Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Sand timers

sand timer
I love sand timers. I have four on my desk in front of me as I type, though two of them are for the same length of time. None of them are ornate, antique or valuable (though I'm not averse to getting some of them!). They are all plastic, with coloured sand in them and three were described as aids for children with special educational needs. Read into that what you will!

So why do I have four sand timers on my desk?

The four I have are:
  • 2 minutes
  • 30 minutes (I have two of these)
  • 60 minutes

The 2 minute timer was bought at the dentist and is designed to time brushing your teeth. I can't remember how many of these I have bought over the years. Not because I need help brushing my teeth, but because I kept giving them away to my students when I worked at uni. I use them as "Two minute time-out" timers. Essentially, turn the timer over, watch the sand fall for two minutes and try to breathe slowly. There is visual feedback on how long to go.
A couple of my students took them into exams to help them get on top of their exam-stress; another used one as a way of helping her control non-exam stress; another had one for meditation. That's what I use mine for. I'm not great at clearing my brain. There seems to be a constant chatter going on in there. In fact, many a time and oft, trying to focus on my breathing and clear my head has been the equivalent of opening the chatter floodgates! All those thoughts that were getting drowned out by other thoughts - out they all come! However, I've found that if I concentrate on watching the sand fall, I can clear my head and relax. So, the 2 minute timer on my desk is for that.

The 30 minute timers. 30 minutes is a great time-period. It's a great limiter for stopping me spending too much time on Facebook, Twitter, browsing the internet and so on. 30 minutes is more than long enough to scan Tweets and Facebook posts, make some comments, share, repost and so on. I try and do no more than 30 minutes at a time on social media and use the 30 minute timer in my field of view to remind me when to stop. I prefer it to an audible timer because they tend to make me jump.
30 minutes is also a perfect anti-procrastination length of time. I hate housework. As Simone de Beauvoir said, “Few tasks are more like the torture of Sisyphus than housework, with its endless repetition: the clean becomes soiled, the soiled is made clean, over and over...” I find once I've got started with housework, I tend to keep going, and the 30 minute timer helps me to get started. It's a promise. "Just do 30 minutes and then you can have a cup of tea." Of course, by the time 30 minutes have passed, I'm over the procrastination hill. I use it with other tasks too, with the same wheedle and promise and invariably, I get more than 30 minutes done.
So why do I have two of these timers?
I had one at work (when I worked for the uni) and one at home. Both were used to make me start tasks I didn't want to do, or limit time on a task. When I left work, I brought the timer home and haven't had chance to re-home it yet!

The 60 minute timer is my time-limiter. I try not to sit for too long otherwise my neck and shoulders protest. I also want to give my eyes a rest, and take a break to rehydrate and so on. The 60 minute timer reminds me to move, stretch, take a break and recharge for a few minutes.

So there we are. Does anyone else use sand timers? What other tips and tricks for clearing your head, getting started and making sure you stop do others have? Feel free to post in the comments below.

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