Time boxing

One of the key productivity ideas is to carefully select tasks you’re working on. Since work expands to fill the time available you need to be careful with open ended tasks, like:
exercising, maintaining a blog or just putting finishing touches to the latest project you’re currently working on. People used to say: “If you put it off til the last minute, it’ll only take a minute.”

Open tasks are evil, because they are never expected to finish very often they don’t finish at all. More than this open eneded tasks let your mind take them lightly and procrastinate. Usually the stuff that ends up taking so much extra time is the stuff that doesn’t have a hard-fast deadline because it’s easy to get distracted and forget about it and even easier to keep putting it off and procrastinate.

The thing that helps to defeat open ended tasks is to set self-imposed deadlines. Try setting deadlines for yourself on all those open-ended tasks that tend to take you forever and get drawn out, and more importantly, stick to those deadlines. I think you’ll find you’re able to get a lot more done in less time.

The timeframe for the deadline should be commensurate to the task at hand, meaning more important tasks get more time and less important tasks get less time. That way you avoid spending tons of time on the unimportant stuff and focus your efforts on what really matters. It also helps if you’re the type to get overly perfectionistic. This applies to all sorts of tasks other than writing, but with regards to writing, this strategy may actually improve your message because it will teach you to be more concise, which is generally appreciated.

Apart of setting deadlines for specific tasks expected to deliver certain results another effective technique to get stuff done is timeboxing. Time boxing is simply allocating a fixed amount of time to a group of tasks like working on a project, working at home, and then working for that time. This simple and obvious technique is very effective in achieving a variety of time management goals. Sometimes there simply is not enough time to do the job to the level of completeness that we would like. We can set a time box for the time that is available and “work against the clock” for that time in order to get the best possible job done in the time available.

The technique originated in the software development industry as a project management tool for when it is important to switch the project control focus from being scope oriented to being time or deadline oriented. The basic idea can be implemented in various ways to boost personal productivity, as described below.

Two of the most common reasons why we procrastinate are that the task is so large and/or complex that we are overwhelmed and are afraid to start, or the task is tedious and boring and we cannot face doing it for the extent of time required to finish it. In the rush to get things done on a daily basis it is easy to concentrate only on the urgent tasks and to neglect the important tasks. The important tasks often do not have an immediate impact, but they do have a very large impact on our lives in the longer term. Time boxing is a useful technique to ensure that we do set time aside for, and do work on, things like planning, learning new skills, writing that novel or reference book that lurks inside, and so on. These are the things that Stephen Covey calls Quadrant II activities in his best selling book “The 7 habits of highly effective people”.

By allocating a relatively short amount of time, say 15 to 30 minutes, to the task and accepting that we will work for only that period it becomes much easier to get started because we know that such a short time is bearable. Our only concern is that we work on the task for the allocated time, and we do not worry overly about how much we achieve. But what invariably happens is that once we get going we find that the job is not nearly as bad as we feared and the work starts to flow. We tend to think of action as being the result of motivation, but by simply taking action we can in fact increase our motivation. Which, in turn, results in more action and an upward spiral of productivity.

This is one of the only instances where it is OK to ignore the signal at the end of the work period and to keep going for a while longer. If you set a time box of 30 minutes and at the end of that time the work is going well just keep at it for a while longer. And, the fact that you have actually made progress on a task that you had been putting off will make it easier for you to schedule another block of time to continue with the project later. Success breeds success.

One of the most popular and successful implementations of time boxing technique is called Pomodoro. The Pomodoro Technique is a time management philosophy that aims to provide the user with maximum focus and creative freshness, thereby allowing them to complete projects faster with less mental fatigue. The process is simple. For every project throughout the day, you budget your time into short increments and take breaks periodically. You work for 25 minutes, then take break for five minutes. Cranking the timer is a signal that the work is going to begin, and the ticking creates a reassuring sound barrier – it tells me that I can put everything else aside and just focus on what I’m doing.

Each 25-minute work period is called a “pomodoro”, named after the Italian word for tomato. Francesco Cirillo used a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato as his personal timer, and thus the method’s name.Pomodoro Technique is a time management method which was used and documented by Francesco Cirillo as a solution to stop distractions, interruptions, missing concentration and motivation that were protecting him from being productive. One day, while he was a student he asked himself a question: “Can you study – really study – for 10 minutes?”. And his conclusion was: it’s all about staying focused and being motivated for a certain period of time, removing all distractions and interruptions.

Pomodoro is an atomic unit of uninterrupted time spent on accomplishing an activity. The traditional Pomodoro is 30 minutes long: 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes break. You can set these timers appropriate to yourself, but it’s important to stick to their length for a longer period in order to precisely measure your working process. Frequent breaks keep your mind fresh and focused. According to the official Pomodoro website, the system is easy to use and you will see results very quickly: “You will probably begin to notice a difference in your work or study process within a day or two. True mastery of the technique takes from seven to twenty days of constant use.”

According to the book before starting with any work, you should write all the activities you have to accomplish in the next days. And every new activity that comes to your mind goes to this list. It’s important not making this list too big (adding new stuff, but not finishing the old ones), because it can make you less motivated.

Before starting with any work, you should write all the activities you have to accomplish in the next days. And every new activity that comes to your mind goes to this list. It’s important not making this list too big (adding new stuff, but not finishing the old ones), because it can make you less motivated. This is a daily TODO Activity list, where you chose activities from Activity Inventory list by priority and make a daily plan with estimations how many pomodoros you need for accomplishing each of those activities (you write those estimations on TODO Today Sheet). After some practising you can make those estimations more precise.

This is a daily TODO Activity list, where you chose activities from Activity Inventory list by priority and make a daily plan with estimations how many pomodoros you need for accomplishing each of those activities (you write those estimations on TODO Today Sheet). After some practising you can make those estimations more precise. It all starts with selecting the first activity from the TODO Today list and setting a timer to 25 minutes. You work for 25 minutes focused on your activity. When the timer rings, you write down 1 finished Pomodoro, take a 5 minutes break, let your brain disconnect for a while and defragment the consumed information. Then you repeat the process again. When you finish the activity, you cross it on the To Do Today Sheet.

While working it’s important to handle the interruptions in an appropriate way. They can be internal or external, and good solution is to delay them as later as possible (after your working day ends, or after the current pomodoro ends). As the interruptions comes you write them in a section called Unplanned & Urgent in TODO Today Sheet and then continue your work. Writing down unplanned interruptions helps you in cleaning them from your mind and better focus on the current activity.
Pomodoro works so great for many practitioners because gets you in the habit of shifting your mental state. A large part of integrating yoga into daily life is to understand the yogic view of reality and to continually make the distinction between pure awareness and the pressing, urgent issues that are tugging at your pant legs. Every 25 minutes, the timer tells you to come up for air and consciously change your mental state. That provides you with a call to consciousness as many times as there are Pomodoros in your day.

As with the whole concept of time boxing Pomodoro helps us to conquer our biggest enemy – our wandering minds. You don’t realize that it is you that interrupts you from taking a job to completion. We have conditioned ourselves that we need or deserve a break, that we are just too busy to focus on this right now, etc, etc. Yes, if The Pomodoro Technique does one thing well, it is that it helps you to manage the self-talk that Seth Godin refers to “in Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?” as the resistance. That little voice that always has a reason why its ok to put off what you are very capable of doing – getting the task at hand completed and shipped.