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Time BoxingPart 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?
Where could I use time boxing as a part time painter?
Use it for:
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!
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