Mindfulness, part three.

My second, non-meditative, habit is working with a timer.  Living with a timer.  It goes off every 15 minutes.  I developed the habit in grad school and later learned that it's a standard technique used by people with ADD or ADHD.  I don't really remember when I started doing this, but I know that when I was in grad school I was worried about spending enough time on each class, but not too much time in one area, and because I was working several jobs and internships I needed to be disciplined about working ahead of deadlines.  

So at the beginning of every semester I looked at the classes I was taking and made a spreadsheet in Excel with checkboxes to mark off in 15 minute increments how much time I had spent working on each class, with a defined goal of 60 to 120 minutes each workday for each class plus my thesis project.  Then I printed it out and put in a binder with my notes.  Yes, I might be a little obsessive.  

The thing is, it worked.  I ticked off those little boxes every day.  It didn't matter what I did, so long as I did the next thing - reading, coding, math, whatever.  I never had to cram for an exam.  Some weeks I ran out of stuff on the syllabus before I ran out of checkboxes, so I had bonus time to myself.  Quite by accident, I ended up being the first person in the history of my department to finish and present my thesis before finishing coursework.  According to my profs, they didn't think anybody had done that on record in the hundred year history of the school, but couldn't confirm it.  

That's how it started.  Another habit that developed alongside those timed work sprints is that whenever the timer went off I checked in with myself - if I was plugging along and happy, I would reset it and keep going.  If it was a good time to stop for a break, I'd do that.  

If I was working on a coding or math problem and completely stuck for more than two cycles, I knew it was time to walk away and do something else.  This was the big epiphany, and why I consider it to be a mindfulness practice.  And why I continue to do it today.  That timer reminds me to take a breath, drink some water, refocus my attention on what I want to be doing.  It's key for my productivity and maintaining a regular schedule while working at home.