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The magic of timers

The year was 1998, the month was February. I have been out of the workforce for seven years and desperate to get back to work. The only problem was there was no more work in my chosen field. Research money had dried up and technical jobs in the field of Biochemistry didn’t exist.

Flipping through the job section of the newspapers I realized I was in the wrong field. There were plenty of jobs in Information Technology and all I needed was get another piece of paper that said I understand the subject and can be employed.

But the only problem was the enrolment date had passed. I met the course coordinator, and she told me that I had missed the lectures which she had conducted all through February to familiarize new students to programming. She suggested I should try next year.

But I was not prepared to wait for another year.

“Guess, this is what I will do,” she said “Take this book and see if you can go through the first six chapters in the next five days. If you really understand them, on your own, I will allow you to join the course.”

Those six chapters amounted to 200 pages. I needed to finish one and quarter a chapter a day. I made a rough estimate, if I can spend five minutes per page, I could go through them. That is when I discovered that my kitchen timer had other uses too.

Timer gives you an arbitrary deadline.

Parkinson’s law says that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. No matter how much we detest deadlines, deadlines get the work done.

Clock ticks away relentlessly, getting you tired by the minute. It’s not just time that’s being drained away, but also energy.

The more time you spend, the more tired you get. The more tired you get, the more inferior the work is.

By the time you get to the editing and formatting stage, you’re so exhausted that writing seems like a chore to avoid. And eventually, you decide it’s too much of misery and doesn’t want to write anymore.

This painful experience can be minimized if you learn to write with a timer.

A timer forces efficiency. And it forces you to stop. It gets your continually editing mania under control. It allows you to divide writing into small tasks, and finish them one at a time. When the buzzer goes off, it’s time to finish the piece.

How long you think it should take you to write a 200-page novel?

In 1996, the Wall Street Journal reported that Brazilian novelist Ryoki Inoue has just written his 1,039th book since he took up the craft ten years ago. He wrote his novel in less than eight hours, right in front of the Wall Street reporter. Inoue started the book around 10 p.m., and by 5:30 a.m. had put the finishing touches on a 195-page story of drug traffickers and corrupt cops.

Ryoki Inoue holds The Guinness World Records, as the world’s most prolific writer having published 1075 books.

How do you think he has pulled it off?

“The important thing is to abandon inertia — even if it means walking sideways like a crab,” Mr. Inoue writes.

Inertia is something we all struggle with.

Over 20 years ago, Time Timer inventor Jan Rogers’ youngest child struggled to make transitions from one daily routine to another. Whether it was time to get ready for school, or for homework, practice, or bed, her young daughter often felt frustrated and anxious because of her inability to grasp the concept of elapsed time.

To solve this problem, Jan created the Time Timer — an innovative, simple time management timer designed to “show” the passage of time through the use of a red disk. As time elapses, the red disk disappears giving an idea of how much time has passed and how much is remaining.

I discovered timers again while doing the cartooning course. Speedy sketching a skill every cartoonist has to master. We were to sketch within 15 minutes, no matter what. Soon I discovered that my sketches were better when I did them with a timer and pathetic when I took as long as I wanted.

The timer doesn’t compromise the quality of your work rather it enhances it.

“George of the Jungle” started out as a Saturday-morning cartoon. One day, as the show was being developed, two professional songwriters got a call from the Walt Disney Pictures. “We need theme songs for ‘George of the Jungle’ and two other cartoons,” they were told. “And we need them fast.”

“How fast?”

“Four hours from now.”

The songwriters went to work. The clock ticked. Four hours later they had banged out all three songs.

And guess what? The studio not only liked them and used them, but the song for “George of the Jungle” turned out to be one of the most memorable and successful things they ever wrote.

So get away from your assumptions about how long a task is supposed to take. Get it done much more quickly.

What if you don’t finish within time?

Have you ever missed a work deadline?

Your boss asks for a report within twenty-four hours, how do you accomplish that? You might spend little extra time at work the thing that really gets the report done is your concentration level.

That comes with the timer.

I was able to read all 200 pages within five days. Some pages took a bit longer but others even less than two minutes giving me time to revise the previous pages and take some notes. But timer kept me on time with finishing the task. Needless to say, I was accepted in the course and was offered three jobs even before I finished my degree.

Next time you sit down to do a task, turn on the timer.

Time flies, so can you.

Photo by Bonneval Sebastien on Unsplash

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