Desktop timers help with productivity

One of my favorite productivity strategies is to set a timer and see how much I can get done before a buzzer sounds. I used to keep a timer from my days as a high school debater on my desk. It had a magnet on the back, and I just stuck it to my bulletin board when it wasn’t in use.

Then, I dropped my timer and the digital face distorted to only read 88:88. The thing was close to 20 years old, so I couldn’t be too upset that the $4 piece of equipment had failed.

To replace my beloved timer, I decided to download a program called Alarm Clock 2 by Robbie Hanson for my Mac. (A comparable program for the PC is XNote Stopwatch and you can find a review of the program on Texas-based professional organizer Lorie Marrero’s blog.) I chose Alarm Clock 2 because it is free to download and it does everything I want it to do.

There is an alarm feature (which I use to remind me to break for lunch), a timer (to help me stay focused on a task), and a stopwatch (to help me keep track of how I’m spending my time). I like that I can set the alarms and buzzers to be songs from my iTunes folder, and that I can have them change volume based on how long they have been “ringing.”

If you haven’t used a timer before to help you with your productivity, I highly recommend using one. After lunch, when my energy level takes a nose dive, I like to set the timer for 10 minutes and see if I can finish all of my filing before the music starts playing. I also set a timer during phone calls to help me stay on topic and keep the business call to under 15 minutes. I also like to make sure that I’m spending the majority of my day (close to 80 percent) behind my desk completing important tasks that help me to advance my goals. I know that I’m procrastinating or avoiding the big-picture items when less-important tasks start filling more than 20 percent of my work day.

Do you use a computer-based timer to help you be more productive? What program do you use and why do you like it? Share your experiences in the comments.

27 Comments for “Desktop timers help with productivity”

  1. posted by Polly on

    Zoomit is a free program from Microsoft that will do the same thing. http://www.snapfiles.com/get/zoomit.html

  2. posted by Kimberly on

    Thanks for the recommendation. I’ve been looking for a timer/alarm program. I’m ADD and timers really help me focus.

  3. posted by Dan Philpott on

    I’ve had mixed results with computer-based timers. They are great in theory and very flexible but have some downsides. If you are in an office environment you can’t use a loud buzzer and often have to unmute the system to hear any alarm. If the work you are timing is on the computer it isn’t always easy to keep the timer on screen so you lose the ability to pace yourself against the time remaining. When I do use a computer-based timer my favored app is DCsoft’s GoalTime:

    http://www.dcsoft.com/products/goaltime/

    But what I really like using is Learning Resources Time Tracker. It’s a big standalone timer which is not easily lost. The alarm can be pretty loud which is great if you are moving around for your task. It has a digital display that shows time left. But what makes it my favorite tool is the large green/yellow/red lights indicating time left. This stop light motif is highly visible and easy to interpret on the fly:

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obi.....tterer-20/

  4. posted by knitwych on

    Most – if not all – cell phones have alarm settings. I’d rather use that than download something else to run on my computer. Most phones have stopwatch functions, too, so you can see how long a certain task takes you to complete.

  5. posted by Josh Lynn on

    I use TimeLeft for Windows. It replaces your clock, allows for count-downs, stop watches, different clocks, “stickers” (like post-its), reminders, etc. It’s quick and small, if not the most visually appealing.

  6. posted by Christy on

    Google has a great online timer…it pops up over what your working on and makes a sound if you don’t mute it, It is on their gadgets and just search for alarm.

  7. posted by TuringTestFail on

    Logically, I think timers would be a good idea, and I’ve tried them but never really felt they helped me. After all, if you are really “following your passion”, do you really need help focusing? I guess my answer to that is no, I don’t. Interesting idea though. Maybe I’ll give it another try.

  8. posted by Adam on

    Great post! On Ubuntu (or Gnome in XWindows in general), I use timer-applet (http://timerapplet.sourceforge.net/) for these kinds of tasks. There is no alarm clock for a given time of day—only a timer, but I find that it often helps me stay on task.

  9. posted by Charlotte on

    I charge by the hour for my work, but I’m not always at a set location. I have a cheap timer (less that $5) that has a magnetic clip, which I set on my desk, stick to something metalic, or, most often, carry in my pocket or clipped to my waistband. I work for an hour (beep-beep) and take a 10 min. break.

    It has three timers, each with a different sound; one count-up timer; and a clock. I take it with me when I travel and use it for my alarm clock (e.g., if it is 9 pm and I want to be up by 7:30 am, I set a timer for 10 hours and 30 minutes. Then I set a second timer for 5 minutes later, just in case I sleep through the first beeps).

    I also use the same timer around the house when I’m doing laundry or cooking and even cleaning house. It helps me stay on task and on time. Instead of feeling like I’m a slave to the timer, I find that my income has increased because I charge for all time worked — and I have more spare time.

  10. posted by Danielle on

    Yay! A high school debater!

    As a college debate coach (and before that college and high school debater) I have probably twenty in my desk. I use them to time how long I will spend doing a task (I will do X for 25 minutes, then goof off for 5).

  11. posted by Jessiejack on

    I use a small table top timer to keep on track. I don’t use it so much for “following my passion” as TuringTestFail discusses but rather to force myself to get those unenjoyable but necessary tasks done that ultimately frees up my time-so I “beat the clock” in emptying the dishwasher (3minutes), unpacking the groceries(10 min) and filing (10 min). I know I can do those chores for at least that long (and then usually it’s done). Otherwise I will put them off. I also set the timer for 15 minute declutter sessions 2-3 times a week. It gets me going and I usually extend the session. I probably should use a computer based timer to set the limits on my reading about decluttering & organization. I can spend hours on that!!

  12. posted by SDreamer on

    I use http://download.cnet.com/Cook-.....96217.html (Cook Timer), works well and it’s pretty simple to use.

  13. posted by Michel on

    Just use David seah’s Ett:
    http://davidseah.com/tools/ett/alpha/
    Again, no need to buy any software for this.

  14. posted by Jude on

    I downloaded Cool Timer from download.com on all my computers. I like it because I can make it purple. I also like this post because one can never have enough timers.

  15. posted by sylrayj on

    Another good online timer is http://www.online-stopwatch.com/ – it can work as a timer or a stopwatch. Just remember that you’ve clicked enough spots to get things working!

    What my husband and I like to use our timer for is cleaning, doing what we call 20-20’s. Our home is too small for us both to be up cleaning at once, so he works for 20 minutes while I do things at my computer, and we switch when the timer goes, for another 20 minutes. When we’re both participating, we motivate the other, and sometimes there’ll be things he doesn’t know where to place but I do, so I take care of it at the start of my 20 minutes on, and vice versa.

  16. posted by Sarah on

    I use TinyAlarm (Mac OSX) by Pixelated Software:

    http://www.pixelatedsoftware.c.....index.html

    I tried a few different bits of software before I chose this one. One of the things I like about is that it’s uncluttered! Out of the way yet really easy to access with a single click.

    I use it to set reminders to take a break, to get back to work, or to check something in the kitchen. Sometimes if I’m having trouble sticking to a task I set myself a timer with the promise that I can take a break if I finish by then.

    The alarm is also nice and subtle, and keeps gently reminding you (about every minute) if you ignore it. I hate alarms that loudly and obnoxiously demand my immediate attention – and find them more disruptive than having no alarm at all.

    Okay, end rave! It’s good :)

  17. posted by Rahim on

    I recently posted on power hours, this is the soft side that helps you use your alarm clock better :D

  18. posted by PrutsPrinses on

    That looks cool Erin, thanks for the link!
    I use a simple Ikea kitchen alarm clock to get me studying!
    Works great, what I like about it is that I can see at once how long I still have to go on and tell myself “come on, that’s not so long, don’t go doing something else right now, wait until the clock rings!”

  19. posted by Alesha on

    Gotta love a high school debater! Thanks for sharing. I use the alarm on my iPhone all the time and have look for about a year for one for my macs. Thanks.

  20. posted by Wellington Grey on

    I’m a huge fan of minuteur for all my timing needs. It’s the best-looking and simplest timer I’ve found, though unfortunately not free.

  21. posted by brandy on

    I first got the idea of using a timer from the Fly Lady, and have found it to really help. One idea she has that has really helped me is to time how long it takes to do some task that you regularly procrastinate -like unloading the dishwasher. when you know it only takes you literally 3.5 minutes, then you can no longer use the ‘I don’t have time to do that right now’ excuse.

    I have a little kitchen timer because I like to be able to us it in places other than at my desk, but I just started using my iPhone timer and i am liking that.

  22. posted by What I Learned While Doing The Laundry | Laurie Foley on

    [...] My usual pattern is to put a load of laundry in the washer, start it and then remember it a couple of days later. Yuck. But thanks to one of my favorite blogs, Unclutterer, I have discovered a timer for my Mac. [...]

  23. posted by Business Development | Social Media Literacy |…words » Productivity- June 8th/09 on

    [...] Erin Doland of Unclutterer writes about time management strategy with the aid of desktop timers. Ideas on how timers can help you keep on task and remind you to take a break every once and awhile in Desktop Timers Help With Productivity http://unclutterer.com/2009/06.....ductivity/ [...]

  24. posted by Jennifer on

    You say that XNote Stopwatch is a comparable program for Windows, but it only appears to do timing functions, not alarm clock functions. I’d like just something that I can set daily alarms to go to lunch or start cleaning up to leave, without cluttering my Outlook Calendar or Tasks. Suggestions? I googled, but nothing looked as slick as Alarm Clock 2.

  25. posted by Ginginho on

    e.ggtimer.com works for me.

  26. posted by What Can You Do In 60 Minutes? The Timer Hack - Paul Craig on

    [...] this isn’t an original idea.  You can find other bloggers discussing timer utilization here, here, and here.  And they all list a few reasons why you should.  Here are my reasons why I [...]

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