Limit the Time You Spend on a Task

When a meeting takes longer than anticipated, minds may start to wander. An inefficient meeting can cause participants to “switch off” and cease contributing meaningfully.  Similarly, starting a difficult task without a time limit can seem too large a mountain to
climb, and make it easy to procrastinate. One solution is to consciously set a time limit for a meeting or a task, and do it both verbally and visually.

A meeting would begin with an announcement to the participants, “We have 30 minutes to get through our theory of the case. Let’s make each minute count.” A visual cue can be used, such as pointing at a clock and saying “when that minute hand hits the 6”, using a stopwatch, or a gadget such as the time timer, which shows the remaining time on a clock/watch/app in a bold red colour.

A task would be done the same way. Let’s say you have a large memo to write. Set aside “1.0” on the docket to write a section. Then start the countdown. As the time ticks away a sense of urgency will rise, limiting the distractions and helping you focus. When the time is up, you can take a break or start another countdown for the next task.

Another use is to set a time limit for breaks. If you find yourself surfing the net an hour later while at work and wonder where the time went, a visual cue can help again.

This technique – to limit the time for tasks – is a broader application of the Pomodoro technique, or “tomato timer”, where tasks are broken down into 25 minute increments. However much time you want to set for a task, typically it should be less than an hour. Research has shown that uninterrupted concentration tends to top out at about 45 minutes.

The key to effectively setting a time limit is to find a cue you respond to – whether it’s a tomato timer, a clock ticking away, or watching a big red pie get smaller and smaller with each second. Limiting the time for each task can mean you complete more and bigger tasks more effectively.

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)

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