One of the goals of my blog is to share and discuss some of the various tech and software tools that are out there to help students and researchers make better and more efficient use of their time. I will begin featuring these under the title category: Focus on Tech. If these tools and apps are free, even better in my books. Since it is officially the first day of the academic year (quick reminder), I thought I would begin with one of my very favourite applications-- a free productivity tool that times work and break cycles with alarm reminders to help you get your work done while allowing for much needed rest and recovery.
Instant Boss is sort of like interval training for the mind. I discovered this simple tool when writing my dissertation in grad school. Through much trial and error, I realized that the key to productive writing and studying was found through the discipline of actually committing and setting focused time to do it, but also working in much needed breaks for reflection and re-energizing. With a world of distractions (email, social networking, web-surfing, chatting with friends on the phone, cleaning out your desk etc..) that can derail your focus when trying to study and write, a tool like this can come in very handy. And like a great pair of old jeans that cannot be parted with, I have continued to use this tool for several years since I have yet to find a better replacement.
What really sets Instant Boss apart, unlike other time based tools, is that it organizes the much needed breaks into useful intervals to remind you when to work and when to relax. After a quick download, set the amount of time you want to work, how long your breaks should be, and how many times you want it to repeat the cycle. Then just click the "Work" button and Instant Boss will remind you when to "Take A Break" and when to get "Back to Work." The key is to focus only on working when the timer is set, and make yourself stop and take a break when the timer goes off. For anyone that does interval training physical exercise, you know how efficient this kind of regime can be. For an added fun feature, you are reminded to take a break with the sound of a coffee cup being filled, and then told to return to work by this cartoon boss:
I have recommended this simple tool to many students over the years who are looking for ways to establish solid writing and studying habits (the sooner the better I say-- don't wait until grad school) and avoid the dreaded (and in the end futile) all-nighter. Here is a great tutorial overview of the application. The defaults are 10 minutes of work, 2 minutes of break, and this is repeated 5 times for a total of 1 hour, but these values can be changed to suit your needs (I usually reduce the breaks and make them slighty longer in any given work period so that I can check my email or get a snack).
I would love to hear of any other applications or tools that you are using that are similar or updates to this-- I realize Instant Boss is a bit dated (and only for Windows, and not be confused with this), but as I said, I cannot find a better replacement.