Lifehack: Give Yourself Time Limits to Complete Tasks


This post seems counter-intuitive at first, especially for somebody who hates being timed as much as I do. But I tried this and it worked, when no other anti-procrastination tactic had. Read on to find out what I did!

The Situation: A Sunday School Lesson Left Undone

I teach Sunday School, and I like to have my lessons thoroughly researched and typed up–I do not strictly read out of the teacher’s guide, but combine elements from the the teacher’s guide, the students’ guide, and NIV translation text notes into a cohesive whole. I also write up my own real-life applications for each Bible passage we study…yeah, it’s a pretty involved process, but my OCD perfectionism demands nothing less. LOL

Unfortunately, once you factor in all the time I spend goofing off in between completing sections of the Sunday School lesson, the whole thing usually takes me about 3 hours. I was tired of that, and was frustrated with myself–but it didn’t come to a head until one Saturday evening a couple of weeks ago, when I had left my Sunday School lesson prep quite literally to the last minute.

Epiphany: Set a Deadline

“It’s 10:00 and I’m STILL not done!” I raged at myself. “I need to be in bed by 11 so I’m not a zombie tomorrow morning!” In that moment of frustration, I grabbed my phone and typed in a reminder for myself: “Get done with Sunday School lesson,” set for 11:00 pm. My goal: to be done with everything regarding the Sunday School lesson (writing, saving, putting it on my Kindle for easy reading the next morning) before the reminder bell rang.

Even as I did this, however, I was worried. I usually hate being timed–I hate feeling like I’m racing against the clock. Would this backfire and send me into a fit of anxiety, or worse, make my brain lock down and refuse to do anything?

I had already gathered my Sunday School lesson materials, and so once I hit the fateful “Set Reminder” button, I was ostensibly ready to go. I tapped the button…

…and go I certainly did–I began to read and type, revise and write, as if I was back in college and preparing a final paper for submission. I felt focused, somehow, energized by the clock, given a singular purpose to drive toward. The reminder bell rang an hour later, as I was copying the PDF of my lesson file over to my Kindle; I had made the deadline! What had usually taken 3 hours and involved a lot of unfocused “time off” had instead taken 1 hour of dedicated work, after which I could rest.

What Made the Difference?

This seems so simple it’s almost obvious. But it was something I had literally never considered doing, since I hated being timed so much. Several important factors made it possible, in hindsight:

  • The time limit (1 hour) was just enough time to complete the lesson without any goof-off time; thus I didn’t freak out but I knew I had to stay on task
  • The time limit was for one task’s completion only, so I didn’t feel overwhelmed
  • The time limit was a challenge and not a hard-and-fast “succeed or fail” mission; if I missed it by a couple of minutes, I wouldn’t be an awful horrible person.

Implementing This for Yourself

  • Set two reminders for really important tasks–one reminder to start and one reminder to end, so that your time limit is well-defined. (For instance, I now have “Start SS lesson” and “Be done with SS lesson” in my phone)
  • This works for just about every kind of task; I have done the same thing with my nightly “tidy-the-house” routine, as well as my “composing-blogs” routine.
  • Treat it as a challenge or game–can you clean this room in an hour? Can you finish cleaning out your inbox in 30 minutes?
  • Change the time limits as you see need–something you thought may take 20 minutes may actually take 40, so be ready to adapt your reminders accordingly.
  • This will take a little getting used to, so if you miss your deadline by a little at first, don’t worry.

Got Any More Time-Limit Ideas?

If you have your own anti-procrastination lifehacks, feel free to leave them in the comments! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.