Using a Timer to Boost Productivity
A common suggestion for productivity assistance for ADHDers is using a timer. This is often suggested for time management purposes, but I see two different ways this could help the productivity of an ADHDer. The first is the aforementioned most common explanation given for suggesting the use a timer, and the other one is a way it has been used in my own life. These two methods use opposite functions of a timer, counting down and counting up.
To help ADHDers learn time management, timers are often suggested. You dedicate a certain amount of time to a task and set a timer for that long, and when that timer goes off, you are done working on the task. There a special timers, such as the time timer, that provide a visual representation of the time dedicated to the task at hand. As the timer gets closer and closer to the end, the visual representation of the time gets smaller.
Another way a countdown timer is effective in helping productivity is setting a minimum amount of time you will work on something you do not want to do. When you do not have a genuine interest in doing a task, it is hard to convince yourself to get started. Setting a timer and saying to yourself, “I am going to work on this for 15 minutes,” can help you get to work. In the grand scheme of things, 15 minutes is not that long. Even some of the most excruciatingly boring tasks can be tolerated for 15 minutes. When the timer goes off 15 minutes later, you can ask yourself if you can tolerate another 15 minutes and then another 15 minutes and so on and so forth. Before you know it, that dreaded task might be completed because you broke it up into 15 minute chunks. (Pro tip: Take a short break in between those 15 minute segments.)
When I was little and my older brother was too lazy to go get something for himself, he would try to get me to do it. Initially, I would refuse, but after he said, “Let’s see how fast you can do it; I’ll time you,” I would do it every time. When I got older and realized how he had manipulated me, I decided to use this to my benefit and do the same thing to my younger siblings. It worked one time, and after that, they figured out what I was doing and were never fooled again. This baffled me. I could never understand why it worked on me but not them. It was not until I started learning more about ADHD that I realized how my older brother was hacking my ADHD, even though, at the time, neither of us knew I had ADHD.
My brother took a task that was boring and not my responsibility and made it exciting. By making it competitive, my brother had created a system that provided a dopamine reward for doing what he wanted me to do. Those of us with ADHD do not have adequate dopamine receptors and transporters in the reward centers of the brain. This means we are prone to engaging in behaviors that provide us with dopamine boosts. My brother, without realizing it, was using my craving for dopamine to his advantage.
If you want to become more productive, try using a timer to satisfy your craving for dopamine. How fast can you do that task you are dreading? Can you do it faster than the last time you did it? My one caution on using this method is to make sure you do not do this task so quickly you do it poorly or unsatisfactorily.