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The best advice I ever got in my entire life was this: If you want to get anything done, just start a timer.
Once the timer is going, you have no obligation to do anything. You have no responsibility to yourself or to the outcome. Your only rule is that you can't go and do anything else.
You can ignore the thing in front of you. You can sit and daydream. But you can't go surf the web for example. Or go and do something else.
You may sit there and fiddle for fifteen minutes. But… eventually… your brain settles down and you just start to engage with whatever is in front of you. Before you know it, you're doing the thing you were putting off.
When the timer stops, you stop. Respect the timer.
I've run teams of fifty people. I've tried and implemented GTD, ZTD, Lean, Agile and various project management systems. I've had to do lists and reminders and every single software.
I've tried daily journal routines. I've tried meditating. I've tried everything under the sun — and many things work!
But the one thing that works once you build up the habit is just to start the timer. It is effortless, stress free, fun productivity. And it takes no software, no investment, no stress.
Bonus tip: I find having a standard, a long, and a light time helps me. For example, my standard block is 33 minutes (the time came from the guy who taught me.) My light block I have named “a tight 20.” My long block is a full hour.
If I don't want to do a project but I know I should, I just commit to a tight 20. Before I know it, I'm 20 minutes deep and the block is gone. Once the 20 minutes is up, I stretch and go back in.
Bonus tip #2: The timer is even great for limiting bad habits. Video games get in the way of your life? Play in one hour blocks. Set a timer. Don't commit to anything except for stopping and getting up to walk around once the timer is up. And to starting a new timer before you play again.
Eventually you'll find yourself mixing in productive things, too.
//e. Forgot to mention that a benefit of the timer is seeing your life in chunks of time, and finding ways to maximize them. I can't tell you how often I take a project I think is a BIG, one hundred hour project and whittle it down to a tight 20 hours. Or how many games I go from being just OK at to very comfortably good at. Just because I set the timer and was forced to think about a goal for that block of time.