Time Boxing is one of the most effective time management techniques around. It’s about fixing a time period to work on a task or group of tasks. Instead of working on something until it’s done, you commit to work on it for a specific amount of time instead.
But don’t let the simplicity of the concept deceive you — there’s far more to this approach than meets the eye!
Use these 5 Tips for Time Boxing … and get more productive now:
1. Dent the big tasks
The most obvious use of a Time Box is to make real progress on your big tasks and projects.
On the one hand, it enables you to continuously make progress on these intimidating tasks. On the other hand, it makes sure working on these tasks won’t over-run the rest of your day.
Projects that require a high degree of creativity are not best tackled start-to-finish.
The most effective way to deal with these is to have an initial phase of immersion – a period when you generate a burst of ideas – and then forget about them for a while. By letting it go, you give time for the subconscious mind to work on the problem.
2. Lose the ‘mosquito’ tasks
Time Boxes are a great way to tackle those annoying, tiny tasks that keep on bugging you.
The problem with these pesky little tasks is that each of them, alone, may be regarded as insignificant enough to be postponed. After a while, however, there can be enough of them buzzing around to drain a significant amount of your mental energy.
“If you think you're too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito.” (Anita Roddick)
A good strategy to claim back that energy is to create a Time Box and tackle all of them at one sitting.
3. Stop procrastinating
If you’re procrastinating on a task, forget about completing it – just put it in a Time Box instead.
You’ll overcome your resistance towards the task and chances are that when the time is up you’ll have built enough momentum to continue working on it much longer.
That’s right, if procrastination is your problem, feel free to ignore the timer when it buzzes. This is known as an ‘Open Time Box': you set a minimum period of work, which you may extend as you like. For these, you could even configure your timer with a round of applause sound as a little incentive to keep you going!
4. Conquer perfectionism
Perfectionism is the flip side of procrastination. Instead of avoiding a task, you dwell on it for so long that when you finally notice, all your time is gone.
To avoid perfectionism and the effects of diminishing returns, having a definite cut-off time for a task is one of the best strategies you can use.
Dealing with perfectionism demands what is known as ‘Closed Time Box': you set a maximum period of work. When dealing with these Time Boxes, you could even configure your timer with a disruptive, annoying buzz sound to remind you to drop the task immediately.
5. Sharp focus
Time Boxing a particular task helps by excluding other tasks and unrelated thoughts from your radar during that particular time window. Reducing mental clutter and ‘noise’ is essential if you want to be fully productive.
By organising your work in Time Boxes you also have the structure you need to properly prepare for your tasks. By taking care of potential distractions beforehand you maximise your chances of getting fully in flow.
Do you get much more accomplished on those Fridays before you go on holiday than on any other normal workday? Why?
For some reason, it seems that our most productive work is usually done at the end of a time period when there’s a very well-defined cut-off point.
Time Boxes give you just enough of this healthy time pressure, enabling you to take full advantage of this ‘end effect’, so make sure that timer is visible and you can see the time going by as you work on your task.