The Power of Countdown Timers

To learn and perform well you need to be able to focus well on what you are doing. In this article I explained what the benefits are of deep concentration and what disadvantages are of being interrupted and distracted during work. Focus is important. It is also important to realize that it is impossible to focus all day long. It is probably not wise or even possible to focus deeply for more than 4 or 5 hours a day. Focusing longer does not only fail to lead to extra gains, it also can be harmful. It may lead to mental exhaustion.

A handy way to improve your own ability to concentrate is by using countdown timers (also read this article). We used to have them in each kitchen, now we have them on our phones. We can use our countdown timers by first estimating how much time we will need for a task, setting this time on your timer, and start to work. Working with countdown timers has several advantages. Firstly, it helps you to really focus deeply without distractions. Secondly, it may, over time, help you get more insight into how much time you need for certain tasks and to get more grip on your time.

A third advantage is that you can make a clearer demarcation between when you are working and when you are not working. During the timer session you are working deeply focused on a task and when the session is finished you stop thinking about the task. This clear demarcation helps to enjoy breaks and leisure time more.

A fourth advantage is that working with the time may be motivational. One reason for this is that in introduces a game like character into you work. Can you manage to complete the task within the time you predicted it would take? Can you beat the clock? Another reason refers to tasks you don't like to do. What you can do with such tasks is to set the timer at, for example, 10 minutes and say to yourself: "I'll work 10 minutes at this task, no longer. That I surely can do." Getting started with something is often very helpful. Once you have made a beginning it is often easier to continue.

For this article I set my timer at 20 minutes