The universal obsession with the time of day is fundamentally incompatible with human nature. We try to force ourselves into an abstract notion of time, and two things happen.
First, clocks dominate our sense of situation. What's my situation? It's 4:33 p.m. and I'm stressing out about my deadline. I'm supposed to get up because it's 7 a.m. I should eat because it's lunchtime.
The clock overrules the body, which would have you waking up when you're rested and eating when you're hungry. In fact, our name for productivity -- "time management" -- reveals the over-dominance of the clock in our systems for productivity.
Second, forcing yourself to march to the beat of an abstract notion of time causes the mind to rebel. You want to fight it, break it and escape from it. While distractions pull you in, clock rebellion pushes you out.
Now the good news: Thanks to a world of new options, many taking the form of mobile apps, we can kill our clocks and use better alternatives.
How to beat the clock
For personal productivity, people are increasingly turning to timers, rather than clocks, to get things done. They're also focusing on the achievement of goals, rather than just "putting in time" on various activities.
The mobile app stores are jam-packed these days with creative solutions for timer-based productivity. It's worthwhile to spend some quality time browsing through these to find out what works for you.
One of the most powerful and useful apps I've found recently is a free iOS app called 30/30 from Binary Hammer.
The way it works is that you use a gesture to create a new task. You give it a name, an icon, a color and a duration. Then you create another and another. You can create as many pages of tasks as you want, and give each page a distinct name.
One common-sense option is to create a page of tasks for each day of the week.
You can also create a new page each day based on what you have to do that day.
Each of us has big, important things we want to do, and also little urgent ones. For example, writing your novel is a big, important one, and returning calls is a small, urgent one.
With 30/30, you can create time for the big things, and schedule them before the little ones.
So let's say you want to spend two hours each day writing your novel. You create the task, give it the "book" icon, color it green and call it: "Write the Great American Novel."
When you're ready to get started -- no matter what time it is -- you tap the screen on your iPad or iPhone 30/30 app (don't worry, they synchronize with each other). The screen turns green. The two-hour timer starts ticking down. A circular interface shows you graphically how much time has passed, and how much remains. The interface alone gently urges you to hurry.
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