Time boxing is a lot like shadowboxing. You know—shadowboxing: from TV and movies where a fighter is sparring with an imaginary opponent as a form of training. (Usually accompanied with upbeat triumphant-like music.)
Time boxing is where you’re sparring with the clock—trying to complete a task against a drop-dead deadline—and you better win.
I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion’. —Muhammad Ali
How many of you remember this threat?
“Your chores better be done before your dad gets home!”
That’s pressure: having to choose between playing outside with friends and the risk of being punished for not completing your chores.
Usually, I would opt to play with friends—up until the time necessary to complete the chores has almost run out, and then rush to complete the chores just in time to avoid punishment.
Looking back, I see that I was actually demonstrating a powerful concept: maximizing playtime AND still accomplishing things. What was then considered procrastination was actually being efficient!
This is what time boxing is all about—and after weeks of working from home, you might just be ready to give it a try in order to feel motivated to complete your “chores.”
The hero and the coward both feel the same thing. But the hero uses his fear, projects it onto his opponent, while the coward runs. It’s the same thing, fear, but it’s what you do with it that matters. —Cus D’amato
Why you need time boxing
Parkinson’s law states that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Although it’s not really a law—it’s more of an observation—most of us would concede that there is some truth to it.
For example, have you ever taken two hours to complete a task that really could have been done in a single hour if you focused just on that specific task?
If you work hard in training, the fight is easy. —Manny Pacquiao
What is time boxing?
In time boxing, time periods are called time blocks. Time boxing takes an agile approach where you dictate a start and end time for an activity, a shorter time window you can mark on your calendar. Each time block is meant to help inspire you to follow your schedule and finish your work on time.
At the end of the timebox, you declare your work done, no matter what, and then you assess whether you were able to meet your goals, either completely or partially. The idea is not just to focus on one task—it’s to accomplish that task no matter what by the end of the time block period.
You never lose until you actually give up. —Mike Tyson
Try these four steps to start organizing your day with a timebox:
Set your timebox for each task
Start by estimating how long it will take you to complete each task on your to-do list. Be realistic—more often than not, tasks take longer to complete than you anticipate, and it’s important to make room for breaks and any unexpected interruptions.
You may want to experiment with the duration of your timeboxes—maybe 15 minutes doesn’t allow you enough time to get into a groove, but after 35 minutes you begin to lose focus.
Set a timer
Once you’ve allotted time to each task, set a timer to let you know when it’s time to move on to the next task and get to work. Setting a specific period of time will not only motivate you to work efficiently, but it will also ensure other important projects are not neglected.
Take a break
Between each timebox, be sure to leave room for short breaks. It may be tempting to continue working through allotted break times, but stepping away for a few minutes can actually help you return to your work with a fresh outlook.
Review, rinse, repeat
At the completion of each timebox, or at the end of your day, take a look at your progress. If you completed all of your tasks, what can you learn and apply to your future schedules? If not, ask yourself honest questions. Did you allow enough time to complete the task? Where did you get derailed or distracted?
It ain’t about how hard you can hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. —Rocky Balboa
The value of timeboxing in and out of work
Experts in productivity have concluded that when tasks are handled in chunks of time rather than given focus until completion, the gross time spent on a task can be reduced significantly.
Time restraints alone, however, are not potent seeds for fruitful work. Vigorous focus, when met with a designated time limit, and combined with brief, meaningful rest, is a powerful combination for productivity.
Some experts suggest working in “time chunks,” giving focused attention to a task for 25 minutes straight, followed by a five-minute break. This technique, called the Pomodoro technique, is an example of timeboxing.