Use Terminator Time – and get more done!

How to get more done, in less time is a skill you need to acquire, especially if you run your own business or have individual projects, instead of working for someone else.

Time Management as a concept has been around for a long time, and is pretty simple. Divide the pre-existing day into segments, put work into the segments… done!

But I’ve always felt that traditional Time Management misses something important – a lot of “normal” work is entirely pointless. I mean – really, if you spend a couple of hours creating a report for some manager somewhere – what does she do with it? Does it justify the time?


Spend all week creating natty slides for your PowerPoint and guess what – your presentation is still dull. (Sorry if that’s brutal, but it might be true…)

Meetings? How much of your life has ticked away whilst sat in a meeting where everyone gets so bogged down in the teeny tiny details of life and literally nothing useful gets done.

I know – its ok for me – I don’t have a real job. I have projects, tasks, businesses all of which need overviews, not day in day out work. But even I sometimes have to knuckle down and GET SOMETHING DONE.

And it’s during those times, when I know the fan and the substance are about to collide that I really do need to create work and get on with it. So I use a process I call Terminator Time. It’s from the 1984 film, of course, the brilliant Schwarzenegger film where a robot from the future comes back to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor.

In one scene she is trying to understand what is happening, and her protector delivers a brilliant line.

Kyle Reese: Listen, and understand. That terminator is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.

And it’s that singularity of purpose and concentration I want to tap into when I need to create work. It will help you too. I don’t want anyone being “terminated” over this (!) I do however like the idea of absolute dedication until the task is finished.

Here is the process.

Consider doing this work standing up if you can. It helps with an extra feeling if “hustle”.

You need a series of items – could be reports, email replies, content you need to write, anything that you normally interrupt yourself doing a dozen times, and want to get finished.

You are going to work in some Terminator style sections. You will need perhaps an hour or two to first test if this process is for you.


Have a piece of paper and a pen. You will also need something to countdown time (not a clock or anything you look at. You want something that will countdown then make a sound) On a personal level I also find music helps massively – and for me its music without lyrics (which distract the brain) and instead some of the very fast paced “Trance” music, which seems to help my brain get into a groove. I set up the music on Spotify on my iPad and then countdown also, meaning when the countdown hits, the music stops also.

Now you will need a few work tasks ready for this. Once you go into Terminator Time you are going to be working. If you have a to do list, have that ready.

Now this is the process. You might need to tweak numbers and times to suit you, but this is what I do.

  1. Set the timer for 20
  2. Crank up the music and let the timer start.
  3. Get working on the first item. Do not deviate, get distracted, glance at your emails, phone (turn off if really serious). Nothing. Once item one is ready, move immediately to item 2. Cross off the item on the list, mark it completed, put it in the finished pile. Now you are already working on the next item. Do not look at anything else. Do not move from your work station. Keep going until THAT piece of work is finished before hitting the next one. This is what you do for the while 20 minutes. Like Kyle Reese said above you are absolutely not going to stop until ….
  4. The timer goes! Stop the music. Stretch. Marvel at how fast the time whizzed by. Write a small “T” on your To Do list or wherever you are tracking this.
  5. Break for 2 minutes only. Look at Facebook if you want. Check emails if you want. Whatever you want, but two minutes only.
  6. Repeat points 2-5 three more times (ie 20 mins work followed by 2 minute break, and on the fourth time, take a 15 minute break.
  7. Normally then after your 15 minute break you would go for a second set of 4 “T”s.

However, this being the first time you have done this, stop and consider the time you have spent, and what you have achieved.

Questions I get asked about this technique.

1. Why record the T marks for each twenty minutes?

Because most people get far more done than they think. This allows you to keep track of how long you actually spent, and compare with your list or work pile to see what you got done.

2. Why not work like this for a whole day if it’s so efficient?

Work isn’t just doing “stuff” – or it shouldn’t be in my opinion. This process is great to finish tasks, to get things done. It’s also really quite exhausting so get your balance of what works for you.

3. I can play music in my office!

Get a new office! Or a new job! Or work for yourself! IS it possible to listen to music in the headphones? Of save this process if you ever take work him with you, or work late, or early, so people can’t complain.

4. Why does this system work?

Short bursts of concentrated activity seem to suit the brain. From my experiments 20-25 minutes is perfect. The 2 minute break feels like a little reward and helps you not fret about not checking emails.

I have shown this technique to my private clients and the result is overwhelmingly good. You may find you are amazed at how much you get done, how tiring it is, how time seems to go into a strange place when you do this…

Most of all the important thing is to find the variations that work for you. I find that 8 of these back to back are pretty demanding on the brain, but I get a lot done. If I go for 12, I usually and up abandoning the “T” time because a phone needs answering, something comes up that needs my attention or I just don’t feel I can hack it any longer! It’s a long time to sustain, and you might be surprised at how much you get done (many people are) … which might then lead you to what do you actually do all day??

As always, I would love to hear your results from using Terminator time. Let me know if I can help you.

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