Time It: How to Boost Productivity and Focus

Why is it that most people accomplish more in the days leading up to vacation than they did in the previous week? The answer is the same reason I ensure all my clients set a deadline for their goals. Urgency. 

Under Pressure

For the last few days I’ve been under some tough deadlines. Not only that, but I’ve had a lot on my plate, juggling multiple demands. I’m sure many of you can relate.

The interesting thing is, those deadlines forced me to do three things:

  • focus my attention
  • discriminate (aka: decide what to focus on and what to set aside)
  • get the job done

Sure, it has been stressful. But it forced me to prioritize and be efficiently productive.

The Essence of Productivity

Efficiency is a huge component to productivity. Suppose I got one thing done today, but I wanted it to be absolutely perfect. What could have been done in 1 hour took me 4 hours.

This is a very real battle for me. When I’m developing a new module of training or updating a product for a client, I want it to be excellent. Sometimes I confuse excellence with perfection (that’s a post for another time). Therefore, I’ll tweak and adjust for far too long.

Deadlines help us to be more efficient.

However, productivity isn’t about just getting more done. As Greg McKeown writes in Essentialism, we need to focus on getting the right things done.

Getting the right things done requires intentionality, focus, and discrimination.

Deadlines help us do that too. So how can we infuse the urgency and focus we gain from deadlines into our everyday lives?

Set a Timer

If you’re a productivity nut like I am, you’ve probably heard of the Pomodoro technique to time management coined by Francesco Cirillo. The essence of it is to divide your work up into 25 minute chunks with short breaks in between. The Pomodoro technique is one of many approaches for breaking up your work time.

You don’t need a ticking tomato (Pomodoro timer) to infuse some urgency into your daily workflow and accelerate your productivity.

Most mobile devices have a timer built right in.

Here’s how I use a timer to accelerate my productivity.

Step 1: Determine the task you’re going to complete.

Notice I said complete, not work on. If the task is going to take me very long then David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, would say I’m dealing with a project and not a task. Small projects are fine, but you aren’t going to blast your way through your company’s financial report in 20 minutes.

A few examples for me are: outlining a blog post, setting up social media shares for the day, creating an image, drafting a headline, or designing an infographic.

Step 2: Fire up your timer.

Set it for no more than 45 minutes. For our attention spans and our abilities to concentrate effort, I’ve found 45 minutes is about right. Afterward, I need to get up, move around, drink some water, and give my brain a break.

When I’m writing blog posts I’ll set the timer for 30 – 45 minutes, depending on whether or not I’m outlining, researching, or writing the draft. It keeps me laser focused.

Step 3: Do the work. 

Bust a move! You only have 45 minutes. Focus solely on the task you set out to complete. Save rabbit trails and distractions for after the timer goes off. This is crunch time. Do the work. Then, as Seth Godin popularized, “ship it.”

Get More Done

Since deadlines and added pressure can increase focus and productivity, let’s leverage that power more often. Setting a timer is a quick and easy way to up the intensity. Give it a try and see how much you can get done in less time than you thought.


Question: What kind of timer works for you? Share your strategies or favorite app in the comments below this post!



Please note: I encourage reader discussion, however, I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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