Productivity and the magic of the soup timer

Everyone’s got a hack that involves saving precious minutes during the daily grind. They say it’s good for your health. They say it’s better for your eyes. Mostly, they say it boosts your productivity. Probably every one of those things is true. And yet here you are. Reading.

(Just this once, we’d like you to keep doing that, thanks.)

There’s an old device that’ll help you extend your life, save your eyeballs, and get a monstrous amount of work done. Don’t pull out your phone. That’s not it. These hacks all depend, basically, on a soup timer. Analog tech, all the way.

What you do with it is up to you.

Some say to go Pomodoro. With this method, you work for 25 minutes, then rest for 5. Do that 4 times in a row, then rest for a half-hour. Maybe eat lunch. Then start again. Keep that up all day and you’ll be stunned how much you check off by the time it’s over. (The full Pomodoro technique helps out with planning, review, and improvement as well.)

Performance coach Jameson Brandon, though, has a problem with all that. He says 25 minutes won’t be enough to achieve a FLOW state. Most tasks take longer than that. Instead, he points to a famous study that says the better way is to work in 90-minute increments with 30-minute breaks. Elite athletes and musicians work this way, totaling just 4–6 hours per day (2–3 of these 2-hour cycles).

Does it matter?

I’ve tried both methods (and a few other methods, too). Some days, my tasks can’t be completed in 25-minute chunks. Others, I couldn’t dig up 90 uninterrupted minutes to save my life. The method that works for me is whichever one fits into my schedule that day. Which is to say that the only voice that matters when it comes to productivity-by-timer is your own.

My advice?

Feel out over a few days what you think you need and can feasibly stick to when it comes to work+rest cycles, whether it’s 25+5, 90+30, or some combination. Then do these five things.

  1. Go buy a soup timer, kitchen timer, oven timer—whatever you want to call it. You can pick one up new at Target, but vintage ones are way cooler. (Pro tip: Make sure the descriptions say they are in working order. The decorative broken one will only lead you back to reading Facebook.) Then wait for UPS to roll up and go honk-honk.
  2. Go buy a spiral notebook, or a cheaper version of a Moleskine.
  3. Write down a list of everything you need to do today.
  4. Close your office door.
  5. Set your timer and try it out.

What I can say for sure is this: On the days when I set the timer and stick to the plan, I get more done by noon than I usually do in two days.

I’m betting you’ll see similar results.


Post by Robert Hoekman, Jr.

Robert Hoekman, Jr. is a freelance writer, author, and product strategy consultant who has spoken to packed rooms all over the world. He is a columnist for the revered motorcycle culture and lifestyle magazine Iron & Air. He lives in downtown Phoenix, Arizona. Learn more about him at