Timers 4 Success!

I love my timer so much I might marry it. Here's why.

Photo by Veri Ivanova on Unsplash

On any given day, you’ll see me setting timers. Sometimes for forty minutes, sometimes for twenty, sometimes for five. And it’s not because I’ve got something baking.

It’s because I’m conning myself into doing all the things on my to-do list that, otherwise, I’d procrastinate. In other words, I’m manipulating myself like a toxic boyfriend, only in a good way!

I’ve learned through a lot of hard lessons and introspection that my strengths are my weaknesses, and vice versa. I’m incredibly Type A and what I call a Completionist (I WILL FINISH THE THINGS). I also have perfectionist tendencies and a hyper-vocal inner judge who is an absolute asshole. These things mean that I can be incredibly productive, under the right circumstances. Under the wrong circumstances, however, they mean that I can be rigid, uncompromising, insistent on finishing things I don’t want to be doing in the first place, and unwilling or afraid to start things that are big or scary or ambitious.

When I’m in a bad headspace, I think things such as:

  • “You don’t have time to do this perfectly, so just do nothing.”

  • “This idea is probably shit so why try?”

  • “This is too big.”

  • “You have to finish this inconsequential thing you could do anytime before you start this passion project that’s terrifying but awesome.”

What all those ugly voices are telling me is that I’m not enough, I don’t have enough (time, intelligence, creativity, or money), or that something is impossible. And things often DO seem that way, when you look at them as a whole. Writing a book is a ridiculous undertaking, looking out from day one. Learning how to do a whole new thing looks insane, when you’re juggling the things you already know how to do. And oftentimes our idealized final outcome (being super fit, being an author, being out of debt) is so far away as to appear unreachable.

This is where timers come in.

Because, in reality, all of these things are possible, if we give them a little bit of time, over time. We eat a big sandwich through bites, not by ratcheting open our jaw like a python and swallowing it whole. Goals are no different.

So, part of getting over my anxiety over starting a new book has been telling myself “you just have to write 40 minutes.” On the days I write, I set a timer and that’s all I do. Unless I’m in a zone and want to do another 40. For every 40 minutes I write, I get to do something else for 20 minutes. For me, checking Instagram is a good reward. Or I’ll get up and do a chore, like wash dishes, which I know is a weird reward but it means I’m moving around and I am starting/finishing something, satisfying my inner Completionist.

On *really* bad days, when my inner critic is being EXTRA terrible, I’ll say, “you just have to write five minutes. Just check in with the project.” Sometimes that voice wins, and I do only that five minutes. But usually my timer goes off and I’m still working happily now that I’ve gotten over my anxiety over starting.

I did the same thing with my finances. I knew I needed to get out of credit card debt, but I was convinced I was “bad with money” and “bad at numbers” and incapable of tackling what seemed like such a huge task. So I set a timer. In that time, I’d watch videos, read blogposts, and listen to podcasts. Or I’d poke at my budget on YNAB, as I learned how to use it so it worked for me.

These are just two examples of how I use timers to get me going. I can do just about anything if I know I’ll only have to do it for 5 minutes, and I can do a shocking amount if I set my timer for 40.

Meanwhile, all those small bites add up. I went from being convinced I’d never get out of debt to being over halfway towards my goal of paying off that money. I’m noodling away at a couple different writing projects, and doing so happily.

So try a timer in your own life. Take something you’re resisting, or procrastinating, or terrified of starting. It can be something as mundane as cleaning the house or as pie-in-the-sky as becoming an opera singer. Set a timer, and go. Tell yourself: I only have to do this for x amount of minutes.

See if that works. If it doesn’t, that’s fine. Our brains don’t all work the same, and what cons mine might not con yours.

But if it does, think what you can accomplish, one bite at a time.

Please feel free to share with me your own timer experiences (old or new) in comments, and feel free to share this post:

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