|Photo credit: purplemattfish on Flickr|
So the other day I was twittering with fellow tweeple @RaiscaraAvalon when it was discovered we share a rather unexpected similarity, namely, the use of timers.
My first experience with consciously writing on the clock came with the Twitter hashtag #wordmongering, in which writers get together at the top of every hour and write as much as they can for thirty minutes, then share their word count results and pass around electronic goodies and bubbles of happiness.
Something about being aware of the ticking clock and knowing I only had thirty minutes to write really gets my fingers moving. I’m racing against the clock (and other writers) to get the most words down I can.
This ticking clock experience was amplified when I started using Write or Die, which literally has a timer in the corner of the application that shows the seconds and minutes slipping away as you work (it also has a running word count meter in the opposite corner that I personally find both encouraging and motivating, but that’s another matter entirely).
Point is, timers are a great tool for forcing you to focus on a particular project—whether it’s writing, editing, brainstorming, etc. All you have to do is decide how long you’ll be doing said activity (I find that thirty minutes is a good amount of time for a focused sprint), turn off all other distractions (yes, that means Twitter, too), set the timer and go.
The only rule: DO NOT STOP UNTIL THE TIMER IS FINISHED.
By turning on the timer, you are making a silent contract with yourself to dedicate that set amount of time to do whatever it is you’re setting out to do, and nothing else. No checking Twitter, or e-mails, or tumblr or Facebook or taking phone calls or getting a snack. If you absolutely must stop for some reason (like, say, if your house is on fire), pause the timer and come back to finish the sprint later (unless your house actually is on fire, in which case completing your sprint should be the last of your worries).
The great thing about timers, however, is that they’re multifunctional. Not only are they a great tool for forcing you to focus for a certain amount of time, but they’re fantastic for cutting down on daily distractions.
It’s important to note that some amount of daily distraction isn’t necessarily a bad thing—we all need to take breaks throughout the day, and sometimes there’s nothing better after a particularly exhausting writing sprint than watching some mind-numbing YouTube videos or snickering at random tumblr GIFs or sharing your half-coherent thoughts with the Twittersphere. It’s only when we slip into relaxing-distraction-seeking mode and suddenly its 10 PM and you still haven’t finished that chapter you were supposed to write today and the laundry is piling up and you forgot to eat dinner, that it can become a problem. And that’s when the timer comes in.
It’s very easy to say, “I’m only going to spend fifteen minutes on Twitter,” then realize an hour later that you still haven’t finished your work. As they say, time flies, especially when you’re procrastinating (or something like that).
Believe it or not, it’s significantly harder to claim that time ran away from you when you set a timer for fifteen minutes and it beeps incessantly until you turn it off, thus letting you know you have spent your permitted fifteen minutes and now it’s time to get back to work.
Be warned: setting a timer means you’re serious. It means you actually only want to fifteen minutes on Twitter and after that you’re actually going to go back to work. It means you really intend to spend thirty minutes adding to your manuscript, and nothing else. It means you understand that your time is limited and you want to make the most of it.
You don’t have to use a timer to be productive, but if you’re serious about using your time wisely and hunkering down and focusing on your work for a period of time, I highly recommend it.
Or you can go check Twitter for fifteen more minutes.