How I Used a Timer To Double My Productivity

This post is part of an ongoing series on issues relevant to individuals with ADHD. While it may be specifically directed ADHD issues, the topics discussed are applicable to everyone, including students, parents, writers, business people, and YOU!

A large part of my Neuroscience Masters thesis is based upon behavioural tests with rats. It might sound exciting, but in reality it represents watching rats doing the same task over and over again for days on end. It is, quite possibly, the most boring thing that I’ve ever had to do in my life. For someone with ADHD, that is an enormous roadblock on the path towards success. Someone without ADHD would probably be able to get through those clips in about a week of hard scoring (the term we use for collecting data from video footage), but it takes me much longer because I have a hard time sitting for a long period of time doing them. In fact, one of the worst parts of having ADHD is the procrastination. Doing important (even essential) things that you don’t want to do sucks.

My Mom was an ADHD Coach and Didn’t Know It

My mom and with my son, Nick.

I didn’t receive an ADHD diagnosis until I was 25 years old and finishing my third year of my undergraduate degree. As I look back at my childhood, I am amazed at how much my mother was an ADHD coach, and didn’t even know it. She was constantly introducing job charts and accountability systems that helped us kids learn how to be responsible and productive human beings. The skills I learned from her have been key in my ability to succeed while pursuing the things I love.

One of the most common strategies my mother would use when trying to motivate me to do something was the “Hurry, I’ll time you!” method. On occasion, this would motivate me to do it, but most often I would say “Ugh! NO!” Admittedly, this probably worked better when I was a small child than when I was a teenager, when most of my memories are from. However, someone with ADHD (child or adult) needs every bit of extra excitement and reward they can get in order to get motivated. Never underestimate the power of a timer to help motivate someone, especially with ADHD.

Racing the Timer DOUBLED My Productivity!

Let’s get back to the hours and hours of behavioural footage I need to watch. Blurgh. I was on Twitter the other day, and I saw a tweet that may have changed my perspective on doing boring things.

That quote about may have been the most beneficial thing I have seen in my Twitter feed in a long, long time. Seriously, go follow @LifeHacks right now. They’re awesome. The tweet seemed so brilliant, yet so simple!

Yesterday, I decided I was going to try this method out. I had 16 videos to score, which normally would take me around 8 hours of scheduled time in my planner (yeah, I have a planner. I’ll blog about that one day). At the beginning of my week, I had scheduled two blocks of time over two days to get it done. I sat down, cranked up my techno music in my headphones, and started the clock. At the end of 30 minutes, I had done 4 of the 16 videos! Holy crap! I was beyond excited, because that normally would have taken me so much longer to do. Normally, I get distracted with a million other things while scoring, but to have that 30 minute timer counting down, I wanted to get as much as humanly possible within that amount of time. It soon became a challenge to finish all of it by the end of the day. I raced and raced, knowing that the clock wasn’t going to give up. By the time I had to go help teach a class, I had finished a task that I had scheduled would take me two days! I was doing a happy dance, seriously. It was awesome.

Why Does a Timer Work?

The reason that you have a hard time doing something boring is because it is not stimulating or rewarding enough to hold your attention. Your brain starts craving more exciting and stimulating input, which is where the hyperactivity and inattention comes from. Your brain has learned from experience that certain behaviours elicit interesting stimuli from the world around you. In my experience, the key to overcoming the hyperactivity and inattention is to find productive ways to raise the level of excitement and reward that you get from otherwise boring tasks.

During my experience with the timer, my focus was no longer on how boring the scoring was. In fact, the scoring wasn’t even what I was excited about. I was excited by how much I was getting done, how I was beating my previous record, and the prospect of finally having this terribly monotonous task off of my to-do list. I had found a way to make the task enjoyable.

I know this timer thing isn’t a new idea. The Pomodoro Technique is one of the best productivity methods that I have ever come across. However, I have never experienced such an increase in productivity by using such a simple method.

Have you ever tried setting a timer to help you stay on task and be more productive? Let me know in the comments below!

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