There's an Instagram meme about timeliness that you may be able to relate to. It's a screenshot of a text message that says, "Will likely be a little late because of who I am as a person." If you're the perpetually late person—the one who is always running behind schedule, takes too long to get ready in the morning, and feels like she never has enough time to finish (or start) what she needs to—we've got a trick that can help, and just might change that whole "who you are as a person" thing. Keep scrolling to see what it is!
The trick, which is based in the methodology of the Pomodoro Technique, is to set a timer for tasks that need to be accomplished—a real, hard, physical timer is best, but an iPhone timer will do—but for no longer than 25 minutes. Need to train yourself to get ready for work faster in the morning? Set a timer for 25 minutes (to start) and get to work (literally). Need to clean your kitchen after dinner but have been putting it off? Set a timer for 25 minutes max. The psychology of knowing that a timer is going to go off with an unignorable "buzz" makes you work faster and more efficiently, with fewer distractions. There is an end in sight, and you'll work more quickly and make quicker judgment calls (without even realizing it) than if you are aimlessly wandering with no end in sight, dillydallying, putting this dish here and that dish there and then going to check Instagram, washing the salad bowl then pausing to check the TV screen or change the song on Pandora, and so on and so forth. The task at hand, whatever it may be, becomes like a game, eliminating mindless distractions that consistently slow you down.
It's the same sort of idea as when the proctor tells you there's 10 minutes left to finish a test and you get more done in those last 10 minutes than in the full hour before—because you have to. You're writing at lightning speed and not slowing yourself down with doubt, perfectionism, or trains of thought that get the better of you and your time. However, even if you don't traditionally "work well under pressure," we bet you'll find that the technique still works, because you're only accountable to you. There's nothing to "balk under pressure" about, because there's no scary pressure of turning something in or potentially being judged for the quality of your work; it's just the fun competition of Can I get this task done before that buzzer goes off?
We have several colleagues at the Byrdie offices (including yours truly) who swear by this timer trick to do everything faster. When I've been avoiding cleaning the house like the plague, I'll set a timer for 15 minutes and just see what I can get done in that time. I am absolutely amazed at how much I accomplish when I'm rushing around with such determination and focus. You might think it would make you more scatterbrained/frazzled, but it's the total opposite. When a timer lights the fire under your seat, you will be surprised at how clearheaded and focused you become. All of a sudden, before the timer has even gone off, I've wiped down countertops, fluffed pillows, put away all misplaced shoes and items of clothing, handled the mail, sorted the laundry, and vacuumed. Really. When it's over, the house looks like I spent two hours cleaning it. Even at lightning speed, quality didn't even suffer; I just worked faster.
A colleague uses a timer because she struggles with the get-ready-in-time-in-the-morning problem. She started setting a buzzer for 25 minutes to force herself to get ready faster and found that she is able to get dressed, put on makeup, and ready her hair before the timer ever goes off. You can actually train yourself to get faster and faster. She started with 25 minutes and, after a few weeks, got it down to 20 or less. But the timer is still key. She finds that if she doesn't set the timer, it's all too easy to take more time than she has. It's like a free-for-all to operate without that time limit. Because without the "end," you can easily lose track of how long you are actually taking to choose what to wear or apply your foundation.
Essentially, you're playing a simple but effective mind trick. Knowing that the clock is ticking (literally), you won't allow yourself the time-sucks that you would otherwise. Think about it: If you know that you just set a timer and have 20 minutes to apply your makeup, are you going to then get up after five and go check the weather? Are you going to allow yourself to casually peruse your closet? No, of course not. The timer inherently lends you laser-like focus. You know what you need to get done, so your brain stays centered on that task.
It's a small life hack, but it can reap major reward in terms of your efficiency and time management. For larger projects you've been meaning to tackle but have been putting off for ages, it makes the whole ordeal seem less daunting. Been meaning to reorganize your bookshelf by color, or clean out your car? Set a timer for 25 minutes and just see how much you get done. For certain tasks, like the bookshelf reorganization, you might find you finish it entirely and don't know why you put it off for so long. For others, maybe you don't complete the task in full, but you'll have made headway and, per the Pomodoro Technique, can take a quick break before resuming for another reasonable, un-daunting spurt of 25 minutes. Hopefully, you won't need to send another text to your friend group apologizing for being late because of who you are.
Have you ever tried setting a timer to trick yourself into doing something faster? Share your favorite efficiency tricks in the comments below, and let us know how this timer trick works for you!
Click here to buy the timer we use for implementing this technique!