I’ve fallen deep into a productivity wormhole recently — reading self-help books, buying guided planners, disabling push notifications on my iPhone, even downloading a Google Chrome extension to block Twitter in an attempt to find some focus in an otherwise chaotic world (read: news cycle). But so far, the only tool that’s kept me reliably distraction-free has been this little plastic gadget called the Miracle TimeCube.
The TimeCube is, essentially, a simplified kitchen timer, with a different duration written on each of its four sides. It seems so simple as to be unhelpful, and when I first saw this green one on my boyfriend’s desk, I mocked him. But then he explained that his mom, a special needs teacher in the Boston public school system, uses these productivity-boosting gadgets in her classroom.
The basic idea is that when students understand that there’s a tangible end to whatever they’re doing, they’ll be able to focus on that one activity better, and that’s how I’ve been using my red TimeCube. I now divide my work into manageable 25-minute, Twitter-free chunks (à la the Pomodoro Technique), punctuated by the timer’s forceful, hard-to-ignore, but not abrasive beeps (it doesn’t seem to bother my co-workers too much). Then, I flip the cube to the 5-minute timer and take a break. I repeat the cycle four times before I take a 20-minute break.
The strategy helps me get out almost two hours of uninterrupted work without feeling burned out. There are even a few different TimeCubes, depending on how you want to divide your time, and while a phone timer does functionally the same thing, with the TimeCube, I never get sucked into text messages or emails or Twitter mentions when I turn off the alarm. In fact, when I have the TimeCube out, I know to put my phone away, and that’s part of what helps keep me distraction-free. It’s a bit of a mind game. Committing to a 25-minute chunk of social media-free work is way less intimidating than telling myself I’ll only take a break once I’m completely done with the task at hand, no matter how long it takes. The TimeCube doesn’t turn off the internet. It just creates a system that makes it easier for me to avoid the time-suckiest of it.
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