I’ve been thinking a lot about countdown timers lately, partly because I’m always curious how long it’ll be until the next major holiday (like the debut of Star Wars: Episode IX), and partly because Lifehacker Editor-in-Chief Melissa stumbled across the Progress Bar app and I was curious if there was a cheaper way to accomplish the same thing.
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Sometimes you need to stop yourself from over-thinking your long-term ideas, pondering a better topic or angle, and just throw down and write something. Write or Die, a clever webapp from Jeff Printy, gives you both a stripped-down web space to write your text in and a bit of negative reinforcement if you let your mind, or your fingers, wander too far from the task at hand. Set a word count and time you want to write for. Then, set how you want the app to "remind" you if you stop writing—"Gentle" pops up a text box, "Normal" plays a harsh sound file, and "Kamikaze" mode slowly deletes back from your stopping point until you get back to it. Can't tell if "Electric Shock" is a joke or a feature in development. A bonus feature of Write or Die is that once you close the writing window, it asks to copy all your text to your clipboard—a serious salvation if you're the type to accidentally close browser windows. No sign-up required. Write or Die
Windows only: You're nearly at wit's end with certain laggy, hard-drive-crushing apps on your system and ready to make a switch—but are they really any faster at starting up and getting going than the alternatives? AppTimer, a stand-alone utility, runs your programs for you and measures how long it takes them to get to an idle, ready state. It's a relatively simple program, but it puts out seriously detailed logs, and you can change the means by which you measure a program's ready state, how many times to run it, and how to close it. In other words, it looks like I'll be using a new tool come the next round of browser speed tests. AppTimer is a free download for Windows systems only. AppTimer
Windows only: Stop wondering where the time went and start using a timer to be more productive. Cool Timer is a small timer application with three modes: countdown, stopwatch and alarm clock. You can customise the colour scheme and size of the clock to make it easier to see it at a distance, and you can assign a text message to an alarm to serve as a reminder. Included are several basic sound files like a gong, alarm clock, etc. but you can use any WAV, MP3 or MIDI file you want. If you use certain countdown times and alarms frequently, you can save them for repeat use. Cool Timer is a free download for Windows only. Cool Timer
Windows XP/NT only: We've shown you how to trim Windows down to the bare essentials and setting up pre-fetching for faster booting, but how do you know if your painstaking changes are having any real effect? BootTimer, a free measurement utility, asks you to restart your computer, then uses system logs to measure the distance between your boot-up screen to Windows log-in. You'll need to enable the program to run without prompting (un-check the "Ask before running this file" option on double-clicking in XP), and there's a small bit of promotion/donation prompting after it's done, but it's much easier than digging through verbose logs with a calculator. BootTimer is a free download for Windows NT and XP systems only. BootTimer
Productivity guru and Getting Things Done author David Allen discusses what he calls the curse of the eternally urgent, the cycle in which we feel like we're constantly putting out fires.Ignoring secondarily important actions and projects because you are too busy and concerned with urgent things fosters continual crisis management. It never self-corrects; it self-perpetuates. Where do fires and crises come from? Usually from not-so-urgent things that people ignore because they are distracted by the crises of the moment. Then, ignored, they cause the next fires and crises.
Linux only: Want to have your system shut down at bed time, or restart while you're away? GShutdown, a free Linux utility, lets you tell your system to turn off, restart, or log off at a specified time and date, after a certain delay, or upon a specific action being run. You can tell GShutdown to run a command before doing its thing, and users with older systems can specify the terminal command used to bring everything to a halt. GShutdown is a free download for Linux systems, available in many repositories and pre-packaged at the link below. GShutdown
Windows only: Freeware application Work Break Timer, Task Logger, ScreenCapture (that's a mouthful that could use some abridging) tracks your work and schedules breaks in user-definable chunks, records task info to keep track of how you're spending your time, and takes screenshots of your desktop on a regular user-defined interval. The concept grew from previously mentioned Instant Boss and productivity guru Merlin Mann's (10+2)*5 procrastination hack but adds tons of useful new features and useful functionality—like passing your task info into the author's favorite time management app and displaying a slideshow of your day's activities with previously mentioned IrfanView. Work Break Timer, etc. is free, Windows only.
Work Break timer, Task Logger, ScreenCapture - v. 1.00 Beta
We've previously highlighted unnecessary meetings as a workplace practice that should be over, but not all of us call the shots. For those brave enough to point out the cost of unnecessary meetings, or look at the cost of their own time, salary comparison website PayScale offers the free webapp Meeting Miser. The in-browser timer uses actual or estimated salaries of everyone in the room to tally up the cost of a meeting by the second, the minute, or in total. There are lots of personal timers with more functionality out there, but Meeting Miser's narrow time = money focus makes for a persuasive argument. Meeting Miser is free to use, but requires a PayScale registration to save meetings for later reference.
All of us could probably do with a more productive workflow. Lifehack.org suggests applying Parkinson's Law to our daily routine: Parkinson's Law states that "work will fill the time available for its completion." This is a side effect of focusing on doing work instead of getting projects completed. Give yourself strict deadlines and cultivate a desire to finish projects, not just check tasks off on a to-do list. You could do this by setting a timer for a set amount of time to finish a project— once the timer sounds, you are done and must move on to something else; a similar method is working in 48 minute increments.6 Rules to Work Less and Get More Accomplished
So yesterday I completed my one week 'time audit', as announced last Monday. I decided to do the time audit to give myself a clearer idea of how long my regular tasks take me during the week - and where I can make improvements.
The tracker - I used the previously mentioned ActivityTracker gadget for the iGoogle home page. Full marks for ease of use - I just had to punch in and out of each activity as I went about my day. You can set the Tracker to issue a sound alert at a specified interval if you have trouble remembering to log in and out. This has the added benefit of being a regular reminder to get back on track with what you were *supposed* to be doing if you've gotten off track.
Having to log my activities was a good motivator to stay focused - watching my 'break time' and 'warcraft time' add up during the week spurred me back to work several times. It also showed me how much I multi-task each day. It's quite hard to track your activities when you have several things on the go each once or get pulled into finishing something urgently.
The data - one feature which Activity Tracker lacked which I would have quite liked is a way to save and compare different weeks. It can show you your total hours for the week and break them down into activities, and can even show them in a graph format for you, but I'd really like to be able to compare week on week. I guess I'd need a more sophisticated tracker for that.
The results - Looking at my results for the week I have two goals - to reduce my breaktime during work hours, and to work at reducing how long it takes me to complete regular tasks.
So did you complete a time audit last week, or have you done one in the past? What did you learn from it? Answers in comments please!
I mentioned on Friday that I'd be conducting a time audit of my working week this week. If anyone else is interested in trying it too, grab your favourite digital or paper-based tracker and let's roll. :)
Last night I looked at a few different apps for timetracking and decided to keep it ultra simple - I'm using the previously mentioned Activity Tracker gadget for the iGoogle homepage. Why? Because it was super easy to create a list of my regular tasks, I just need to hit a button to clock in and out on each task, and I'll be able to view the data in several ways (a log, a graph).
If you decide to take up the challenge and audit your time this week, let me know in comments and we can compare notes at the end of the week. Good luck!
As I mentioned yesterday, we've posted a few timers and time tracking tools lately. In my quest to become more productive in my working week, I've decided to put my money where my mouth is, and use next week to conduct a 'time audit' of my working week.
I haven't yet picked which time tracking tool to use, but from Monday morning until Saturday morning when I finish work for the week, I'm going to keep a record of the tasks I do and how long they take me. At the end of the week I'll have a better understanding of how long various tasks take (ie research, writing and editing, as well as the marketing, networking and pitching for new business that's part of any freelancers job.
Gina posted recently about using a digital timer to get things done. I had a look at the blog that tip came from, and I liked the philosophy behind it - which is make the list of your daily, weekly and monthly activities, then decide on the amount of time you have to complete each one. Use a digital timer to keep on track. I think once I've done my one week audit and gotten an idea of how long my take me, I'll be in a position to put a system like this in place. Anyone else interested in doing the audit next week? Let me know in comments.