3 Ways to Use a Timer to Boost Your Creativity

Between Rounds Study for the Timer, by Thomas Eakins, 1899, Yale University Library Visual Resources Collection. This artwork is in the public domain.

I experimented this week with using a timer to build more boundaries around my creative work. And the timer, once again, really helped. Here are three examples that might give you ideas for productive ways to use your timer:

1. When I sit down to do creative work, I’m sometimes scared and resistant. Making art isn’t always fun and games, as you know! So, I set my timer for 25 minutes. This amount of time is what the pomodoro technique people recommend and I find I’m never intimidated by 25 minutes. It’s short enough to feel doable and long enough that I can actually get something done. Once the 25 minutes is up, I’m warmed up and ready to keep writing and the fear and resistance are usually a distant memory.

2. I gave myself a time limit for checking email. So, let’s say I only wanted to spend 10 minutes on email. I set the timer. With only 10 minutes, I didn’t dawdle or let myself go on tangents or listen to podcasts or watch movies people sent. Sometimes, when I check email, it’s like I’m going into a trance for what seems like hours. When I finally “come to” I feel like I’ve wasted my afternoon. The time restriction also helped me check my email less frequently. A few times, I gave myself longer stretches because I needed time to really dig in and answer emails. But using the timer helped me feel like I was running my day, rather than letting my inbox take charge.

3. I also gave myself a time limit for my creative work. When my two hours was up, I stopped, even if I had more to do. I found this stopping before I felt “done” helped me hold excitement and (positive) impatience to return the next day.

So, try this:

1. Use a timer to help you get started: If you’re feeling reluctant to work. Set the timer. What could you stand? 25 minutes works for me. But if you’re really reluctant, what about 10 minutes? That may be all you need to get the juices flowing.

2. Use a timer to put a boundary around email: Set a timer before checking email or before other tasks that could be huge time sucks. See what happens.

3. Use a timer for an overall time limit on creative work: Give yourself a time limit for creating. Sometimes if you have “all day” you’ll get less accomplished than if you have say “two hours” and really stick to it. I find that stopping before I feel finished helps me get back to work the next day. What do you notice?

I’d love to hear what happens with your timer experiments. Please comment.


Gigi Rosenberg is the editor of Professional Artist. She’s also an artist coach and author of The Artist’s Guide to Grant Writing (Watson-Guptill, 2010). For the latest, visit gigirosenberg.com or reach her at [email protected]. If you’d like to subscribe to her e-newsletter, click here.