Windows Countdown Timer Showdown

I’ve found a good way to reduce procrastination is to set a timer and commit to working on a task for that period of time. It makes it easier for you to work on something you’ve been fearing because regardless of the outcome of the task, you get to stop when the timer dings. It’s really a way to trick yourself into doing something you’re avoiding, but it works, so I do it.

I wanted an application that made it as easy as possible to start a timer. I came up with the following requirements, in order of priority.

  • Free
  • Fast to start and stop the timer (fast application startup is good too)
  • Lightweight
  • Popup dialog displayed when the time is up
  • Remembers duration(s) set previously
  • Can disable audio alerts
  • Simple interface
  • Can pause timer
  • Minimizes to tray (Less of an issue when I discovered that TaskSwitch XP can minimize any application to tray by right-clicking the minimize button.)
  • Visually appealing

Update: I wrote a countdown timer that fulfills the above requirements and then some. It’s called SnapTimer.

Update: Marxio timer isn’t available anymore. I have a new favorite timer. It’s called Marxio Timer (via Lifehacker) and meets all of my requirements and then some. It’s portable and has all sorts of actions it can perform like restarting the computer, logging out, running a program and even taking a screenshot. Scheduling can be based on a specific time, elapsed time, idle time or even a CPU usage threshold. You can save profiles and can even create a shortcut to the profile.

Multi-Timer – Count up or down, sound and alert, saves times, minimizes to tray by default. This is a great timer! Thanks to Lifehacker for the link. Downside is that it has a memory leak. After leaving it open over the weekend it was consuming over 250MB of RAM. Still, it works well and you can close it every once in a while to free up the RAM. The developer is no longer working on it because he’s created premium software, so the memory leak is not likely to be fixed.

MinuteTimer met most of the requirements. It doesn’t minimize to tray and isn’t pretty, but it was one of the best timers I found.

EasyTimer has a tray icon, but doesn’t save countdown times.

Compact Timer – Minimizes to tray and has configurable actions when time is reached. Not lightweight, Buggy interface – when countdown time is reached the buttons to clear the pop-up didn’t work.

Work Break Timer – Doesn’t allow you to pause, rough around the edges.

CookTimer minimizes to tray, very lightweight. Doesn’t save countdown time.

Instant Boss – Too bossy :) I didn’t like all the preconfigured messages either.

Karen’s Timer II – Geared towards days instead of minutes.

Cool Timer – Doesn’t save times (oddly enough it has presets, but doesn’t use them). Can be minimized to tray. No visible alert when it’s done, just displays the application window again and plays audio. Not pretty.

Time-It – Not pretty, but background and font color can be changed. Splash screen at startup annoying. Hit reset and got runtime error and it crashed. Didn’t minimize to tray.

Workrave – A bit too complex for my needs, but has short stretch intervals and other reminders to help reduce strain.

AlarmXP allows you to see the date in the task bar too. It has a countdown timer and saves it, but doesn’t have a tray icon. When the time’s up it shows a popup. It defaults to a certain time and you can’t pause the countdown. It’s also kind of a hassle to start a countdown. You have to open the application, hit Ctrl-D to open countdown, then hit OK.

Easy HR timer had an error when it first started up. It’s ugly but minimizes to tray, has audio mac-like voice say, “Your time is up” when it ends and I didn’t see a an obvious way to turn that off. It displays their URL on the window and there’s no way to pause.

PC Chrono had lots of voice synthesis that could be disabled. It doesn’t save times. To start a countdown timer you have to hit timer button, then type in the minutes you want to count down, then save it. Alert didn’t grab focus. I didn’t see it until I looked at the taskbar. Skipped over seconds as it counted down (i.e. it stayed on a number for 2 seconds).

WinTimer is slow to start up slow, ugly and to set time you have to hit the hour, minute or second button once per unit. For a 30 minute countdown, you hit the button 30 times. Each time it emits a loud beep. It does minimize to tray, but the timer completion is really loud and you can’t turn it off. Doesn’t save times.

EggTimer looks decent, doesn’t minimize to tray and requires click on options to select minimize. Configurable alert message with no sound. Buttons need to be pressed to set countdown, but also has support for command line options.

MP3 timer looks good, but interface to set time is awkward. Plays audio files for alert.

Intervalski is very simple, minimizes to tray, has custom pop-up alert messages. Can disable sound alert. Doesn’t save message or times. When alert is shown, the only option is to quit or do it again. I’d prefer a way to change to a new timer.

Tea Timer has preset timers, works well, looks okay and audible alerts can be disabled. The main negative is that it has confirmation dialogs that are a nuisance when starting a timer, saving a preset or performing other operations.

AlfaMini is lightweight, can alter transparency but the interface is unintuitive and it requires several clicks to set the countdown timer. It also has preconfigured timers that can’t be altered.


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  1. First, thanks for the comparision!

    I’m afraid I find that a ridiculous comment on Instant Boss – what do you mean by it being “too bossy” ?? and just commenting on the messages then seems pretty superficial to me…

    I used to use Workrave before Instant Boss. I gave up on it because it was too in your face and didnt credit me with any intelligence/initiave – i.e. far too bossy for me at any rate (unless they’ve toned it down in the last year or so)

    In fairness Workrave is aimed at people who have wrist/arm problems from use of the mouse & keyboard and who are trying to regulate their use of same

    Comment by Tom on November 16, 2008 @ 4:57 am
  2. It does seem to be hard to find a really well designed and goodlooking countdown timer app–I’ve been searching for ages!

    One essential feature I’d want is for the app to show the passage of time after the countdown is initiated, so I could see at a glance how much time is left. Minimising to the tray could therefore be optional.

    Another important feature should be the option to play the speaker beep by default: I don’t want to be startled by a too-loud sound.

    It would be nice to have the popup alert come up in the bottom right hand corner so it isn’t too obtrusive.

    Another desirable option, though maybe not essential, would be the ability to display cumulative times for a given period. So you know how long you’ve been working.


    Comment by Manoj on November 17, 2008 @ 12:43 am
  3. @Tom I agree, it was superficial, but it was my honest and off the cuff appraisal after using it for a short time. You don’t have to agree with me :)

    I understand Workrave isn’t really geared to my needs, but I tried it out just in case it would satisfy them.

    @Manoj I agree. I’ve also found that it’s a very subjective process. What I may consider essential, you may dislike. I like your ideas though, especially about seeing how much time is left. I had hoped that the timers that minimized to the tray would show remaining time as a tooltip. None of them that I recall did that.

    Comment by Dan on November 17, 2008 @ 10:11 am
  4. I did not find very good free timers. But I found two cheap (5 $) timer I really like:
    Secs is really very good (Egg from the same Author is too feature rich for me)
    I also like CountDown Timer

    Comment by Criss on November 18, 2008 @ 1:00 am
  5. Hi! I am the developer of Instant Boss. Thank you for mentioning my application in your article.

    Instant Boss was designed for procrastinators, and just short of having someone stand behind you with a whip, it’s probably one of the most effective ways to get you to get your work done, while still allowing you breaks to have some fun. If you find that it is too bossy, then you probably don’t really have a problem with procrastination.

    Instant Boss minimizes to the taskbar, but closes to the tray, so an additional application to hide it in the tray is unnecessary. When exiting the application from the tray, you must confirm that this is what you want to do. This is to protect it from accidental closure.

    It does show remaining time as a tooltip in the tray, as well as on the taskbar button and main window. It also tells you what you are supposed to be doing (taking a break or working) in all 3 locations.

    Additionally, it also shows cumulative times: how much you have worked since launching the application, and how much you have worked overall since you started using the application. If you can accumulate a total of 27 years worth of work on a single install of Windows (highly unlikely), it can handle it.

    It also shows you where in your work/break cycle you are.

    If you don’t like the wav files included, you can replace them with whatever you want. I didn’t embed them in the application, just for this reason. Just name them the same as the ones I provided and drop them into the folder while the program isn’t running.

    As far as the messages, I don’t understand. What is wrong with “Take a break” and “Back to work”? Could you please explain why you don’t like those messages for a work/break timer or why you would consider them inappropriate?

    Comment by app on November 18, 2008 @ 8:21 am
  6. @Criss Thanks for the additional timers for people willing to pay a few bucks.

    @app Thanks for stopping by and clarifying some of Instant Boss’ features. I didn’t recall being able to see the remaining time in the tooltip – that’s a really helpful feature. My comment about its bossiness was mainly tongue in cheek (it is called Instant Boss). I don’t like the idea of someone with a whip standing behind me anyway :)

    The messages aren’t inappropriate, just bossy. “Take a break” is a command – it could be altered to “Break time” if you were aiming to make it less bossy. “Back to work!” with the picture of an angry boss doesn’t give me warm fuzzies. Changing it to “Break’s over” or “Time to get to work” would be less bossy. Even better, make the messages customizable.

    Comment by Dan on November 18, 2008 @ 9:01 am
  7. It’s not supposed to give you warm fuzzies. It’s supposed to make you productive and get your work done, and if you don’t like being bossed around by a little program, then you need to get yourself to the level where you can do it on your own, without anything or anyone bossing you around.

    Instant Boss is for use only until you can be your own boss and not need it any more. Then you can fire the software boss and take over his job and boss yourself around any way you see fit.

    Just be happy I didn’t include the original Boss wav telling you to get back to work. It was my husband shouting. Quite scary.

    I thought the alternative wav that I did include would soften it a bit and give you a certain measure of fun while you drag yourself back to work. That way, even though you really don’t want to work, you do it with a sort of smile.

    The old saying “misery loves company” holds true, and I have given you a sympathizing coworker that says what you are thinking, so you’ll feel like you are not alone.

    The only thing I didn’t give you was a virtual water cooler to hang around at break time, where you can complain about how hard your boss is working you. You’ll have to figure out that one yourself, or perhaps you already have. ;-)

    Comment by app on November 18, 2008 @ 6:39 pm
  8. @app If I don’t like getting bossed around by a little program, I can find another program (which I did) :) Customizable messages put the user in charge, not the program(mer). I am glad you didn’t include your husband yelling – no one wants to hear that every day.

    Get to work on that virtual water cooler. I’ll be waiting ;)

    Comment by Dan on November 18, 2008 @ 9:54 pm
  9. here’s another one that seems to meet your requirements:


    Comment by Mac on December 4, 2008 @ 4:22 pm
  10. @Mac Thanks for the pointer. I’ll try it out.

    Comment by Dan on December 4, 2008 @ 4:31 pm
  11. I saw the list but decided to trust you and installed Marxio Timer. You were right about it. Ideal tool for carrying on pendrive. 15 predefined actions make it a master in its type. Moreover, some applications die after version 1.0 release, but this one looks promising. Just saw its changelog and I’m impressed how quickly it evolves.
    Btw, its not freeware but donationware. I will use it more so maybe I’ll send then a buck.

    Comment by attica on June 16, 2009 @ 3:16 pm
  12. @attica Good point. It is in fact donationware, not freeware. And while there are no nag screens anywhere, the author would appreciate a donation.

    Comment by Dan on June 16, 2009 @ 4:21 pm
  13. marxio’s website is down. It doesn’t look down until you actually try to download a file, and only then does he inform you that the project is shut down and no downloads are available. Sad day.

    Comment by Tom on January 4, 2010 @ 8:50 am
  14. @Tom Thanks for the news, although I agree it is a sad day.

    I found a download link for the latest version, 1.12.2.

    Comment by Dan on January 4, 2010 @ 12:22 pm
  15. link to snaptimer’s exe is a 404

    Comment by roger on March 3, 2011 @ 5:11 pm
  16. @roger I just tried the link and it worked fine. What link are you using?

    Comment by Dan on March 3, 2011 @ 6:35 pm

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