The Productive Power of a 20 Minute Timer

posted by Andrea | 09/21/2018

Growing up, my sisters and I would often use TV commercials as our time to quickly tackle the list of chores my mom gave us….

One person would stay in the living room while the others ran to do part or all of a chore, and the person in the living room would shout out when the show returned. We’d watch the next 10-15 minutes of our show, and then race off to finish the chore we started earlier, or move onto the next thing during the next commercial break.

Now that we’re all “grown up”, I don’t watch all that much TV anymore; and even when I do, it’s Netflix, so there are no commercials!

HOWEVER, simply setting the timer on my phone gives me the same sort of motivation and accountability to move quickly and do as much as I can WITHOUT getting side-tracked by all the other things I could be doing.

It might sound silly, but if you’ve tried it, you know that timers work!

Since Day 1 of my blog (and my organizing business) I have preached the benefits of setting timers for various tasks and activities throughout the day. Not only are timers a great little motivator (at least for those of us with a competitive streak!) they are also fantastic reminders for anyone who tends to be easily side-tracked.

Want to work on organizing part of your closet, but don’t have all day? Set the timer for 20 minutes, then pack up and move onto the the next thing when the buzzer goes of.

Want to work on a craft, hobby, photo project, but don’t want it to consume your afternoon? Set the timer for 20 minutes… if you’re really rolling along, set it for another 20 minutes. Then pack up and move onto to the next item on your to-do list.

Want to read a book, rest your eyes for a few minutes, or just scroll through social media? Set the timer for 20 minutes and then force yourself to move on when the timer goes off.

Want to (or need to) clean your bathrooms, but you probably don’t have time to clean them all? Set a timer for 20 minutes and see how quickly you can clean. Focus on the sinks, counters, and toilets and leave the rest for another day.

Want to run into the mall (or your favorite shop) to look at a few things, but don’t want to neglect the rest of your to-dos? Set your timer (maybe a little more than 20 minutes!) and vow to leave when it buzzes.

I fully understand how frustrating it might be for you to move onto something else without completely finishing what you were working on — but it really is the better alternative in so many situations.

Let me explain…

More often than not, it will take significantly longer than you anticipated to COMPLETELY finish whatever you were working on… which means you’ll end up way behind on everything else you wanted to accomplish that day… which means you’ll stay up too late… which means you’ll be tired the next day… and you’ll probably end up vowing never to do  _____________ again because it “took too much time” and ruined your productivity for the rest of the day.

In reality, YOU LET IT TAKE TOO MUCH OF YOUR TIME!

If you had simply set a timer and moved on with your day when the timer buzzed, you could have completed part of your task/project, finished the rest of your to-do list for the day, gotten to bed at a reasonable hour, been more awake the following day, and most likely had time to finish the rest of your task/project.

Yes, I know that’s a very vague example… but I’ve seen similar situations so many times as I worked with past clients to help them better organize their home and structure their schedule.

It’s frustrating for me to watch, and even more frustrating for them to live out.

I’m not saying a timer will work in every situation (I know it won’t) but more often than not, my timer has proven itself as an invaluable productivity-boosting tool.

So grab your phone, set your timer, get to work, and then MOVE ON to the next thing!

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18 comments

  1. Kelly Hess

    09/25/2018

    My least favorite cleaning chore at my house is cleaning the two full bathrooms upstairs. I always do them together since I have all the cleaning stuff out and its easier to wash two floors at the same time. I now use my stopwatch on my phone to see how quickly I can get the task done. It keeps me focused and not distracted. For the most part I can complete the task in 35-45 minutes, which really is not that much time at all!

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  2. 7 Ways to Reduce Holiday Stress | Healthy with Luba

    09/25/2018

    […] Maybe you want to begin this week and deep clean one room per week.  Perhaps you want to clean all your windows one week, all your bathrooms the next week, and all your closets the week after.  Yet another way is to make a list of everything you want to accomplish and set your timer every day for twenty minutes. […]

  3. Debbie

    09/24/2018

    I seriously need to do this for tackling digital photo albums and purging clothes. I put it off because I know it will take a day or two, and when do I ever have a day or two without anything else on the list? I have set a timer for myself when getting ready just for fun to see if I can beat the timer. LOL!

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  4. Laura

    09/22/2018

    Great advice! I am following the suggestion you gave in an earlier post about dividing the weeks until New Year by the number of your rooms and already completed three. I started with the easiest/fastest ones but this 20 min advice is great for the ones I know will be more time consuming. I also liked your advice about moving on to another room at the end of the week, so that your perfectionist tendencies do not hinder the rest of the rooms, and this applies to the 20 min timer rule too.

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    Andrea Reply:

    yay!! I know several people who have been doing a room a week as I suggested a few weeks ago. I think it’s an excellent way to work through a home (no mater what time of the year). Even if you don’t finish a room, it’s still much better than when you started AND you’re still making a point to look at (and work in) every room in your home! Good for you!

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  5. Maggie

    09/22/2018

    I love using my timer. I often play the “Let’s see how much I can do in 10 minutes” game, and it always amazes me how much can actually be achieved in such a short time. When my kids were younger, I also used timers to fairly allocate time on a toy, such as a particular swing or bike. Many fights were averted by sending someone to get the kitchen timer!

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes exactly! The time-period you choose isn’t as important as actually setting that timer and working towards a goal until it goes off.
    We also use timers for toys… and “jump alone on the tramp” time 🙂

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  6. Jenny

    09/21/2018

    Great ideas, but I LOVE the photos of you and your sisters! I’d like to hear more about your growing up.

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  7. Leanne

    09/21/2018

    I do this all the time!! I’m amazed how much you can achieve in 20 minutes…. especially if a task is overwhelming to me! but, I just realized I’ve not had my kids try this! I’m definitely going to start implementing this asap…

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    Andrea Reply:

    honestly, after my entire life of doing this, I’M still amazing how much I can accomplish in 20 minutes of focused time. I know people think it’s just a silly gimmick, but it REALLY WORKS!

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  8. Emily R.

    09/21/2018

    Loved this post! I have four girls and we do the very same thing during commercials. As a child my entire morning was broken up into 10-20 minute segments and I would use a kitchen timer to keep me on track.

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  9. Eileen

    09/21/2018

    This is such a good reminder!

    I think you’ve posted about this before, but it’s also helpful to realize how long certain ‘chores’ actually are. I used to hate emptying the dishwasher and then decided to time how long it took. It was like 3 minutes! You could almost do that during a TV commercial (love that story!).

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    Mary Reply:

    My game each day is to get the dishwasher emptied before the water in the microwave boils for tea. I usually win.

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    Eileen Reply:

    ha!

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    Andrea Reply:

    haha — I like this “game”!

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    Andrea Reply:

    YES! There are so many things we do on a daily basis that take less than 5 minutes but we put them off and put them off. Just do it and be done with it!

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  10. Angela

    09/21/2018

    I love timers too! I haven’t used this idea recently so I’m grateful for the reminder!

    So fun to see pictures of you and your sisters – it’s interesting to see another aspect of your life outside your home! I’d love to see photos of your wedding too! 🙂

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes, I think we often need reminders of things we know, but maybe aren’t utilizing at the moment!
    Also, I have already shared pictures of our wedding in many older posts. There are several in this post: https://andreadekker.com/dream-weddings-and-date-nights/

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