Knowing the clock is running can have a powerful effect on our productivity—serving to lock our focus as we feel directly accountable for each passing moment. But the benefits of using a productivity timer go well beyond that: they help us document and understand our progress, provide intrinsic motivation to push harder, and can even protect us against burnout. We take a look at the best productivity timers to help get you there.
The benefits of productivity timers
Whatever your preferred time management technique, productivity timers are an invaluable tool for helping you stick to them and check your efforts are actually paying off. They provide simple structure and pressure to help us complete tasks in less time. People who practice time blocking and deep working couldn't be without them. Yet a good productivity timer can also provide a wealth of insight into how you work, helping you refine and improve your processes to become more effective. Among other benefits, a good productivity timer can help you:
- Immediately lock focus on tasks (e.g. with Noisli)
- Take well-paced productive breaks
- Appreciate what you have achieved
- Understand how long different tasks take
- Assess the quality of your focus
- Gauge your productive performance over time
- Provide motivation to exceed past performance
- Reveal tasks and processes holding you back
Of course, not all productivity timers are able to provide all of these benefits. Finding the right timer will depend on how you structure your time, what level of insight and control you’re after, and what you want to gain from productivity tracking.
The best productivity timers compared
While offering just a snapshot of the productivity timer market, these best-in-class examples showcase the range of different approaches and levels of sophistication out there.
Pomodoro Tracker – for quick, easy focus
The Pomodoro Technique is a highly popular approach to time management, praised for its instant accessibility. It’s ideal for those who are completely unsure of how to structure their time or struggle to focus. The premise is simple: set yourself 25 minutes to crack on with a task, followed by a five-minute break—and repeat. Using small, manageable chunks of time, you can trick yourself into staying focused for long stretches.
The Pomodoro Tracker is a good option for those who want to see what the fuss is about without subscribing to anything. It offers a basic manual time tracker to count down 25-minute increments; just click the button to start your timer and type in notes of what you did on once your time is up. While cumbersome, some people find this constant manual input cathartic. The Pomodoro Tracker also provides a very basic leader board on completed user “pomodoros”—useful to some, irrelevant gamification for others.
Be Focused – for structuring your progress
Be Focused adds an organizational layer onto basic Pomodoro timers. Instead of just starting a blank unit of time, it builds in a to-do list format to help you stay conscious of what you’re working on. Just add what you need to do, prioritize what’s important and start the timer next to that task when you’re ready to work on it.
It uses the same countdown time scarcity psychology of Pomodoro Tracker to help you lock focus, but offers a little more customization. You can change default timer lengths, and skip breaks when you’re in your flow and want to continue. However, there’s still a lot of manual control and set-up involved, which doesn’t easily lend itself to any changes in your schedule. Crucially, it still only provides you with a timestamp against a task—not any insight on the quality of what you actually achieved.
Timely – for documenting your entire performance
Automatic time tracking app Timely offers a comprehensive overview of your overall productive performance—not just the bits you manually time in segments. While you can choose to start a manual tracker on a task as a psychological motivator, it will capture everything you work on for you and for how long in the background.
You can see everything you work on from a secure private timeline—useful for working out how long different tasks take you, as well as identifying processes and low-value tasks that distract your focus. It essentially holds up a mirror to the way you work, showing when you’re most focused and where your productivity naturally peaks. You can then feed this information directly back into your schedule, to create a more realistic and focused working week.
StayFocusd – For time boxing the unproductive
StayFocusd takes a reverse approach to productive time management by time boxing your unproductive time, instead of time spent on important tasks. This Google Chrome extension lets you set a fixed time for browsing a website—for example during one of your breaks—and cuts off access once you’ve reached your limit.
It restricts the time you waste on distracting websites and ensures you don’t get lost down a social media rabbit hole when it’s time to pick up work again, making it a great aid for "deep work breaks". Just set a time limit for interacting with certain websites; you can even block subdomains, pages and in-page content for an additional layer of distraction protection.