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The Clock Is Ticking on 30/30's Simple, Powerful Task Manager

By Chris Maxcer MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
May 20, 2013 5:00 AM PT

The Clock Is Ticking on 30/30's Simple, Powerful Task Manager

30/30 is available in the iTunes App Store for free. In-app purchases are available. 30/30

I'm a sucker for productivity management -- too much to do, never enough time, and there is always, it seems, some sort of flashing distraction. There's plenty of people out there with similar problems: Even if they survived a round of layoffs, there's usually a business need to get more done with fewer resources and people.

If the ability to avoid distraction and meter out your energy in timed sprints sounds good, you'll want to check out 30/30 by Binary Hammer, a (mostly) free app in the iTunes App Store. I spotted it after Apple made it a New and Noteworthy pick in the Productivity category. Not only does it come with a good task management metaphor -- a timer to help you focus -- it boasts a 4.5 user review rating via more than 2,500 reviews. Definitely worth a closer look, I thought.

I was right.

Timed Sprints

There's lots of problems when it comes to getting things done, particularly for so-called "knowledge" workers, and I'm certainly not an expert. But this I know: Instant messaging interrupts quality work. Email interrupts quality work. Phone calls interrupt quality work. Low blood sugar and spots floating inside your eyeballs interrupt quality work.

If you can plan for a certain amount of time each day to spend on just email, I can almost guarantee you a productivity boost.

So that's how I started. Setting a timer for 30 minutes in which I would -- heads down -- start plowing through the never ending storm of email. After 30 minutes, I'd take 8 minutes for coffee, then work 30 more minutes on a specific project. Then I added 6 minutes for a bathroom break, since I was pretty sure I'd need it after the coffee.

The nice thing about a timer is that if you mentally agree to use it, you can ignore other things while you work on what you told yourself to work on. So I plowed through email with vim and vigor, knowing that in 30 minutes I would have to move on -- and that I could move on -- to more productive projects.

However, I also knew there were some important emails that required some sort of response. The phone rang. I ignored it.

I received a text message. I summoned intense willpower and simply pushed my iPhone out of reach. I deleted email, answered questions with bright and sometimes pithy responses, made decisions, and asked for help. And then boom, 30 minutes was gone, and I felt like I had actually accomplished a few things.

Returning to the Timer

The basic premise of 30/30 is that you create a running list of tasks. You assign a certain amount of time to each task -- not necessarily a time of day, but a certain amount of time. Instead of building a calendar with a series of alarms, you build a task list.

The great thing about this is that if your day gets derailed -- say your boss gets all up in your face but doesn't stroke out -- you can return to your timer list and keep working through it.

The effectiveness in 30/30 is that it empowers you to follow your intent, to work on the things that matter to you, to stop working when it makes sense -- to just stay on track. For instance, it's easy to get lost in email. And it's easy to work on a particular project far too long by getting immersed in it, which brings up another point: If you've got some sort of mental quirk (don't we all?) 30/30 can help keep you from overfocusing.

Easy to Learn

30/30 is a flat but graphically rich app. To learn it, you start with a button-like task list of items that are named as actual instructions, things like, "Slide right to delete," "Shake to undo," "Tap the dial to start & pause," or "2-finger tap to move to top." With a few taps and gestures, you can learn to quickly manage and edit your task list.

What if you need more or less time? There's a round dial graphic that shows you how much time you have left. You can tap to add an additional increment of time, or reduce it if you're running fast and efficient.

To help you see what's coming up next and to recognize what you ought to be doing, 30/30 includes 24 icons that you can assign to tasks (or events, really, if you want to set aside time to watch TV). There is a TV icon, actually, as well as a keyboard, guitar, paper airplane, basketball, Twittery bird, bed, and steaming coffee cup -- stuff like that.

For US$.99 there's an in-app purchase option for another 24 icons. I wish there were more, but really, the 48 icons cover a lot of possibilities.

What if you leave the app? 30/30 will remind you with notifications. Handy, of course, for those times you get off track or are doing something that requires you to use or close your iPhone.

All in all, 30/30 is a well-executed handy timer-based productivity tool, well worth a look if you've got too many things to do.

Any Beefs?

Just one: The colors. Not exactly manly colors, and if I'm going to live in an app, I want strong, bold colors -- gray, black, graphite, or deep dark richness of color, not soft light greens or sickly yellows.

There's a small color palette to work with, and several primary colors that are good to use. The only trouble is that when, say, a red item enters the timer and starts counting down, the background color turns to a lighter shade of red. This is a visual cue handy for at-a-glance understanding of your particularly timer, but it's always too soft for my tastes. In the case of red, the background is almost pink.

Picky? Definitely. If I'm going to live with something day in and day out, I need to come to grips with the freaking colors. And no, I don't have any mental quirks. None whatsoever.

Just saying.

MacNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at

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