If there’s a concept most of us wrangle with the most, it’s time. There doesn’t seem to be enough of it in a day. No time to work, pursue your dreams, spend time with loved ones, take care of yourself, and fart around. There is one simple tool I’ve found to be the most helpful for what I call “time dieting”—your basic timer.
Yes, a timer. It could be a timer app or asking Siri, Alexa, or Google to let you know when a certain amount of time has passed. It could even be an egg timer or a simple watch timer that beeps or buzzes.
How to Use a Timer to Manage Your Life
Yes, not your day—your LIFE. Why so dramatic? Because…
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.” – Annie Dilliard
Anyway, back to the timer.
What the timer allows you to do is to section off periods of the day and dedicate them to specific activities. Why is this necessary? Because we’re abysmal at doing so without assistance.
How many times has, “I’m just going to scroll (enter social media platform here) real quick and then get back to work,” turned into two completely soul-draining, utterly unproductive hours? Not to say that there’s anything wrong with two unproductive hours—as long as that was your intention for those two hours. But was that your intention? Likely not. You probably intended to scroll the infinity pool of social media for 10 minutes and then regained consciousness 110 minutes later.
Now, if you’ve been dutifully working for an hour and would like some intellectual novocaine, you should be allowed to imbibe now and again. However, if you down the whole bottle (or vial…I don’t know what receptacle novocaine comes in) on TikTok, you may not return to the productive world for the rest of the day. That is why a timer is the perfect measuring spoon.
A timer is a leash that permits you to “wander off” for 10 minutes, only to bring you back once you’ve run out of chronological slack. It is your ankle tether keeping you from straying from your board of intention.
Time Dieting: Nourish & Imbibe
I use a simple wrist timer to measure out my doses of hyperfocus and intellectual novocaine throughout the day. Sometimes, I turn to my timer and go…
“Ok, I’m going to read with an immense focus for 30 minutes.”
Ready. Set timer. READ. For the next 30 minutes, I pour my focus into reading.
Other times, I allow myself to unabashedly go down the rabbit hole of news, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube videos for 15 minutes as a reward for or motivation to conduct more productive behavior.
Ready. Set timer. IMBIBE. Until that timer goes off, it’s off to White House Press Conference coverage, trending hashtags, Instagram Stories, and life hack videos on YouTube.
I repeat this process for meditation, exercise, vegging on the porch, and even work via the Pomodoro Technique. Each watch buzz on my wrist is a tug on my time leash, drawing me out of said intentional activity, no matter how productive or juvenile it is.
“Ya Can’t Have One Without the Other.”
I find that occasional shots of mental novocaine straight to my prefrontal cortex are as necessary as the rest of my meaningful pursuits. Giving yourself the occasional cheat day from all-out productivity helps one stave off burnout and can even increase drive…when used in moderation, of course. In many instances, I use the promise of upcoming mental downtime as a reward for focused work or other productive accomplishments. Frequently, dangling carrots of sloth on the end of long sticks of productivity can pull my donkey out of the ditch of procrastination. There are instances when I will work my arse off for the chance to do absolutely nothing. Sometimes, I will burn the midnight oil if it means I get to sleep in (though, being an early bird, it usually means I will greet the dawn if it means I get to turn in early).
How do I regulate my bouts of intentional neural lethargy? Again, a simple timer.
“Ok, you’re allowed 10 minutes of watching video reviews of products you already own in return for 45 minutes of productive work.”
“You got it, boss. I’m going to knock out deep cleaning up my office. Then…I’m going to watch strangers share their thoughts about a jump rope I already own.”
There are instances when, no matter the size of the dangled carrot, my donkey ain’t moving. For those instances, I find it helpful to give the donkey a down payment—a tiny nibble on the reward. Perhaps five minutes of stand-up comedy on YouTube will remind my inner do-nothing the bliss of earned inertia.
Ready. Set timer. Cue 5-minutes of jokes about garage sales.
Ok, that was delightful. I’m coming back to that…in 45 minutes.
(Sets timer for 45 minutes of focused work to earn additional listlessness.)
Rinse and repeat.