Use a Timer to Know How Long Chores Last

Use a Timer to Know How Long Chores Last

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Use a timer for cleaning motivation

Cleaning has always been a huge chore to me. I hated it as a teenager and I still hate it now. Living alone, in the context of cleaning, certainly has it’s advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, no one else lives here to complain about me leaving dishes in the sink for days. On the down side, no one else lives here to complain about me leaving dishes in the sink for days.

My favorite excuse for why I can’t clean is because I don’t have the time. It takes too long. I’m too busy. I don’t have time on the weekends. I’m too tired after work. etc etc. From the sound of my whining you’d think I was cleaning a mansion, not a 600 sq ft apt. Figuring out exactly how much time it took to do each cleaning chore really helped quell the excuses.


Get Motivated by Disproving Excuses

Obviously our brains aren’t that good with time estimates. We’ll tell someone we sat at the red light for 10 minutes. Or slept for a billion hours. Both are unlikely. When it came to cleaning, washing dishes was my most dreaded task. For whatever reason, I always estimated that it would take me half an hour to do the dishes.

Logically, this doesn’t make sense. I’m cleaning up dishes after just me. Even after a few days, there’s no more than 4 plates, a pot & pan, 1 glass, and some silverware. But the sink fills up fast and when it overflows all I see is that I have to spend my entire day washing dishes.

There is a common lifehack to help motivate yourself to clean: You set a timer for 15-minutes and start cleaning. Then when the timer goes off, stop. That’s it. The idea is that even if you clean for only 15-minutes, that will still be an improvement over not cleaning at all. Plus, once you start cleaning, you are likely to continue even after the timer ends. So, I decided to try this. Of course I assumed that I would only be half-way through with the dishes in this time.

How Long Do Cleaning Tasks Really Take?

So I set the timer for 15-minutes and started washing the dishes. Then I finished washing the dishes and was surprised the timer hadn’t beeped. When I looked over at the clock, it said I had 10-minutes remaining. 10-minutes! It took barely 5-minutes to wash the dishes! I was puzzled.

Letting the timer continue, I cleaned junk mail off the entry table, wiped down the kitchen table, and even swept the floors. I had moved on to scrubbing the bathroom sink when the timer went off. My brain was so confused how these time-consuming tasks, rationally, didn’t take that long at all. There went all of my excuses out the window.

It sounds silly in recanting but it really was a break-through for me. After that point, I could no longer tell myself that I was too tired or it would take too long to do the dishes before bed. Even when there’s “a lot” of dishes, it never takes more than a few minutes. After all, it is just me eating here.

Having a more realistic sense of time also helps me fit cleaning in when before I said I didn’t have the time. If I have a few minutes to kill while waiting to leave before the next bus, I will sweep the floors. Or wipe down a table. Since I now know these things take about a minute.

But using a timer meant there was solid proof for the length of time that passed. You cannot trust your brain to estimate these types of things!


Get Motivated, Instead of Overwhelmed

On a slight tangent, I want to tie this all in with my “better person” post from last week. Because cleaning is something that I used to get really stressed out about. In my last relationship, I would spend several week days with my significant other, which meant I wasn’t home cleaning. By Friday, I would look at my dirty apartment and freak out. I would blame my SO for taking up all my time then tell him I couldn’t hang out over the weekend because I had to spend all day Saturday cleaning my apartment.

Saturday rolls around and I finish cleaning everything by early afternoon. Then when I find out my SO already made plans for the day, I’d get upset. I’d be upset! And of course I would take this out on the person I cared about. Blame them for why I had to spend Saturday night alone.

And this happened many times over. Ugh.


Sometimes our brains need hard-logic to drop excuses and get ourselves motivated. Timing chores and other dreaded activities can help get us started.

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