Speed Through Boring Tasks With An Unpleasant Alarm

We all have those tasks on our list that we just don’t want to do, whether it’s paying bills, responding to emails or anything else. Reader Joey shares his solution to getting these tasks done fast: set a timer with a really annoying alarm attached to it.

Photo by Alan Levine.

We’ve talked about dashing through tasks with a timer before, but this is a bit different. Instead of a large, daunting task, this solution seems better for those tasks that are simple, but you end up taking forever to do. Maybe you hate paying bills, so after each little step in the process you check Facebook, or get a glass of water just to avoid the task itself. Joey’s trick keeps you on task and racing toward the finish line:

I hate schedules. I cannot stand the idea of anyone telling me when to do things, even when I’m the one doing it. Naturally, I don’t get nearly as many things done as I would want to, but I recently got a way to knock non-essential tasks off my priority lists, with a minute of prep time.

  1. Put the most annoying MP3 you can find on your phone. It needs to be aural hell. Android’s “Beep-Beep-Beep-Beep” default alarm works for me, but anything should work.
  2. Download “Stopwatch & Timer” from the Android Marketplace, or some equivalent. What you want here is the Timer feature, specifically of the Countdown Variety.
  3. Make that MP3 a ringtone, and default your alarm app to it.
  4. The next time you feel inspired to do a task, set the alarm to 20 per cent less time than it would take to do the task if you were just trying to force yourself to do the task, and place the phone out of your reach, but preferably still in sight so you can see the numbers tick by (Although having a general idea of how much time is left might be a more potent incentive, your mileage may vary.)
  5. It’s not so much the amount of time that you put on the clock, it’s the impending nature of it that gets you going, and you do not want that alarm going off.

If you really want to supercharge this method, keep a table of your high scores for any given task, and it meshes pretty well with Getting Things Done.

I can see this being pretty darn effective if you get creative with the alarm you use. I know I’d certainly be more motivated to crank out all my bill-paying if I knew Justin Beiber would start blasting in 10 minutes, or if my least favourite politician were about to start ranting at me through my phone.

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