Time boxing is not something I am particular religious about nor something that represent the Holy Grail of productivity to me. Over the past years, however, I have been experimenting with the Pomodoro technique and similar time boxing approaches. While none of the methodologies as such really stuck with me, I definitely identified a couple of benefits which I still enjoy today:

  1. Following Tony Schwartz’s approach, I use the first 90 minutes of the day to work on my most important action/project. No one can reach me on any channel during that time and I protect that time from meetings and calls. I also never do email during these one and a half hours. It is really about single focus, high energy dedication.
  2. Putting on a timer has primarily a psychological effects and it is exactly the ones you want: Getting started & focussed.

Of course you could just use a simple kitchen timer to obtain these benefits or implement something like the Pomodoro technique, which, as a matter of fact, has been conceived with exactly such kitchen timer. Alternatively you can use the timer function of your mobile phone (I believe even Nokia phones offer this functionality) or your rusty hipster/nerd Casio digital wrist watch.

However, it seems that creating timer apps is nearly as popular amongst Mac and iOS developers as the creation of task management tools. Consequently you will find plenty of choices on Apple's App Stores for Mac OS X as well as iOS. Michael Schechter reviewed the potential of one of the most ambitious Timer Apps for Mac OS X called Pomodorable. Offering a beautiful designed UI and integration with OmniFocus and Things, the app has still some development cycles to go before it will be ready for prime time. While the concept is compelling I would not recommend churning out too many nuggets for Pomodorable at the moment, although I agree with Michael that the concept of the app deserves some support (i.e. I bought it myself).

One Timer Thing Well With Tadam

For the few occasions I use a timer to get started and/or be really focussed, I have settled with Tadam. A timer app for Mac OS X cannot be much simpler than Tadam.

The app lives in your menubar and has a very straightforward feature set:

  • Set a timer (25 minutes default, configurable)
  • Pause/stop timer
  • Take a break after the timer runs out or at any time (5 minutes default, configurable)
  • Visual cues in the menubar icon as the timer runs down or is paused
  • Configurable keyboard shortcut to open the Tadam menubar window

While Tadam is fairly minimalistic in features it is really well thought through. For example you can get a few more minutes if the timer runs out and you just want to finish up your current activity to not leave it in some weird state.

For $3.99 it is some dough for a fairly simple app, but I need to say I am extremely happy with it and have spent more money on less useful things.

If you want to go really wild on timing you should look into FlexTime from MarsEdit developer Daniel Jalkut. You can create sequences of timers with it, interact with AppleScripts and all sorts of crazy, nerdy stuff.