Time-Boxing and Timer Apps, or, How to Curate Your Weird

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  2. Review: The E-Myth Revisited
  3. Review: IT’S YOUR SHIP
  4. Review: The Millionaire Next Door
  5. Review: Rogue Warrior’s Strategy for Success
  6. Time-Boxing and Timer Apps, or, How to Curate Your Weird
  7. On “Small Giants” and Deciding on Your Own Definition of Great

Experience Curating by Joel Zalofsky (cover)I have to tell you; my friend Joel Zaslofsky is pretty smart.

His new book just came out– Experience Curating: How to Gain Focus, Increase Influence, and Simplify Your Life.

And since he’s also in my mastermind group, I’ve heard him develop the concept for the book for a long time now. Short version? Curating is smart, and you should do it. Go buy the book (and read it, obvs.)

“Quit Procrastinating At Research. Start Doing. Results are the Only Thing That Matters.”

We all learn things as we go through life. Especially someone like me, who adores researching things. I like to compare and contrast various benefits of whatever my options are, and use it to come to an understanding of what the “best” option is (and best is always different depending on which values are the most important.)

But for some reason, research is usually considered to be a waste of time. People who are spending their time researching ought to be doing, right? “Research” is just an excuse for your paralysis, or so the common refrain goes.

I disagree. Even the mundane things I’ve researched have had real utility for me, and I’d like to share that utility.

There’s An Art To Sharing: You Have To Add Context To Add Value.

So when I decided to take a page out of Joel’s book and offer you my three favorite timer apps, at first I wondered if this was “worth” writing a post.

I mean, who the hell cares what the “best” timer app is? Only nerds care about that stuff, and any self-respecting nerd already has a clear winner in the “Best Timer App” category. We’d have a holy war over the best timer apps!

Okay, maybe not. But that would be kind of cool.

But then, in a quest to defend to myself why I had three (!) favorite timer apps (and why I felt compelled to share them), I stumbled on the real meat of my point: Timeboxing. Timeboxing is a smart thing to do, and you should do it.

And so, I discovered a compelling article topic, AND I can give you guys my definitive tools to make timeboxing work for you. (And maybe it was a little so I could mention Joel’s new book, which I think is really useful resource in this drink-from-the-firehose day and age.)


The beauty of curating is that you can present all sorts of information this way; information you’re probably curating without even thinking about it. And once you start thinking about it, you can curate better, because as Charlie Gilkey says, we’re living in Project World, and all that matters is your body of work. So if you are the type of person who has made careful determinations about the relative worth of things, that’s not time wasted if you can get that information into the hands of people who can use it.

And I think you can use this:

A Brief Intro To Time-Boxing and Parkinson’s Law

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” ~ Parkinson’s Law

I harp a lot on Hofstadter’s Law, “It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law,” because it is the primary difficulty people encounter when running their own business. When you have to do everything, and everything takes longer than you think it will, there’s a lot of room for snafus. But Parkinson’s Law is equally problematic and a common obstacle.

Interestingly, time-boxing is the antidote for both.


Time-boxing is the act of creating a fixed amount of time for a task or project.

You can easily see the benefits of this when you recognize that the main alternative is “scope-boxing”– that is, the task is deemed “finished” when certain objectives have been met. And with unlimited time available, what happens to those objectives? Scope creep.

Scope creep is an insidious threat, and amongst micro-business owners, it happens most often when you have only a vague idea of what you want to accomplish. So you dive in without a plan, and as you splash around, the project gets bigger and bigger around you.

Even when you do have a strong idea of what you want to accomplish, things can expand without you meaning them to. For me, the most common place for this is any time I try to make a change on WordPress. The odds of me getting a change to happen correctly, the first time, and to pass all the testing, are so low as to be negligible.

So, time-boxing is a method of using Parkinson’s Law in your favor, and at least somewhat mitigating the effects of Hofstadter’s Law.

As such, I have several timers in my browser that I like to use. Here’s an overview:


Although Eggtimer is very flexible and can effectively handle any time contraint you can throw at it (and it even has neat settings for Pomodoro and making tea) the best part about Eggtimer is that it’s impossible to ignore. When the timer goes off, it forcibly redirects you to the Eggtimer screen.

I tend to use it in situations where I’m likely to get caught up in something that’s not very important. For instance, if I think “Hey, I wonder if you can schedule Google + posts yet?” I will set a timer before I dive into answering that question, since otherwise it’s guaranteed to be a 45 minute rabbit hole.


I bookmarked a 20 minute timer so that it’s very little effort. Of course I *could* go to e.ggtimer.com and set a certain period of minutes. But having a direct link to the 20 minute times makes it quick as a blink, and reduces decision fatigue.

Eggtimer is my choice for one-off, really quick tasks, or tasks that I want to challenge myself to get done as quickly as possible– racing to beat that annoying yank over to the Eggtimer screen is surprisingly effective.

Kanban Flow Pomodoro Timer

Kanban Flow is a Chrome Store app similar to Trello, except that it has an integrated Pomodoro timer. I don’t do a lot of time tracking, but I do some, mainly as a method of keeping track of how much time I spend on certain tasks (especially ones I do a lot.) If I don’t know how long they take me, I can’t effectively plan my day.

I use it a lot for content production, because it keeps me honest. I tend not to note or remember the time that I was staring into space, that I got disctracted, or that I was searching thesaurus.com for the perfect word. I only remember the actual act of writing. When I only keep track of the writing, I feel that it takes me 45 minutes to an hour to write a post. But in fact it takes me at least twice that long, and sometimes as much as three hours, by the time I’ve formatted and proofread and added links and images.

So the Pomodoro timer attaches my work time to the task I was doing at the time. Then when I am done, it gets moved over to a “Done” column, which lists what I’ve completed and how long it took me.

Although the default is is a Pomodoro timer, you can set it to anything you want. You could do fifty minutes or 90 minutes, or whatever you want. When you stop work you have to give it the reason why you’re stopping, and when it’s time for a break, the timer chimes at you until you acknowledge it.

Loads of functionality. I would use it more if it fit better in my workflow, but I like having my todo list in Evernote so I’m rarely motivated to make as much use of it as I should. But if you’re less wed to your current task management system than I am, you could make good use of it.

Timer Loop

Timer Loop is another Chrome plugin. It’s very elegant, and what I like about it is that it doesn’t interrupt you. I can, and do, ignore it all the time.

Now, you might ask why I would use a timer only to ignore it?

Well, I am not perfect. And lots of times, the only way I can persuade myself to start something is to say, “Alright, Shanna. Put in at least 20 minutes at this. Then if it’s not going anywhere, you can quit. And of course, once twenty minutes have passed I’m deeply engrossed and working hard. The first two timers won’t allow me to ignore them, but Timer Loop will.

So then you might wonder, “Why keep the timer on? Why not just close the window?” and then we get back to the reason we’re timing our work at all: Time-boxing. Without the timer, I have to interrupt myself to check how much time has passed. With Timer Loop, the chime just becomes a reminder of time passing, like a grandfather clock marking off the half-hours.

Just like the name suggests, Timer Loop just loops round and round and round. You can have up to three pre-set timers, and edit them whenever you like, so it’s quite flexible.

Timer Loop is how I get into the productive “flow” but still retain enough of the sense of urgency that makes time-boxing so effective. To date, it’s the most effective system I have for cranking out deliverables.

Over To You

Have you got a tip or trick or app worth sharing? How do you manage your tasks to prevent a lackadaisical attitude and insidious scope creep?


2 thoughts on “Time-Boxing and Timer Apps, or, How to Curate Your Weird”

  1. First, I’ll say that I’m a huge appreciator of Time Boxing, though I don’t think I knew that’s what it was called. I am a big fan of the Pomodoro technique and I think I’m going to take your advice and try to start setting time limits on more of my tasks. I’ve used Eggtimer quite a bit, but am very intrigued by Kanban flow.

    Here’s what I currently use:
    Kanban Tool is my online Kanban, though it doesn’t have any integrated timer feature: http://kanbantool.com/
    My Pomodoro timer is a free Adobe Air app called Focus Bar: http://www.focusboosterapp.com/

  2. I need to check out all three of these! I tend to set a timer on my phone if I’m afraid I’ll go down a rabbit hole, and if I want to get myself started on a task I’m putting off I just glance at the clock, say “Ok self, X minutes, go!” and then I forget all about timing myself because I get absorbed in the task. I haven’t really done much time tracking in the sense you’re talking about with Kanban Flow, but it sounds useful.

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