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11 Nov 2012 / Julie

the benefits of timers

an hourglass with green sandTimers are wonderful little things. They keep me from burning my dinner, let me know when my laundry is done, and controls the front door light so it doesn’t waste energy when the sun is out.

But timers can do much more than that and I think you’ll want to include one in your daily routine.

Timers unburden your brain.

When i meditation, I have a hard enough time keeping my monkey brain focused on my breath without having to also fend away thoughts of “how long have I been at this?” (And inevitably, it’s been 30 seconds since the last time I checked.)

Enter, the timer. I have a lovely little meditation timer app on my iphone that has all sorts of fun gong and chime sounds to choose from for my practice. The timer gets set for 5 minutes and now my only job is to sit and focus on my breath. I know I’ve set the time and I know it will let me know when I am done. Nothing else needs to be thought of in that time. No monkey brain wondering “how long have I been at this?” to set me off track. Perfect.

Timers are also amazing for things like working out. Dread running? Just keep pushing until the timer goes off. Don’t think, just go- it will tell you when you’re done.

Mom used a timer for me when I was a little kid – she’d set a timer when i got into the bath and when it went off it was time for me to stop playing with my toys and start washing. I used a timer a lot as a teen, too – I had a bad habit of taking super long showers and wanted to make sure I wasn’t running late.

Timers lessen the overwhelm.

I know i’m not the only one who’s looked at a task – be it a work-related thing, or a personal goal thing or something more akin to housework – and felt overwhelmed enough to walk right past it (or over it, as the case may be).

We skip past it on our To Do Lists and find something else that is more suitable to our attention span, mental state, or energy levels. And sometimes we’ll come back to it and get it done. But other times, the undone task is left undone for so long that it becomes a thing. It’s now the elephant in the room, or, more to the point, the elephant in your head, potentially sucking all the motivation out of you for everything else on your list, too.

Your R2 unit has a bad motivator.

And the more we don’t do the thing, the bigger it gets in our heads and the less we can, or want, to do it.

That pile of dishes that’s been there for two weeks? “Ugh, it’ll take forever, i’ll get to them later.” (Which, of course, you don’t.)

Solution? Set the timer for 15 minutes and just start. Unless your pile of dishes is of epic levels, you may find that 15 mins was all you needed to get them all done. Not as overwhelming as you thought.

Timers keep you focused.

Timers provide me a finite period of time during which I can rally my energy and focus and with laser-like precision, just get this one thing done. Without that timeframe, be it 5 minutes or 50 minutes, a task of “clean up the living room” can turn into a million other things including “wash the curtains,” “i’ve been meaning to rewire the stereo” or “i should pay those bills.” The context of the task itself isn’t enough to keep me focused; it’s the timeframe i set that will keep me on the right track.

I find “I will spend the next 20 minutes on replying to email” a lot easier to deal with than “I have to get through my email today.”

If you don’t have trouble focusing on your work but have trouble remembering to take breaks, a timer just might be your best friend- “Okay I will work for 3 hours and then stop and stretch.”

Maybe you have issues getting sucked into the computer while on your break. Again, timer that shit. Turn your “holy crap, i just wanted to check facebook for a few things, where did the time go?!” into “Okay, i’m going to take a break for 15 minutes and watch funny videos and then get back to work.” (and then, of course, when the timer goes off, actually get back to work.)

Timers give you a way out.

Usually, working for a set period of time will get me to notice that something wasn’t nearly as time-consuming or overwhelming as i thought it would be and I will work past the timer to finish it so i can just check it off the list. But if I have to do something I really don’t want to, i will say to myself, “Okay Jul, just do this for 15 minutes.” If when that buzzer rings, I just can’t continue, then i have an out. “Good job, you did that for 15 minutes. We’ll try again later.” No guilt, and at least that thing got done a little bit.

Timers make things into a game.

Set your timer and see how much you can do in that timeframe. Or pair up with a partner and see who can get the most done before the bell!

Kinds of timers

The timer function on your phone!

I use my iphone’s timer most often when i’m needing a timer to keep my on task at work. It’s a genius little thing. If i’m meditating, i use the Insight Timer app for iphone for that added zen feeling. There are a ton of specialty timer apps out there to meet your needs, but i find the simplest is usually the best – and already preloaded onto your device.

Online timers.

When I am not near my iphone (a rarity i admit), but am on the computer, I get my timing needs met by - actually, i’m using it right now and I have 7 more minutes to write this post. Make sure to test it ahead of time and adjust your speaker volume accordingly – this seemingly unassuming little guy has given me quite the startle before.

Actual kitchen timers!

I have this little beauty that reminds me of the kitchen timer in my grandmothers kitchen. No need to go buy one, though – your oven and microwave should be pre-loaded with a timer (ie, the feature you can use without heating food, etc).

And on that note, it’s time to set the timer again and get some more housework done.


If you found this helpful, you may want to check out my “10 tips for finding your groove and getting sh*t done.”

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