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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 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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