My buddy Jason gave me a top for Christmas a couple years ago. Now this isn’t just any top; this is a deluxe top. (I didn’t even know there was a market for deluxe tops.)

The top has saved me from insanity a few times. 

This isn’t like the flimsy plastic discs you see kids spinning at carnivals. My top is solid brass, and has it’s own custom carved stand to sit in. It’s a very spiffy top.

There was a note that explained the curious gift.

“I know life is pretty crazy and you have a lot going on. My hope is on those days where it’s overwhelming you can pause to spin this top and breathe.”

The top sits on my desk at home. When I am really stressed out, when I’m freaking out or not thinking straight, I spin the top. I spin the top and I don’t do anything else until it comes to a rest.

It’s like giving myself a timeout.

Your brain needs timeouts.

Usually we just switch tasks when we are overwhelmed. We say “I’ll come back to this later” or “I just need a break” and go answer emails or check Facebook and Twitter.

We introduce more stimuli to our already overwhelmed brain, and then we’re confused why we still can’t think straight. It’s because we need to rest.

What if instead of piling on your poor brain you chose to take a timeout?

The 3 Stages of a Timeout

Every spin of the top has three stages. I’ve noticed I go through three stages during my timeout as well.

Stage 1) Processing

For about the first minute the top circles around, trying to find it’s center.


Likewise, my brain is still spinning. My thoughts collide with one another, but now I’m giving them more space to process.

Stage 2) Pausing

Eventually the top finds it’s center and stops moving around the desktop. It spins perfectly in place.


Similarly, my mind drifts back towards balance. It’s meditative and calming. I am not thinking about much and my mind settles down. It’s the timeout equivalent of deep sleep. Thinking about nothing is the most important part of a timeout, but it takes a minute to get there.

Stage 3) Progressing

The top will begin to wobble ever so slightly as it loses speed. This begins the third stage, a subtle countdown to the end of the timeout.


With a calmer mind, I can prepare to return to whatever task I was working on. It’s a running start for my brain, gradually bringing my problem-solving back up to speed.

When I pause I am able to see things more clearly. My perspective is no longer hindered by the battling thoughts and fears, and often a clear path forward emerges.

When we pause we are able to see things more clearly. Click To Tweet

It’s not magic, but it is effective. Things have never been worse because I took a few minutes to breathe, and most times they are better. Timeouts let you mentally regroup and prepare another way to attack your problems.

5 Things You Can Do For A Timeout

If you need a hand with your timeout you can try these things. Remember, the goal is to reduce stimuli and produce nothing.

My top works as a good timeout tool because it is simple and takes around 3 minutes. Much less than that doens’t give enough time to regroup. Much more and you’re getting more into a break than a timeout. (Breaks are also good, really good. Just different).


Put your head on your desk

Before my top, this was my go-to method. Honestly, it was basically a surrender to my overwhelmedness. If you have an office where you can rest your forehead for a moment, do it.

This website (or companion app) offers soothing scenes and sounds. The variety of scene is nice, and the video aspect is helpful. There’s also a timer option, so you’re not constantly checking the clock.


Do Nothing for 2 Minutes

Similar to, offers a soothing ocean scene and a two minute timer. The novelty here is that the timer restarts if you move the mouse or touch the keyboard. If you struggle to sit at the computer without surfing the web, this might be the site for you.



Keep a pad and pen nearby and permit yourself to pause and doodle when the stress builds up. Setting a timer is good because it gives you the freedom to completely disengage from what’s going on.

The current trend of adult coloring books is an example of this. It can be very helpful to let your pen wander while your mind does the same.


No matter how you spend the time, remember that your brain needs timeouts. You’ll be better at problem solving, less stressed, and more aware of your emotions.

Plus maybe you’ll beat my record for top-spinning.

How do you take a timeout in stressful situations?

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