Tools of the Trade: Timer

So I’m back to work after a few weeks on vacation. And if there’s one thing this week back at work has taught me it’s to take an extra week off the next time I come back from vacation. Fortunately, there’s nothing too pressing on the horizon, but energy and motivation levels are low.

I am working a little, though. And every time I work at my computer, I set a timer that lets me work in short bursts with very regular breaks. I use a program called Workrave that forces me to take a break every 20 minutes by popping up and blocking my screen for 7 minutes. (You can obviously change your routine to whatever works best for you.)

This works like a charm for me. If I don’t let the program block my keyboard, I just dismiss it the second it pops up and work on, barely noticing it interupted me. Just as important, though, I’ve come to realize, is using a timer (this time on my iPhone) to count down when my seven-minute break is up. Otherwise my breaks tend to drag on for a while longer than intended. As it is, I find seven-minute breaks perfect for listening to bits and pieces of a podcast over the course of the afternoon.

As I said, the system works really well for me. If I work for any longer than 20 minutes, I get bad eye strain (and can barely work the next day). I’ve also found the countdown has added intensity to my bursts of work: will I be able to send this email off before the timer runs out?

Maybe it’s just me, but I work better when I know the clock is ticking.