As a writer, reaching a state of deep focus is vital to my productivity. Deep focus is like the opposite of writer’s block. It’s where you’re able to enter a flow state and become entirely absorbed in what you’re doing, and that’s when the best writing happens. Even if you’re not a writer, that flow state of deep focus is still an incredibly powerful tool for productivity. It allows ideas to circulate and helps you get things done. But there are plenty of reasons you may have trouble focusing and attaining the level of productivity you’d like—reasons like stress, a mind cluttered with to-dos, a sense of imposter syndrome, or perfectionism. 

Since I write for a living, I can’t just wait for inspiration to strike. I don’t have the luxury of succumbing to writer’s block. So I’ve figured out an effective way to combat it and quickly reach a state of deep focus. And the solution is simple: I set a timer on my phone.

This practice is called the Pomodoro method, and you can use any kind of timer, but the beauty of your iPhone timer is that it’s built right into your phone, so you always have it with you, and it requires very little setup. 

When you’re having trouble getting focused on a task, getting started on it can be paralyzing. When I need to dive into a task but am feeling resistant to it, I ask myself this question: How long do I think I can bear doing this task right now at a maximum? Often the answer for me is something like 15 or 20 minutes, but it could be just five minutes. Whatever the answer is, I set my phone timer for that amount of time and turn off anything that could be a distraction on my phone and my laptop (which might even mean going into airplane mode). I tell myself, “Just work on this task for five minutes. After five minutes are over, you can be done.”

But by the time the timer rings, I’ve usually entered a flow state. I’m focused enough that I can easily keep going, and I’m able to follow through until the end. On the occasion when I really am feeling very blocked, I honor that. I let myself quit and focus on something else for a while, knowing I will come back to the difficult task at a later time. If you find the ringing of the timer distracting, you can also use the stopwatch function within your clock app, which will simply count time up from when you hit start.

Sometimes I’ll make a game of timing myself and see how much I can accomplish in a set short period, like 20 or 30 minutes. Essentially, it’s a productivity sprint. When the timer goes off, I often find I’m on a roll and can keep going for another 30 minutes or until I finish the project.

The next time you need to deeply focus to get something done, try setting the timer on your iPhone for just a few minutes and tell yourself you can stop when the timer is up. You might find you’d rather just keep going, and if you do want to stop, at least you’ve made some progress.

Megan Terry has worked with Aloha Publishing since 2018 as an editor and ghostwriter and writes creativity, writing, and productivity tips for the Aloha blog. She has a BA in creative writing from Whitworth University and a graduate certificate from the Denver Publishing institute. Her writing has been published in Forbes and Entrepreneur magazines. Megan currently lives in the forest in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with her geologist husband and spends her free time riding horses, writing fiction, and sewing fabulous costumes for conventions and historical events.