Teams that are truly agile, those that achieve master chef level of agility, have a few foundational practices in common. They work in small, cross-functional squads. They maintain a basic but steady cadence of rituals such as daily stand-ups and retrospectives (super important!) and, perhaps most importantly, they work in short cycles. The largest of these short cycles, for teams practicing some form of scrum, is the sprint. However, short cycles manifest in every behavior of an agile team starting with the 24 hours between each stand-up to focused, concise and well-facilitated team collaboration sessions.
Short cycles are timeboxes. Using timeboxes increases the agility in your teams’ ways of working. Why is this? Timeboxes force an end to a process. How many times have you sat in a meeting as ideas continued being tossed around and the team churned without finding a step forward? My guess is many (many) times. Meetings like these are symptomatic of a team that lacks the information they need to make a decision. Timeboxes alleviate some of this churn by limiting the amount of time a debate can go on before forcing a decision on next steps. Timeboxing activities such as brainstorming sessions, remote collaboration work and post-presentation discussions focuses a team to get the main idea out in the time allotted. They create urgency and perhaps most helpful, limit the amount of time a team may spend on a bad idea. As each short cycle ends the team can ask, “Should we keep working on this? Pivot to a variation? Or kill the idea altogether and move on to the next thing.”
If we’re all in the same physical space visualizing the timebox is easy. But we’re not all in the same place now. How do we keep everyone on the same page and aware of the timebox? And is there a way to do this that is fun or, at least, more fun than just starting a timer on your phone and shouting out the start and end times? The answer, my friends, is yes there is. I’ve spent more time than I probably should have chasing down the web’s funniest and most fun web-based timers to help make your next meeting facilitation, collaboration session or conference that much more interesting. And in today’s world of endless zoom calls, anything that makes them pop a bit more can only be viewed as a win.
And so, without further delay, fire up zoom, hit that “share screen” button and use one of these ten web-based timers for your next remote event:
- The Egg Timer — This very basic timer has half a dozen variations of how your timer can look from standard to retro to ugly (and, wow, it’s ugly) to a sunset visualization that I find very soothing.
- Jumping Sheep — (This is the first of a few examples from this site. I’ve chosen a couple from here but the site is full of many others.) As advertised this timer has cartoon jumping sheep that continue, well, until the end of time (that you set). Can be viewed in full screen mode as well.
- Snail Race — Again, the name says it all BUT don’t click yet, there’s more. The fun thing about this “race” timer is that it serves two purposes. First it’s a simple timer but you can also add as many snails as you have people in the class making it useful for selecting a random person to present first (just ask your participants to pick a winning snail) or just a fun competition for those who finish the task early. (Bonus: you could also use one of these random name pickers to choose who goes first)
- Holiday themed timers — If you love the holidays — any and all of them — there are a collection of holiday-themed timers that also capture the race element of the Snail Race mentioned above. This one’s for St. Patrick’s Day but if there’s a holiday, there’s a timer for it.
- Pomodoro Technique timer — The Pomodoro technique is named after those quirky tomato-shaped kitchen timers and is designed to drive your productivity up by using, you guessed it, short cycles of 20 minutes in this case. These web-based pomodoro timers were cute and had one of the few alarms that didn’t scare the dog.
- Mouse timer — This one is for Android users only but if you’re sharing your screen with your team from your phone or tablet, this one is not your usual timer. Determine how long to set the timer and then watch the little mouse eat his way through apple after apple until reaching the end of the timebox.
- Dancing Dog — Shifting genres a bit, I found a treasure trove of timer videos on YouTube. Again, this is an endless rabbithole to explore so I’ll highlight a few that I liked including none other than dancing dog. You won’t be surprised to find this 5 minute video contains, well, a dancing dog. Also available in a 15 minute version. In fact this person’s whole YouTube channel is chock full of fun timer videos.
- Fireplace Timer — This site has a series of fun timers that blend both video and a customizable timer with gorgeous background video loops and the timer on top of the video. Be warned though, the alarm sound is not great. This site also has similar timers with an aquarium, lava lamp or rainy day backgrounds.
- Basic countdown — Despite it’s URL, this one’s not fun at all. It’s basic and plain and has horrible sounds.
- Big Timer — This one is by far the best looking of all of these timers which, frankly, after the previous 9 could be considered “fun” all on its own. Just watch out for the seizure-inducing alarm visuals at the end of the countdown. Otherwise, this one’s lovely.
I hope you find these timers helpful. They’re all special in their own way but they all serve the same purpose: focusing your team’s attention and collaboration efforts. Let’s make the time we spend together that much more productive.
Do you have a favorite web-based timer? Add it in the comments.