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October 2009

October 2009 -- Faery Court



  • Part Time Painter:
    Time Boxing
  • Behind the Art:
    Faery in Ink
  • Artist Spotlight:
    Interview with Katerina Koukiotis
  • Wombat Droppings:
    How To Become a Children's Book Author
  • EMG News:
    Birthday News!


  • Collaborative Projects


  • Poem: Top Story! The Myth of Royalty and Beauty revealed as Fairy Queen Snubs Innocent Elf -- Details below!
  • Poem: On the Run


  • Tomb of the King: Scepter, Part 3

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  • Time Boxing
    Part Time Painter
    by Nicole Cadet

    I find it hard splitting my focus sometimes. I get so many competing tasks, so many different groups of people wanting different things from me, that there are days that I feel I'm not doing any work effectively.

    Time Boxing is a technique that has been around for a while, probably has different names, but is most often referred to in the software development sphere. I thought I'd talk about it as it's a very simple but effective technique that can be applied to anything that you need to manage - particularly when you're shifting your mindset significantly.

    What is Time Boxing?

    Time Boxing is about forcefully setting aside time to focus on a particular task or series of related tasks. For example in my day job in the software development world, I'm going to be setting aside an hour every morning to deal with business questions in my role as a subject matter expert. This means that for that hour I don't do anything else (unless there is nothing to do), and after that hour is up I go onto a different piece of work. If another request comes in outside of that time, I can ignore it until my time box comes up again (assuming that there's not a priority deadline attached!)

    But this technique is suitable for a range of tasks! It's adaptable, it's easy to start, and it costs nothing but the ability to focus.

    Why should I time box?

  • It helps you to meet deadlines. Really it's just a forcing mechanism. You've got a short deadline to work to, and an alarm that reminds you 'hey, you've spent half an hour on this, move onto the next task!'

  • It kicks your butt into gear when you're at the 'OMG I am never going to get all this work done!' mode and can't actually start. It's that old adage - how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!

  • Chunking the work forces you to re-examine your work in a different light. For example, doing a painting across two sessions means that you might pick up that anatomical glitch before you email it to the client. Walking away from a piece can be a good thing.

  • I use a form of it during my commission process so that I can deliver updates or pieces to the client along the way rather than one big piece which could have been adjusted during the process. My time chunks are sometimes a day rather than an hour, but I say 'by lunchtime I will have worked out the thumbnail sketches' or 'I will have completed the face before dinner'.

  • It helps you to focus on a particular task. This is really important for me at work where it's such a mental shift between analysis, design work, project management and actual coding. Artistically it might help you focus on your accounting, or making products, or planning out a painting. Sometimes if you are still finding yourself procrastinating or your brain wandering, you may need to reduce the time you spend on something, but do it more often. I've even started doing it for when I'm writing my columns (so I don't get distracted!)

  • It helps identify what's important which enables you to prioritise. If you have a limited time in which to work, you might realise you have to work on the values of a painting first, or you need to get through your commission queue emails by lunch.

  • It curbs perfectionism. It is amazing how much time you can spend on something and not realise it. I set a timer for half an hour when I'm forcing myself to get through a task mainly because I know my mind will wander off if I set if for too long. I'm also setting a timer on things I know that I procrastinate on, or spend too much time 'tweaking'. The timer alarm is kind of like a wake-up call that says 'hey, do you really need to spend more time on this? Or do you need to do something else?'

  • Time boxing can force an action. For example, when I work on a bug in code I might say "I'll time box 30 mins to investigate and fix this bug. If I can't figure out what's wrong, or estimate how long it's going to take to fix, I need to ask for help." For a painter it might be that you say "I want to spend an hour on a problem area on a painting and if at the end I'm still struggling, I might post it to a critique forum for some feedback."

  • Where could I use time boxing as a part time painter?

    Use it for:
  • training/ learning a new skill (half an hour each day on practicing with a new tool, or reading your RSS feed/ a tutorial site/ tutorial book/ looking at other artist's work)

  • stay on top of your emails/ paperwork/ accounting/ business related tasks

  • commission work

  • doing personal work

  • marketing/ networking

  • product making

  • How do I start?

    Grab a timer. Set it on your computer, use an egg timer, or use the alarm on your phone, whatever! Just make sure it has something that is going to cause you to stop! I use a timer gadget on my iGoogle page, or set up reminders in my Outlook Calendar.Book it into your calendar so people don't hassle you for meetings if it is really important to get done by a set time. You might be really good and just be able to look at the clock (this doesn't work for me, I get too engrossed in what I'm doing, or if the task is boring I keep on looking at the clock)

    Set your timer, and then until that timer goes off, or you complete the task, that one task you've set your mind to do, do it!

    When the timer goes off, move onto the next task.

    Assess whether you need to change you time box length and adjust accordingly.

    What do I need to know about time boxing to be effective?

    Work out what you can time box. Not all tasks are worth time boxing. If something is only going to take 15 minutes and is a one off task then don't bother. If it's a task that you can't effectively break down or know that once you start, you won't be able to stop (such as working wet into wet), time boxing may not help.

    Have a plan. Don't get bogged down in all the small tasks and forget that there is an end goal like being able to master a particular tool, or meeting a deadline with a quality painting. All those defined tasks need to feed into a bigger long term goal.

    Know what's important. Prioritise & be strict. Once your time-box is up, that's it. If it's going to take another hour, work out when that hour is going to be if there is a deadline attached. It might be that you have time now (particularly if you are in a good painting zone, or you are on a roll with your product making), and can afford to delay starting other tasks.

    Finally, if it doesn't work for you after you've given it a chance, change what you doing. Everyone is different, and what works for one person, may cause distress and a productivity dive for someone else!

    Nicole Cadet

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