My single most useful writing tool

Picture of a time timer, which is a timer that doesn't tick and visually and spatially shows you how much time is left with a red marker that kinda looks like a slice of pie.
TL;DR this timer

Writing & Stuck? Try this simple tool.

Even though I research and teach writing and theories of writing, I am not (unfortunately) immune to writer’s block. But the upside for me is that I have a huge and diverse toolkit for helping me (and other writers) navigate writing challenges.

This post won’t be a long one. Essentially I want to share my love of the Time Timer. It’s a fab find for anyone but especially for those who struggle with time blindness (hello my ADHD & neurodiverse relations!). It’s also useful for those moments when we JUST DON’T WANNA do _______ [insert whatever it is here].

They aren’t super cheap but they aren’t very expensive either. Hint: they make good gifts & gift requests.

How it works

Basically it works like any timer except:

  • It doesn’t tick
  • You can turn off the alarm (with this version)
  • It’s got a little plastic covering so you can throw it (seriously. It’s sort of anger proof which is a plus for writers and grad students alike, but also for those who have or work with others who are prone to outbursts)
  • You can set it up to 60 minutes (some timers can go for longer)
  • The timer visually displays how much time is left via the use of a red marker (see picture below for a visual)
Picture shows a visual demonstration of how the Time Timer works
Visual demonstration of how the Time Timer works

Why I like it

Makes time tangible

The Time Timer is useful for me because it helps me to visualize the amount of time remaining in a way that also helps my brain to “get it.” I struggle to make the connection, at times, between how much time is left or needed. There are days where the concept of time as a quantity just doesn’t seem to translate for me. On those days, I tend to experience time more fluidly, moving from task to task when it feels right–which could be hours or minutes later. I can become absorbed in one thing but not another. So this little tool helps me to not only make the connection between the time I’m experiencing and time as a countable thing. It helps me to be more aware because the red portion signals time as an amount to my brain in a simple way.

Makes time manageable

The Time Timer also helps me on the days when I just can’t even. On those days, this timer helps me to understand that I don’t have to do whatever it is I’m doing or need to do forever. I only need to do whatever it is for as long as the red portion is visible. That’s helpful for me.

The Time Timer has been helpful in other areas of my life too. Because it doesn’t tick and I can shut the alarm sound off, I use it as a meditation timer. I also use it to help me stay motivated to exercise, in that I’m often able to work out for 10 to 30 minutes at a time because the timer signals that whatever I am doing is temporary.

Things to keep in mind

Of course the timer isn’t perfect. It’s one tool of many, and there are still days where no amount of Time Timers will motivate me to do whatever needs doing.

This said, I still recommend giving this a try if your interest is piqued. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

I will say a few things though. One is that if you have a tendency to hyperfocus, you’ll likely need to set up a back up timer that won’t go off until you physically get up and turn it off. This could be a phone in another room.

Tip: if you are really struggling with hyperfocus, and if you have a coffeemaker that is programmable, you can always program your maker with just water in the tank and take the pot out. So if you don’t get up, you’ll end up with a mess. Trust me, it only takes 1-2 times of cleaning up a mess to “get it” (side note, this also works for waking up in the morning!)

Another thing I will add is that if you are struggling to write, it is helpful to also work in units–also known as the pomodoro method. I tend to try for 3 units at 45 minutes on+10 minutes off. When 45 minutes is too tough, 20 to 30 minutes is usually manageable for me. On really hard writing days, if I can just do 3 units, I try to let that be enough.

I’ll write more about navigating our stuck (writing) places in the future, but for now I hope this was useful.