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Achieve work focus with a stopwatch instead of a timer

Achieve work focus with a stopwatch instead of a timer

By: James Wondrasek / March 15, 2022

Achieve work focus with a stopwatch instead of a timer

Cal Newport is the person who raised the idea of “deep work” into public consciousness. Similar to the state of Flow, he said that people could be more productive if they simply worked for longer blocks of uninterrupted time.

Easier said than done. First, there is the matter of external interruptions – people demanding your attention. Second, there is the matter of internal interruptions. You might get bored. Your concentration might waver. You just might not be used to working for such a long stretch of time.

Good news! All of these can be addressed. It’s easy to learn how to increase your focus time. Deep work and doing more in less time and doing it better are within reach. All you need is a stopwatch. Just like the title says.

You can’t cheat on this one

Of course you can cheat, but it’s not going to get you anywhere. This process is similar to the Pomodoro Technique, but this time it’s you and not the tomato timer that is in control.

Like the Pomodoro Technique, you’re going to break your time down into blocks. So you want to do this on a task or project that is going to take more than 30 minutes to complete. The longer the better.

How to stopwatch yourself into some deep work

How it works is this: when you begin, instead of starting a timer you are going to start a stopwatch. The default Clock apps on Android and iOS both have a stopwatch feature. Use that. Don’t disappear into the app store looking for stopwatch apps.

Before you start the stopwatch, remember these 3 things:

  1. You are not waiting for a timer ring.
  2. Nothing is going to interrupt you.
  3. You will know when it is time to stop

Now start the stopwatch, put your phone where you can’t see the screen then start working.

No. 3 might have been lie

This is where this method intersects with the Pomodoro Technique.

When you reach that point where you feel you are ready to stop, or you find your mind is wandering and your progress has slowed, look at your stopwatch. Has it been running for more than 25-30 minutes? Congratulations. You’ve just completed a solid block of productive work. Give yourself a nice little break before you do it again.

Does the stopwatch say less than 25 minutes have passed? Note how much time has passed. This will be the time you want to beat next time.

For now, put the stopwatch away (still running!) and go back to work. Keep working and checking until you hit 25-30. Hopefully you will only need to check it once. If you find the tension is too much and you’re continuously checking it, you may want to stop the stopwatch and set a timer for the remaining block of time that will give you 25-30 minutes of work.

Why the stopwatch technique helps

The Pomodoro Technique is a good practice for training yourself to sit down and grind through work. But the regular interruptions interfere with long periods of deep work or flow. By using a stopwatch you can still be sure you are getting through the work, but it allows you to not just work in blocks of concentration that are natural to you, it also serves as a measuring stick you can use to slowly grow and increase your periods of deep work.

You have a phone. Everyone does. Go and give the stopwatch technique a try. Grow those focus muscles.



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