Set a Timer to Outwit Perfectionism

Set a Timer to Outwit Perfectionism

I’m an all-or-nothing kind of gal. I either want to clean a room until the very farthest corners are pristine, or avoid cleaning it altogether. My sister Shannon still laughs about the time when we were kids, helping my mom tidy up for company coming over, imminently. Shannon was whizzing around, picking up the big things, and I was cleaning the blender buttons with a toothpick (I’m not making this up). This does not bode well for keeping a tidy home.

To help me overcome my all-or-nothing, perfectionistic tendencies, I’ve been using a few tricks. When I’m working on cleaning, I tell myself, “It’s not going to be perfect,” to set the expectation for myself that good enough is just that, and to not spend too much time on perfecting the details when other things (and small children) are begging for attention. I’ve lived the adage, “perfect is the enemy of done” too many times.

Another thing that’s helped me tremendously is to set a timer. It’s easy for me to look at a big mess or a big project and be quickly overwhelmed to the point where I don’t want to do anything (my child is the same way). Setting a timer gives me a time constraint to do a task, and helps me get started. I can pretty much do anything (apart from medieval torture) if it only lasts for 15 minutes. This is very helpful for helping children to do tasks as well.

Jon Acuff and other writers use this method to write, and to ensure they are getting enough writing done every day.

Here is a tweet from Acuff on his writing method:


(For a great article on using a timer to achieve your goals, see Acuff’s blog post here.

I’ve started setting a timer in the evenings to pick up the house after the day of play and work. Just 15 minutes makes a huge difference in clearing the clutter and chaos.

Here are my tips when setting a timer:

  • Clear distractions so you can 100% focus while the timer is going.
  • Keep it short – 10 minutes to an hour.
  • Put on some fast-paced fun music (or whatever music is suitable for the task).
  • Race against the timer – make it a game to see how much you can get done before it goes off.
  • Stop when the time is up (or shortly after)

Ellianna and I used a timer to clear her craft table area while Weston was napping. We played Chris Tomlin’s “Adore” Christmas album since we both love Christmas music and Dad wasn’t home J and set the timer for 15 minutes.

Here’s what happened:

  • We had fun
  • We had team camaraderie since it was us against the timer
  • We found things we had been missing
  • Ellianna found a craft project she wanted to do when we were done
  • The pick-up energized us, where before we had hit the afternoon “blah’s”
  • It pushed us to make “Toss or Keep” decisions quickly
  • We didn’t want to stop when the timer went off because we were on a roll
  • I ended up picking up a few other things around the area
  • The timer created urgency for a task that really needed to be done, but was not urgent.

We ended up spending about 30 minutes on the project, including taking out the garbage and recycle bin and vacuuming.

Here are the “Before and After” results:


messy    clean-area


This wasn’t the formidable project it appeared to be. What a difference 30 minutes can make!

When you’re feeling stuck with too much to do, try setting a timer. Let me know how it works!

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