Your Friend, the Job Timer

To some people, having a job timer sounds militant and stressful. The phrase “I’m going to give you a deadline” sounds harsh. Your poor kids will cower beneath such overbearing oppression. But in reality, a job timer is a good thing, and for a lot of reasons. In fact, it is not only a good thing, but it is a great thing. The job timer is actually your friend.

For example, when my wife and I lived in North Hollywood, we had three little kids, ages 2, 1, and newborn. Those kids made messes faster than we could clean them. Plus, I was working long hours and my wife had a newborn. We were super low on energy by the end of the day. How were we going to keep up with the messes? One evening I had an idea: let’s just set a 20-minute timer and get as much as we could done. 20 minutes was not enough to clean the whole house, but it would at least be something. We had enough energy to do that.

Army general
Some think of the job timer as harsh and militant.

So, we tried it. We set the 20-minute timer and got to work. The first thing I noticed was the sense of teamwork and synergy. I was putting in effort, but the house was getting clean faster than the effort I was putting in. Because my wife was working at the same time, by the time I was done with the dining room, she had finished the kitchen. The house got clean faster than had I done it myself, and that encouraged me to keep going. It energized me.

I noticed that 20 minutes was long, but not too long. I could keep up the pace for 20 minutes despite my low energy. 20 minutes was doable. Eventually, our oldest daughter got involved because she wanted to clean, too. So, we would give her jobs to do and make more specific assignments for everyone helping clean up.

And that is how “job time” was born in our family.

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The purpose of this blog is not to discuss job time, per se, but rather how we use the job timer to our benefit. We have tried of a lot of variations of this concept, and we have determined that there are some basic ideas that work best.

How Long Should Job Time Be?

Daily and weekly job timers
Job timers for daily and weekly jobs

Daily Jobs

First off, how long should job time be? We’ve noticed that 30 minutes for chore time is just about right. An hour per chore is too much, and 10 minutes isn’t enough time to get the jobs done. 30 minutes works well. Plus, we’ve noticed that the kids get overwhelmed after about 20-30 minutes. If the job can’t be done in that time, it’s overdoing it.

My wife uses a book called “Teach Your Child To Read In 100 Easy Lessons” to, well, teach our kids to read. Yes, it is the longest title of a book ever, but it is also the gold standard when it comes to teaching kids to read. They have some very specific advice in the beginning of the book: keep lessons short. Keep your reading lessons with your kids to about 20 minutes. Do not make the lessons go longer. Kids have an attention span that allows them about 20 minutes of focus. After that, it is wasted energy.

Same holds true for the job timer. Keep it to 20 minutes. Maybe 30. Longer than that, and the kids lose focus. It is the law of diminishing returns. The longer job time goes, the less effective it is.

How Long Does A Single Job Take?

Ruler
One timer to rule them all...

That leads into the next question, how do you determine how long a job should take? The rule of thumb is this: time yourself doing the job. If you can get it done in 30 minutes, so can your child. If you can’t get it done in 30 minutes, neither can your child, and the job is too much. You have to cut the job down.

For example, if a chore takes you an hour to complete, then it will take your kid an hour to complete. Break it up into 20- or 30-minute pieces. Make those pieces separate jobs.

 

Weekly Jobs

As for weekly jobs, the job timer can go a little longer. Since it is only once a week, the timer can be about an hour. This is for things like mowing the lawn or detailing the car or deep cleaning the kitchen. 90 minutes it the max. If it takes longer than 90 minutes, split it into two jobs. Similarly, if the weekly job only takes 30 minutes, combine it with another job to get it to be about an hour.

  • Daily job timer: 30 minutes
  • Weekly job timer: 60 minutes

Weekly jobs pay more but are only offered once a week. Think of them as like a bonus job.

When To Have Job Time?

Dinner plate fork cup
Job time should follow meal time.

As a general rule, any meal the kids are at home for, they should be required to participate in the 30-minute chore time immediately following the meal. If they are home for the meal, they should be doing chores.

In addition to after-meal chore time, all beds and bedrooms should be cleaned before breakfast is served. Yes, before school starts, they should have cleaned their bedrooms.

Beds should be made, rugs vacuumed, and rooms straightened before they get to eat breakfast. There should be time worked into their morning schedule to allow for this. Otherwise, you as the parent will be stuck with a disastrous mess of a house after you drop your kids off at school. It will take you all morning to clean up the mess by yourself. Rookie mistake, yo!

A sample school day schedule would look something like this:

Sample School Schedule

School bus
  • 6:00am – Mom wakes up and starts breakfast
  • 6:30am – kids wake up and clean their rooms
  • 6:45am – family breakfast
  • 7:00am – post-meal chore time with 30-minute timer
  • 7:30am – kids brush teeth, finish getting ready for school
  • 7:45am – kids leave for school that starts at 8:00am

This is actually the schedule we follow in our family.

Note: if you are doing homeschooling with your kids, the only difference in the schedule is that you would have 30-minute post-meal chores after lunch in addition to the other times of the day.

What To Do When The Job Timer Beeps?

Job inspector
When the job timer beeps, the inspector springs into action.

When the timer beeps, that is when the job inspector jumps into action. Currently in our family, Trixie is the job inspector. This is her process:

As soon as the timer beeps, Trixie announces it is time for inspections.

She goes to each person’s job and inspects using the job checklist. She uses the checklist because it is really clear what the job is. It is all right there in the app.

Since we use zone defense for job time, Trixie starts inspecting at from one end of the house and works her way to the other end. That is the most efficient way for her to inspect. If you use man-to-man, you may want to do things differently. Whatever is easiest and fastest for the job inspector. See the “Chore Time Strategy: Zone Defense or Man-To-Man?” blog for more ideas.

If someone has not started their job or is not even close to finishing, Trixie gives them a red ‘X’ and goes and hires a substitute to finish the job.

If the job is almost done or does not pass inspection, Trixie gives notes on what still needs to get done. She then tells the person they have five minutes to finish.

Trixie finishes her first round of inspections and then goes back for the second round. Hopefully everyone has finished by now. If so, they mark their job as complete. If not, then they get a red ‘X’ and Trixie finds a substitute to finish the job. Trixie only gives one round of fixes. If you have not fixed the issues by the second round, that is it. No more chances. Trixie does not mess around. She is a great inspector.

What About Bottlenecks?

Job timer bottleneck
Try to avoid bottlenecks if possible.

But what about those times when there is a shared job that creates a bottleneck? For example, let’s say Jerry clears the table dishes and Alice washes those dishes. What if ten minutes go by and Jerry still has not cleared the dishes?

The easiest solution is to set it up beforehand that Jerry has to clear all the dishes within 5 minutes of job time starting. If more than 5 minutes go by, Jerry loses his job and it is given away to someone else, and Alice gets an extra five minutes to finish her job.

Job Loss Consequences

Kid lounging on a couch
Jerry the slacker

“Losing his job” may seem like a reward for Jerry. After all, he did not want to do his job anyway. But not so fast! Jerry gets some pretty steep consequences for losing his job. Three consequences, to be exact:

Consequence #1

First, Jerry does not get paid for doing his job. This is not a big deal because daily jobs do not pay that much.

Consequence #2

But then, secondly, Jerry loses his job bonus. This is a big deal. The job bonus is roughly 1/5 of Jerry’s weekly earnings. For the week. He loses 20% of his income. Ouch! In our family, we have actually had kids cry when they learned the lost their job bonus. It is a significant amount of money. Say a kid makes $40 per week. Losing their job bonus is a hefty $8.

Consequence #3

On top of losing his job bonus, though, Jerry also has to pay for a substitute. He has to pay to have someone else do his job. After all, the job still has to get done. Hiring a substitute, though, is not cheap. When someone else has to do your job, they get paid overtime. They make two to three times normal pay. They already did their job. They already worked. Now they have to do more work. So, they get paid more. For Jerry, that is a costly amount.

So, Jerry does not get the money for doing the job, he loses his job bonus, AND he has to hire someone at overtime rates to complete his job. We call that the Triple Threat. It is nothing to sneeze at, that’s for sure.

Who Gets Overtime Pay (Job Substitutes)?

Boy transfer job to girl
If the job does not get done, hire a substitute!

When it comes to hiring a job substitute, we try to make it simple. The first person to finish their job has dibs. They can opt to pass, and if so, then the next person who finished their job can have the job. Keep in mind, the substitute has to have their own job done first before they can substitute for someone else’s job.

Alternatively, if everyone finishes their job at the same time, then you can offer the job to the oldest child who finished their job. Start with the oldest and go from there. We will cover this topic more in depth in a future blog.

Toddlers And Timers

Toddler with duster
The timer works wonders with toddlers.

We also have some great tips and ideas for using the timer to teach toddlers to work. It is much to big a topic to cover here and will get its own blog in the near future. Stay on the lookout for that!

Other Uses For The Timer

The timer is your friend, but not just for job time. The timer can really help in other aspects of the home as well. Here are a few suggestions:

Bedtime

Moon stars
Use the timer to help get the kids to bed on time.

Ah, the bane of all parents everywhere. Kids need to go to bed, but the bedtime ritual drags on for hours and hours. Kids still up long after you put them to bed. Kids needing a drink of water, or to go to the bathroom, or to turn on the light. Yes, we’ve all been there.

A simpler solution would be to set a 10-minute timer and tell the kids it is time for bed. Every kid should have bedtime as one of their daily habits (see our blog “Put Your Darn Kids To Bed” for suggestions on how to implement that idea). If they get into bed before the timer beeps, they can mark their points. Plus, if they are in bed and quiet, you will read to them from the hallway.

My wife does this routine really well, reading to the kids as they drift off to sleep. Instead of bedtime dragging on for hours, the bedtime routine lasts all of ten minutes. It is really cool to watch, and it makes the evening more relaxing.

Behavior Problems (Creating the Peacemaking Habit)

Two girls fight over a shirt
Set a timer to encourage peacemaking and kindness.

If fighting is a problem in your home, try using the timer. Set a one-hour timer and give the kids QuickPoints if they make it the entire hour being a peacemaker. For every hour that goes by, mark their points. True, by the end of the day, your kids may have earned a few dollars, but that is a small price to pay for peace and harmony in your home. Also, it is money you were going to spend anyway. Remember, QuickPoints are part of Job Jar, which is money from the family’s discretionary budget. It is not an additional expense.

If fighting is a serious problem, you may need to make the timer and reward closer together, something more like every five minutes. Again, it may seem like your kids are earning a lot, but eventually peacemaking will become a habit. That five-minute timer becomes ten minutes, or twenty minutes, or an hour. Pretty soon it is a daily habit, and at that point you can start focusing on other habits like “good manners” or “obedience”.

This concept is literally why we created QuickPoints.

Manners And QuickPoints

guy girl dancing
Use the timer to reward for manners and etiquette.

Speaking of QuickPoints, another place to use them is at the dinner table. For example, in our family manners at the table can sometimes be horrible. If the meal is late for whatever reason, there tends to be fighting while we are trying to get the meal going. We start to lose our tempers, and so we start threatening, “Okay, the next person to talk gets to clean a wall!” We have noticed that when we do this, the kids will still annoy each other without talking and push the limits to the very edge. Meanwhile, we as the parents are becoming more and more irritated. We can feel our blood pressure rising.

In contrast, when we come to our senses and remember to use Moneypants, we simply sit down and set a five-minute timer on the phone with the promise that everyone with good manners will receive five points when the timer sounds.

And what a difference! All of a sudden, the kids are all going above and beyond our hopes and expectations. They are helping each other, they are helping with the meal and with the younger children, and they are sitting up straight and quiet, just for five points! Rewarding is SO powerful and so much easier.

Truth: when we threaten punishments, kids tend to test the limits. But if you want the civility and manners of Queen Elizabeth, offer your children a reward.

Schoolwork

My wife hires math tutors to come to the home to teach our younger kids math. It used to be that our kids would dread the one-hour math class because it was so long and so boring. They would stare that the ceiling, pick their noses, and zone out. The math teacher felt like she was babysitting rather than teaching.

Then we decided to start offering rewards and turned math class into a competition. The kids had a one-hour time limit, and they would get points for every topic they passed off on their individual Khan Academy accounts. It was incredible. Our kids went from passing off one or two topics to passing off seven or eight. Some kids passed off as many as 14 topics!

The teacher loved it, the kids loved it, and we as the parents loved it. So much learning took place, all because we used the timer to our advantage.

The Car Trip Secret

Family car trip
The timer works really well for long car rides.

Perhaps our single favorite use of the timer is the Car Trip Secret. Of course, because it is a secret, we cannot share it here (or else it would not be a secret!). But, if you submit your email, we will send it to your inbox.

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So, are you convinced that the timer is your friend? Did we miss anything? What other uses of the timer have you discovered? We would love to hear your feedback. Leave a comment below.

Kind grandparents
Some grandparents just want to help however they can.
Phontaine Judd

Phontaine Judd

Phontaine is co-creator of Moneypants and the proud father of 7 sons and 6 daughters.

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