Time-Outs: Adult-Style

The Problem

It seems that every time I sit down in a quiet moment to get some things done — homework, catching up on emails, planning a vacation, meal planning, whatever — I immediately remember all of the other things I meant to have done at different times:

Hey, I never responded to that text! Oh wait, before I dive into my work I should just add this one thing to my Amazon list. That reminds me, I needed to buy so-and-so a birthday gift and RSVP for so-and-so’s wedding. Oh! and I wanted to look at that other friend’s wedding pictures and watch that cute puppy video and that reminds me to renew my dog’s license and find out when that city compost is available and find out how to keep the fungus off of my tomatoes and look up summer recipes that use tomatoes on Pinterest, and oh wow, those are cute shoes, I wonder if I can find some like that on the DSW website and…

I don’t know about you, but that scenario usually takes place within about five minutes of sitting down with my work — even if it’s a hard copy book in my lap. Between the nearly constant needs (or just plain ol’ cuteness) of my toddler and the technology-saturated culture, my ability to pay attention to any one thing for more than five or ten minutes has been severely handicapped. This is bad for me for a lot of reasons, but particularly in this season of life where I need to do a lot of reading for my graduate program. From what I hear, I’m not alone in this.

The Solution

Taking cues from the world of toddlers and time-outs, I’ve begun forcing myself to adhere to a timer. I set the timer on my phone, so that every time I reach for my phone I’m greeted not just with the time of day but with the length of time remaining before I’ll allow myself to unlock my phone. It’s simple, but don’t underestimate how helpful it can be! I usually set the timer for at least half an hour at a time, and refuse to take breaks (unless interrupted by a living breathing person) until the timer goes off.

It’s not always a smooth transition — it’s hard to train yourself to not reach for your phone every time you think of a question that can easily be answered by a glance at your calendar or google. I usually find myself looking at my phone several times in short succession near the beginning of my timed “work” session, but the amazing thing is that as the minutes go by it gets easier and easier to ignore the technology at hand. If I can just push through those first minutes I am inevitably rewarded by a more fruitful time of work or study.

Maybe even more helpfully, I also time my breaks. I’ll work for 30min–1hr, and then set my timer for a 5min break. When the timer goes off, it breaks my concentration on whatever meaningless entertainment has sucked me in and I’m able to refocus on whatever goal I was working toward.

It sounds silly, maybe. After all, we should all have enough self control to concentrate for more than five minutes, shouldn’t we? Well, yes. But how many of us actually do? I’m working actively to combat the temptations to constant distractions. For me, the timer method is really helping. Let me know if you give it a try!

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