There is nothing worse than feeling unproductive at the end of a busy day. You have been frantically going over your to-do list checking off things or jumping from task to task at work but haven’t actually managed to finish anything. How to put an end to this frantic cycle with a simple iPhone timer app?
Our time perception has several biases proven by science. Firstly, time intervals with more changes are perceived as much longer than intervals with fewer changes. Furthermore, the perception of a length of a period can also change with your current state of mind. If you feel more motivated and energized the perceived length of a task can significantly shorten. This is particularly true when we are in the state of flow or in the zone: being wonderfully immersed in doing something that exceeds our skill levels enough to be challenging without being discouragingly difficult.
Time flies in the zone.
Ask any artist performing art, developer writing code or yourself after doing something in flow to guess the amount of time passed, you bet you will get an underestimate.
Another typical time bias is that the perceived length of a given task may seem longer if you are constantly interrupted. And the interruption doesn’t have to come from the outside. We are all familiar with the justly renowned Instant Gratification Monkey. He is working in our brains to distract us from completing any bigger project without hitting up say, Facebook, checking our Instagram feed or watching a video about a cat being frightened by a cucumber.
How to put a leash on the Instant Gratification Monkey and take control over your actions?
An effective way is to log your time. Timing your daily tasks can show you where your precious time goes at the end of the day, and you can get a more accurate picture about where you need to improve your time management.
Time logging? What?
You might have only heard about time logging in the context of workplace timesheets and classroom timers, duties, obligatory tasks, angry bosses, procrastination, penalties. This is the very reason time logging has still not earned the popularity it deserves. In a culture where time logging has always been associated with unsolicited activities, it is no surprise few people turn to a stopwatch app for boosting their productivity. Luckily, this is in a process of changing. We are starting to realize the benefits of time logging to eliminate our brain’s natural perception biases and get a realistic picture about our daily activities.
But a timer app can be so much more than that!
Tracking your time with a simple timer app is the first step to improving your daily routine and getting rid of bad habits. With a timer app, you will be able to identify the areas of improvement in your schedule and make adjustments accordingly.
How can time logging help you get rid of bad habits?
Let’s break it down into 5 easy steps:
#1 Track everything you do.
You will need a very simple stopwatch app for this. The simpler the better, since you don’t want to invest a lot of energy into the tracking process itself. Also, choose one which saves your tracked entries automatically so you may review them later.
Make a to-do list first, then start tracking your time while you’re working through the list. No need to have any actual text input for the entries, the simpler the tracking process, the easier will it be to stick to it in the long run.
#2 Set up an evaluation week
Review the log in the timer app at the end of every day. Simply open the app and evaluate your entries. Check how much time have you spent on various activities by comparing the entries to your to-do list. You might even do an “evaluation week” and jot down the entries in a notebook every day for a week to see how much time do you spend on different tasks on a weekly basis.
#3 Time to take over control!
Simply compare the times in your log with what you think they should have taken up in an ideal scenario. The ones that take up more time than expected are the areas for improvement. Start to think of ways you could be more efficient at these tasks within a lesser timeframe.
The same can be applied to tasks that take up less time than what you would allocate for them. These are the activities where you need an extra nudge to keep on going for a bit longer – a glance at the timer can serve that purpose well.
#4 Perfect your schedule
Now that you see how much time you spend on each task vs. how much time you should spend on them, time to set up a neat schedule and budget your time for specific activities.
Science is on our side!
If you start doing something with a specific amount of time in mind, your brain will subconsciously adhere to the time spent on the task and help you adjust your pace to finish it within the assigned time frame. Have you ever woken up minutes before the alarm went off? Well, then you know what I mean.
And I’m not talking about waking up every day at the same time when the alarm goes off and after a year or so magically making it a minute earlier. That’s our circadian rhythms at work.
There is growing evidence that we have another system in our brains capable of detecting the passage of time, a skill essential to successfully managing our daily schedules. A study from the Univesity of California shows that our brains have a complementary system designed to measure elapsed time subconsciously, while we’re immersed in our daily routines.
Why is this important from the perspective of time tracking?
Well, the simple reason is that we want to program this subconscious time-tracking system of our brains to work for us. This magical system is very efficient in synchronizing the task at hand to the amount of time we think it should last and it can help us in this process without looking at the timer every minute. This is, in a sense, internalizing our timer.
See you in the zone!
If we manage to tick off a task within the pre-defined time budget, we will get a kick from being productive which will further motivate us to stick to the plan. The key to reaching flow is to transform a seemingly daunting task into something that is only slightly challenging. One of the ways to achieve this is to break up huge projects into smaller chunks and schedule them for a specific time in you day. If they still feel intimidating, go ahead and break them up further.
Let’s go meta here.
Say, you have to write up a 3000-word post tomorrow. If you just sit down in front of the computer and wait for the Nine Muses to give you a sign, chances are you’ll end up seriously investigating Tom Hiddleston’s current relationship status or delving into the new iPhone7 features. But what if you break this big task into smaller, manageable chunks first.
Something like this:
1. Come up with a topic – 1,5 hours
- Do a keyword research. – 20 min
- See if there are any interesting posts for the given keywords. – 10 min
- Read some of these posts. Grab some ideas. – 30 min
- Scan forums for discussions on similar topics. Grab some ideas. – 20 min
- Come up with your topic based on these ideas. – 10 min
2. Research the topic – 2 hours
- Google the topic and read top 5 interesting posts – 1 hour
- Answer: What are the most prevalent ideas in these posts? – 30 min
- Answer: How can you expand on these ideas? – 30 min
3. Come up with a skeleton – 30 min
- Break down the problems you want to write about into sub-topics
4. Start the actual writing process – 3 hours
- Write up the first 1000 words – 1h
- Write up the second 1000 words – 1h
- Write up the second 1000 words – 1h
- Edit the draft – 1h
Voila! It looks much more manageable this way.
Once you have your plan, make sure to budget a time for every entry and use a timer app to track your progress. If your scheduling was realistic enough, you should be able to thick of the tasks from your list easily, which will lead to the sense of being in control and help you see the light at the end of the tunnel. But don’t be too hard on yourself! You need to keep your schedules flexible and adapt your plan whenever necessary for better results.
If you do this the right way, you will have mastered the method of building great things – one brick at a time.
How can an iPhone timer app break my bad habits and help me form new ones?
Let’s look at the big picture now.
Your ultimate goal: get rid of unwanted habits and form new ones.
Charles Duhigg in his book, The Power of Habit breaks up habits in the following way:
- First, you have a cue or trigger.
- Then you follow a routine,
- Finally, you get a reward.
It’s quite simple: turn your stopwatch app into a cue for your brain to start focusing on a specific task, and you will find it much easier to avoid distractions. After you have finished the task within the budgeted time, stop the timer, reward yourself with some leisure time and let the Instant Gratification Monkey off the leash. The more you do this, the more likely will it become a habit. Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.
Forming a keystone habit like tracking time will have lasting effects on your life in the long run. Duhigg describes the concept of keystone habits as “small changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives.”
These keystone habits affect other parts of your life and help you in unforeseen ways. An example might be taking up exercise. Here’s how Duhigg puts it:
“When people start habitually exercising, even as infrequently as once a week, they start changing other, unrelated patterns in their lives, often unknowingly.Typically people who exercise start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family.
They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. It’s not completely clear why…‘Exercise spills over,’ said James Prochaska, a University of Rhode Island researcher. There’s something about it that makes other good habits easier.”
Exercise is not the only keystone habit that can have a ripple effect over your entire life. Time tracking can do just the same.
Things are starting to change…
After finishing the evaluation week and implementing the time budgeting and logging method, you might notice some things shifting in your productivity.
#1 Your focus has improved and you don’t get distracted so easily.
If you keep in mind that you have a set amount of time to complete the next entry in your schedule, you are training your brain to adhere to the schedule. The Instant Gratification Monkey in your brain will realize that if it harasses you, your entire daily schedule might blow up.
The stopwatch app will help you remind yourself of the real price of being distracted from what you do and you will start using your time more responsibly.
#2 If you keep on timing your tasks long enough, you will create a new trigger for being productive.
Once you tap your phone and the timer goes off, your brain will automatically switch into focus mode and you won’t find it hard to stick to the thing you have to complete.
#3 Logging time helps you identify the weak spots in your work/leisure time.
After reviewing your log at the end of your day, you will see where you have failed to stick to the schedule. It’s always surprising to see which activities are the ones that you find the hardest to finish on time.
Which stopwatch app is the BEST?
Now, let’s take a closer look at the practical side of this process. Let’s see what timer apps are out there for ios devices.
SIRI and the Clock App
If Siri works, it makes you feel like you have been instantly transported into 1050 where everyone has a personal android butler. But when it doesn’t work, it makes you wonder if we made any actual progress since Nokia 3310 with all the new and fancy but useless features. That said, the inbuilt iPhone timer app works just fine if you want to start a countdown timer real quick or want to time something as a one-off thing. But it’s huge drawback is that it doesn’t let you save your timed entries so it’s useless for time logging.
Is there anything else out there?
There are a few timers out there that can run multiple countdowns at the same time but most of them are designed to do interval timing and track sport related activities.
They have complex interfaces with several options to track workout time so they are not ideal for serving as a ‘cue’ for our habit-forming purposes. We need a simple timer with a clutter-free interface. Not to mention they are not exactly pleasing to the eye and in some of the cases not free, either:
One timer app that may serve our purposes is Timeverse. It has a pretty neat design, it’s quite easy to use and it saves the entries you have timed. Its only shortcoming is that it can’t log more than 6 activities a day, and that might just not be enough for logging longer to-do lists.
Stopwatch Timer And Time Logger
We have created this stopwatch app specifically for those who want to start time logging to perfect their daily schedules, form new habits and boost their productivity. Why? Because we haven’t found anything out there that is cool enough for this purpose. So we built it.
Start tracking your time. Stop wasting it.
How is it better?
- It is very easy-to-use. After downloading and launching the app, you can simply tap anywhere on the screen to start and stop the timer. Shake the phone to reset the timer and your last entry will be saved automatically.
- There is no limit to the entries logged; you can go on with timing your activities literally until the end of time.
- It has a very intuitive interface so it takes just a few taps to log your time the whole day. Its simplicity is its biggest charm.
- You don’t have to do anything to change the resolution in bright sunlight or in darkness – it’s light sensitive and switches between day and night mode automatically.
- It’s very pleasing to the eye! If you take the time to go through the free timer apps for iPhone out there, you’ll know what I mean. This one is by far the most well designed and easy-to-use.
- It’s free.
The Bottom Line
Breaking bad habits, beating procrastination, learning to focus more, avoiding distractions and ignoring the constant nagging of the Instant Gratification Monkey is what will get us taking back control over our lives. Effective time management means we have more time left for our loved ones, productivity lifts our spirits and we will be more successful at work. The time logging approach may be the first step on a long staircase, but it will definitely get you closer to your goals.
Let’s wrap up with a quote medley. There is everyone in there from Abraham Lincoln to William James, so I’m sure it will make a beautiful end note.
Until you value yourself, you will not value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it. The best way to get something done is to begin. Because nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.
And last but not least:
Procrastination is like masturbation. At first it feels good, but in the end you’re only screwing yourself.