December 9, 2007

Polder Timer- Time Crutch for the Timeless…

Posted in GTD, Lifehacks, Procrastination, Productivity, Work at 9:14 pm by a11en

I’ve been meaning to blog about something that sits on my belt these days… in fact, I’ve become somewhat lost if I don’t feel it by my side. I don’t use it all the time… um, excuse me… time, in fact, is the subject matter of today’s blog post.

I’m slowly coming to a realization and sadness that time just doesn’t wait for anyone. Not even me. You see, I used to think that time would do my bidding. But, in fact, each day I grow older, there is a new grey-hair, and my time for a future family dwindles. Each week spent not focused on my work towards my Thesis and my PhD degree becomes one more week of stagnation and lack of progress towards a happier future. Unfortunately, as everyone who knows me will tell you, time and I just don’t get along. There was one thing I was early for in my life, and that was my birth. After that, I guess, I’ve been trying to make up for it.

I have another small confession to make. Often the reason I’m late is because of my love of what I’m doing at the time. You see, I spend so much of my effort and focus in “The Now” that I literally forget about the “little after now”… which ultimately will become “the now” but apparently I’m not ready for it when it does. That could be because I’m having a deep and interesting discussion about research work with one of my co-workers, and I realize I’m 5 minutes late for my time on a microscope, or it could be because I need my morning coffee “just right”, and I know it takes about 5 minutes to steep. But, what I do know, is I’m passionate and empathic about my current time. I see this as an advantage, but realize that on the other side of “now” it’s a disadvantage.

So, what can I do? What in the world is someone who lives a life bucking Father Time for all eternity to do? Aside from some serious advances in physics and anti-matter, I have to say, I’ve turned to a crutch.

Enter the Polder Timer stage left…

This is the little fellow who’s constantly at my side these days. It isn’t perfect, it isn’t beautiful, and it’s been busted at least once already. What are the things I love about it? How do I use it? Does it work for me?

What I love about it:

The multi-function timer is excellent. The feature which is killer for me is the vibrating feature. The reason for this, is that it’s relatively quiet, but when the timer is on your belt (in your pocket you’ll likely hit one of the buttons) it quietly alarms at your side. One can’t really use a normal timer when dealing with coworkers or technicians etc., and have it sitting there ticking away during your conversation and finally the saxon sounds blaringly loud! Insanity.

(How I use it: )

A little bzzzzzzt on your belt is easily managed. Going to visit an old friend for work, but you can easily get into a 1 hour conversation about life and you have a ton to achieve that afternoon? Before entering his office, set the timer to half-hour.. 15-20 minutes of work talk, 10 minutes of fun-talk. Let him know you have to go at xxx time, and then talk away. It will suck when it buzzes, but honestly, if you’re polite about it, and let him know you’ll return soon, I’m sure it will go well. It can be done relatively incognito also, so the conversation need not end immediately after the buzz. Not to mention you always have the ability to make conscious decisions about your time (Covey) when it’s required. Did he tell you a doozey? His dog just died last night? You can reschedule your next meeting if it’s important to your friendship.

What this timer allows me to do, is manage time and allow my brain to roam free (until the buzz) as it usually does. Instead, it is brought back to earth when I want it to be (my setting on the timer). This is a wonderful wonderful thing. An example… the EDS on the Scanning Electron Microscope needs like 2 minutes to get it’s job done, and the darned machine that runs it has no sound (ugh windows)… set your timer for 2 minutes, read your journal article, bzztt… EDS is done, get back to the SEM. πŸ™‚ Works like a freakin’ charm. I use it like that all day. Need to check on the growth-chamber and check it’s vacuum before growth? 5 minutes degass, 5 minutes off, measure, etc. I can go back to my desk sure that I’ll be reminded of when to check the gauge.

I also use it to do dashes of work when I’m not in front of my computer… 15 minutes of focused work, 5 min. break etc., (or 2 min. but I always eek out more break).

Of course the timer also has a visual cue (blinking red-light on the top you can set if you want), as well as a nice loud buzzer as needed. In the dark, the visual cue is nice, can set the timer down and not disturb SWMBO’d.

What I don’t like:

The belt clip that came with it was busted within the first week. I liked that it had a clip, stand, and magnet on it… but it was too weak. What did I do to solve the problem? For about a week I tried to use it in my pocket, but I always touched the buttons, etc., and it was a pain… so I scoured around various stores to find a cheap stick-on cell-phone clip replacement. Found one, gorilla-glued it on the back, and now I have an excellent clip to hold it to my belt. I’ve got plans to add the old magnet to the clip, but haven’t yet. It’s much easier to clip and unclip now that I’ve replaced the belt-clip. πŸ™‚

Also, unfortunately, there is little to no memory. That means I set the darned thing all the time. This isn’t so bad, but a few memories would really make work-dashes much easier.

Counting stops at the alarm. I’d much rather it continue on. So, if I set it for 5 minutes, for some reason I miss it, how long did I miss it for? When was that buzzer going? I’d love to know if I missed it by half a minute, or by 20 minutes! No such luck. You can count up from zero, you can count down from X, but you can’t count up from zero after counting down from X. Kinda sucks.
But… the price is right. Nice and cheap, and the killer apps (vibrating and light alarm) are very worth the price. (Even with added new belt-clip.)

The stigma:

I took it on my chin for about a month with SWMBO’d… I got crap like: “Oh, whatcha going to do, time how long dinner takes?” … (while heading to the bathroom one night)… “Oh, whatcha going to do, time how long it takes you to SH… (ave)”? πŸ˜‰ [I added the ave]… Oh, she’s a cad alright. Real cad. Real funny gal. But, my timer is still on my belt, and it’s still helping me work. So, if you can live past the joshing you’ll take, you might just fine that a crutch like a timer will really help your timelessness.

Coming from a serious space-case and procrastinator extraordinaire, it’s certainly helped me.

(Oh, BTW, just for the record, Grace Kelly was so damned hot. I just had to let that out. Hell, if I was a King, I’d have married her. Holy crap. (TCM on tonight.))

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2 Comments »

  1. Deirdre said,

    I should first say thanks for the pdf I printed today of your bubble/week at a glance form. Hoping that will help me too.

    What provoked me to stop and comment though was this timer idea. Can you share what specifically makes you stop what you’re doing when you hear the timer? This might some ridiculous but when I set a timer, say for 15 minutes of email, I find myself then ignoring it if I’m not done or still interested in what I’m doing.

    Intellectually, I know I’m sabotaging my plans, but I can’t seem to make that leap to respecting my prior decision about how much time I have. Any clues to make that click?
    Thanks!

  2. a11en said,

    Hi Diedre!

    Thanks for dropping in to chat about this. Actually, the reason it works for me is fairly simple… I tend to not notice time very well… when I’ve set a timer for say 15 min. to get back to this or that… I generally forget about it (while doing some intense online surfing etc.), and when that reminder vibration on my belt or the alarm goes off, it sort of “wakes” me up. It is a gentle prod saying: “Hey, you set me 15 minutes ago, you were going to work.”… I find that putting the timer away so I can’t see it ticking away is better for me. That way it’s more of a shock for my unconsciousness (don’t we all go unconscious when we surf?)- and that shock itself is enough to spurr me on towards work.

    I really was unsure that it would help me at all, but I found the vibration feature and the ability to put it away until needed was important.

    On the mac, I like to use Minuteur and I usually put it in the background as I work on my 15 minute dash. Then, it buzzes at 15 min., and usually that’s enough time for me to take a much needed break. I try and stay good about my breaks (taking them even if I’m frustrated with what I’m doing)… it’s good to release that tension and then come back to the work fresh. But, if I’m cooking along in the “Flow” state, then I usually just add another 15 minutes onto the timer.

    I hope this helps a bit, if you want me to discuss this more, just let me know!
    -Allen


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