Time-boxing has been one of those buzzwords that I have been hearing very often lately so I was very keen on giving it a go. For those of you who are not familiar with it, this is a technique for allocating a fixed period of time during the day for working on planned tasks. Time-boxing, as the name suggests, is a way of taking individual tasks and finding chunks of time in your calendar to plan them in an organised manner.
Having tried this technique for around 8 months, I am happy to say that it works. Compared to before I started time-boxing, I now feel that my days are much more productive, structured and organised in a way to help me stay on track with my goals. I would like to share in this post my experience in the hope that it helps other people in getting closer to their goals. I do believe that one of the secrets of happiness in life is feeling that you are in control and I have no doubt that time-boxing is a very powerful tool that can help you with this.
Before getting into the technique itself, it is important to start with your life goals. Your efforts will be meaningless if you are time-boxing activities that have no bearing on your end goals. You should have your goals in writing and you should be able to access them easily, reading them on a daily basis to ensure that you stay on track and keep motivated. Only after having your goals in mind can you then start thinking of individual tasks to add to your calendar.
(2) Start Planning
Now that you have come up with a list of tasks that will help you get closer to your goals, it’s time to start Time-Boxing. When I first started reading about it, I came across a lot of variations of this technique. A popular method is allocating chunks of time in your calendar for these tasks and just making them part of your schedule. There are a lot of calendar apps out there that help with this way of organising your day. I tried this technique and I quickly realised that if you cram in too much, you end up either a) not sticking to the schedule or b) having counterproductive sessions, so if you do allocate time, be sure to pick time slots of the days when you know you won’t be disturbed.
What worked well for me though was rather than having pre-determined set times, having a task list (with allocated times) and having this set as a reminder on my phone. This gave me the flexibility to plan on the day the various tasks (including any unplanned tasks) in an efficient manner. Having this flexibility definitely helped me persevere with this habit from a mental point of view. Whether you have these times fixed during the day or whether you are going through a list, the most important point is to have a start and end time in mind and to be sure to be strict with this. This is very important.
(3) Applying the Technique
When time-boxing, I like to have a countdown timer in front of me. I always find that watching and being conscious of the passage of time drives me to action and makes me more efficient as I am going through my tasks. When your time is over, be sure to interrupt your task and get a break before moving onto your next item. How much time you set aside for a task depends on the task itself but I don’t like to go over 40-50 minutes per block. If I have a task that should take around an hour and a half, I would do 45 minutes then take a 15 minute break and start the second half.
Time-boxing is a habit so it will require some time before you can perfect it. The technique might sound deceptively simple but there are many points that I think can be fine-tuned (I will be addressing these in the next paragraph).
(4) Points to be Mindful of when Time-boxing
The bullet points that I list in this section are arguable the most important points in this post, they will determine the effectiveness of this technique:
- Start Small: I recommend starting with maybe 5-6 tasks depending on the complexity and time commitment. You can even just try with a few. The first step, rather than mastering this technique, is building some of that self-discipline muscle for you to stick to the time that you promised to commit. As you start being more diligent with your tasks, start adding more.
- Don’t Overload: as you start seeing the results of time-boxing, you might get tempted to start expanding your list. Be careful not to end up with a long list of tasks, you will reach a point where you might risk not having enough hours in the day to dedicate the required time to the committed task. I can’t stress enough to think of quality over quantity.
- Constantly Review your tasks: your main goals might not be changing so frequently, however the reoccurring tasks required in achieving these goals need to be constantly re-assessed and updated. You might have some tasks which require adding and others that have become obsolete. I strongly recommend setting some time aside every week in reviewing your list and reviewing (especially some of the reoccurring tasks) tasks to check if they are still in line with your end goals.
Overall, I felt that using this technique did improve my productivity and helped me become more focused on my goals. I definitely find myself procrastinating less compared to before starting time-boxing. I hope after reading this post, you might give this technique a go!