You can probably relate to this statement: I can only get work done when the deadline is imminent—preferably when I feel like something is chasing me.
Happiness and productivity expert Gretchen Rubin would classify me as a “sprinter” (as opposed to a marathoner or a procrastinator) who kicks into high gear only when I have no other choice. If you share this little personality quirk, you know it’s not exactly an admirable quality.
But I’ve finally found a tool to give me a never-ending sense of urgency: a timer. The Miracle Cube Timer, to be exact, which somehow, miraculously, lives up to its name. This little 2.4-inch cube—which takes two AAA batteries and comes in blue, green, purple, white, and yellow, ranging in price from $13.30 to $19 on Amazon—has four time interval settings in 5-, 15-, 30- and 60-minute increments. And it works like this: you flip the cube over to the timer setting you need, and it starts counting down. That’s it. There are two alarm settings (high and low), but high is so loud I recommend only using it if you’re a masochist intent on punishing yourself for procrastinating.
Time-blocking is an incredibly efficient way to work, and has given me a better sense of how long tasks actually take. Now, instead of saying, “I need to answer a few emails,” I’ll say, “I’ll answer as many emails as I can in 15 minutes.” When the timer goes off, I simply flip it right-side up. This forces me to accelerate my leisurely pace and hold myself accountable for where my hours and days go.
It’s also useful for non-work activities. Want to do a quick HIIT session? Fifteen minutes, and then I’m panting on the floor from jumping jacks. Need to pack for a trip? Thirty minutes, and boom, I’m ready to fly. The five-minute setting is also the perfect length of time for a break. Instead of rewarding myself for doing work with “a quick peek at Instagram,” which turns into four hours of scrolling, I use those five minutes to snack, stretch, and get ready for my next sprint.
The time-blocking technique isn’t for everyone. Plenty of people get through their days methodically executing every task on their to-do list. Actually, I’m not sure “plenty” of people do that. Maybe a dozen. In the world. But if you’re not one of those lucky, type-A souls, racing against the clock just might save you. Reviewers of the Miracle Cube also claim it works well to train kids to brush their teeth or do chores, so apparently six-year-olds and I have something in common.
Of course, I could—and have—used my the timer on my iPhone, but guess what happens? When its melodic little chime rings, I have to pick up the phone to turn it off, and inevitably fall into the infinite scroll, thus wasting all the time I just gained. I’ve also used a timer in my browser—did you know you can search “timer one minute” or “timer 57 minutes,” etc., and Google will start counting down for you?—but again, the Internet is very distracting.
There’s something more intimidating, dare I say, ominous, about seeing this little white cube staring at me, daring me to work faster. The blinking red LED light at the top helps, too. Some days it feels like a warning sign, others it resembles a beacon. When the timer’s down to the 30-second mark, the light starts blinking faster and faster, and you’ll start working quicker and quicker, and before you know it, that task that once seemed impossible is now blissfully behind you. It’s a miracle, really.
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