that I get into a groove and can actually process a larger number of similar actions, simply because they’re batched together and I know I can devote the next 20 minutes to them.
    4. Set deadlines. I work best with deadlines — not knowing when a task needs to be finished can drive me crazy. But with a timer, I can set a deadline within my overall work day: a given task needs to be finished in 30 minutes so that I can move on to the next thing I need to do today. Sure, I may not be able to complete a task within that short amount of time, but you might be surprised by just how much I can get done. I also know immediately how much I need to adjust the day’s schedule by.
    5. Take time to move. Various studies have said that you need to move away from the computer every so often. The exact number varies, but it’s somewhere between once every 20 minutes and once every hour. But I never remember that I actually need to go move around. So, I set my timer for every 30 minutes or so, and make sure that my immediate action after it goes off is to stand up and stretch. After that, I can sit down, or do whatever I need to get started on my next task.
    6. Start big projects. Big projects are intimidating. It’s often hard to get started because you know that you’ll be working on the project forever afterwards — or at least it seems that way. But you may be able to start smaller. Try picking out one small task to get you started — preferably something you can handle in 15 minutes. You can tackle any project in 15-minute increments.
    7. Track your billable hours. Knowing just how you spent the last hour can give you a good idea of how much money you earned during that time. That figure can be more than motivational: it can also give you an idea of whether certain tasks are actually financially worth the time you spend on them, and demonstrate where the deadweight is in your day. If you can get rid of that deadweight, you can get more productive time in your day — and potentially up your earnings.

    Timers are useful devices. There are plenty of ways to use them to up your productivity and, if you’ve been looking for a way to up your productivity another notch, you might want to consider a timer.

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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