The Time-Box Method Will 2X Your Productivity
What is the time-box method and why does it work?
The key is in not spending time, but in investing it. — Stephen R. Covey.
Time is a funny concept.
Although it stays the same, it can fool you into thinking it’s going fast or slow. The facts are though, time is going exactly the same speed every day. The difference is how you perceive it but of course, you already knew that.
So now we’ve helpfully established that time doesn’t in fact change, we can get onto the real problem.
You and your time management.
What tends to happen is that you have plans of how you want to spend your day. Well, perhaps more accurately you create grand ambitions for your day.
You think to yourself:
“I’m going to really get cracking today, I’m going to get lots done and tick some of those things off I’ve been wanting to do for ages.”
Which is then followed by:
“But first I’ll just have a look on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and then my emails.”
And then 5 hours later you say to yourself:
“Okay, I’ll start tomorrow, tomorrow is the day.”
The Spark You Need to Change
They’ll be a day or a night may be where you get bored of having the same conversation with yourself. That’s what happened to me. You’ll get bored of the same tales you tell yourself because you realise that without actually doing something about it, you will get nowhere.
It’s the law of physics.
If you’re not travelling in the direction you want to go, you’ll never get to the desired destination. You know that by hoping, dreaming and imagining you’ll never get there. You know, you need to put the time in.
You need to switch from spending time to investing in it. And to do that you need to get clear on what you want to do with your time.
So there are a few questions to ask yourself:
What are you trying to achieve?
Are you trying to be financially free?
Are you trying to find a career that makes you jump out of bed in the morning?
Are you trying to start a side hustle that makes you a little bit extra every month?
Are you trying to dedicate more time to your passion?
Are you after more time in your day so you can spend more time with your family?
Are you trying to get a promotion at work?
What’s the goal?
Where do you want to be in 5 years?
Where do you want to be in 10 years?
Do you want to be an expert in your field?
Do you want to be able to go on holiday whenever you feel like it?
Do you want to pay your parents mortgage off?
Do you want to be a millionaire?
You of course don’t need to answer all of these, they are prompts to help you figure out what exactly you want to achieve here. It’s helpful to get clear from the outset what you actually want to achieve.
It will help with trying to understand what level of time investment you need in order to reach it. The more audacious your goals, i.e. if you answered yes to the last question, you’re going to need to dedicate quite a bit of time.
A word of warning though, admittedly without being a millionaire, I do believe that solely focusing on money is a bit of a fruitless path.
Understand Your Energy Levels
Next comes a little bit of self-awareness. The question to find the answer to is: when do you work best? For some people they love working into the early hours of the morning, they find their productivity is best then and they are exponentially more productivity then compared to any other part of the day.
Other people are early birds, other people love to work hard into the afternoon and finish around 6 pm to do family stuff.
There is no right answer because this is a completely personal preference.
If you don’t know the answer, test it out.
Set aside some time at different parts of the day and mark your productivity. Be careful to not get swayed by anomalous results. You might bias the first time you do it so complete the exercise a few times to make sure it reliable.
Go through each option on the list and understand what works best for you. Once you have that, that’s your optimum time box.
The Time-Box Method
Time-boxing is allocating a set of hours to an individual task. You can’t steer away from that task during those hours. It’s breaking the rules. If you’ve time-boxed it you have to continue with that task until the task is complete or the time is up.
You can go toilet though, obviously.
Time-boxing works because it’s simple.
Often when we start a task we flit between activities. You might start writing some an important report but then you flit to looking at the news, talking to a colleague. And then that starts a run of procrastination. Before you know it your in the middle of your inbox answering emails.
That’s not where you want to do be.
If you prioritise this task now it’s more productive then jumping between tasks constantly.
When you jump between tasks it inefficient. That’s because to move to a different task you need to shift your headspace, you need to get into whatever you are doing. If that’s emails you need to read the email, understand the background and then conjure up a reply. Then if you move back into doing your report, you need to read the previous page to understand where you were and that you don’t go over the same ground.
If you were just constantly writing your report, you wouldn’t have to know where you were because you are in it, you know exactly where you are.
Time-box is the equivalent of giving your tasks your undivided attention. Unless World War III starts or there is an emergency, you are not changing task until the time is up.
Time-Box Your Goals
So now you know what you want to achieve, whether it’s NYT best-selling author or having a little bit extra cash every month to do things with your kids, you can start to time-box appropriately.
You know your optimum time-box so that’s the best place to start.
If your best time is between the hours of 6 am — 8 am, your job now is to figure out what’s the best possible thing you could be doing with that time in order to optimise your productivity and get to the chosen destination.
If you want to be an NYT best-selling author, I can’t see better use of time than sitting down and writing.
Don’t Waste the Optimum Time-Box
Importantly, your optimum time box is the one to use carefully. Remember this is you at your best. I wouldn’t use that time box to look through emails. Emails are an easy, time-intensive but low mental effort activity.
For your optimum time box, you need something that takes quite a lot of thought, where you need to be on your best form. It’s the equivalent of practising sprints if you are an Olympic swimmer.
This time box is for high intensity, high effort work.
If you are a writer, this is the time to write.
You’ll Find You Start to at Least X2 Productivity – Time-box method
What becomes apparent quite quickly is how much more you can get done in a day by seeing things through. You don’t stop halfway through an article because you lost your flow and therefore that article is more likely to get finished.
You don’t stop halfway through your report and now the deadline is tomorrow and you’ve got to stay up late tonight to get it done. You know what you need to do and you are dedicating the right amount of time to getting that done. That’s the important bit.
What you’ll find quite quickly is that you can get a lot of things done in a day if you put your mind to it.
It’s when you don’t that’s the problem.