Two Weeks of Time-Boxing

A few weeks ago I came across the Pomodoro technique, a detailed system for using time-boxing as a time management strategy for becoming more productive and liberating oneself from procrastination. My initial reflections on using the Pomodoro technique have been positive and I plan on continuing to work with the techniques outlined in the book.

Undisciplined Mind

Why do I have trouble managing my time and why would I need a system to help me with this? My biggest problem: Self-discipline. I let my passions sway my interest. When it comes to buckling down and working on something I’m not emotionally invested in, I’ve found the technique of time-boxing to have great value. It is odd to get over the feeling of having to put yourself on a timer in order to be productive, but there really are immediate benefits by applying this technique.

The first time I ran a timer and decided to focus on a single task I realized how strong my mind pulled in many directions. I’m not a fan of multitasking, so it was a great surprise to me how hard it was to have extreme, singular focus on a single task for a set period of time.

Even though I only fit in a single time-box the first day, the sweet taste of supreme focus was a breath of fresh air from my chaotic attention span. The biggest problem I had with my initial time-boxing was dedicating the time I needed to a time-box without getting distracted. If I became distracted and left my task for more than making note of the side thought, then I wouldn’t count the time as was suggested in the Pomodoro book.

Once I missed a time-box I was reluctant to start time-boxing again, as I didn’t feel I could commit to a full 25 minutes of work since my mind was going in many directions for the moment. I know it sounds uncontrolled, but perhaps if you give it a try, you might have a similar time with it. In the first week it was difficult to get more than one to two time-boxes completed in a day, although I didn’t set any goals, I was just playing with the experience of working within a 25 minute time-box.

What I began to notice by the second week was that the technique got me going on unsavory tasks, which were primed for procrastination. Whether I had low interest in a task, perhaps the effort loomed to large, or the work felt too mundane for my mood, giving myself a time-box, which contained the effort to a closed amount of time was something I could commit myself to. As I continued to practice the technique I found myself chipping away at tasks, that otherwise would have been sidelined until the built up pressure from procrastination became so great, that I would need to work through the night or on the weekend in order to catch up.

Time-box to the rescue!

There is a lot to be said for the feeling of being on top of your tasks and in control of time. It is a liberation to be ahead of time. That is the payoff for planning and action. Dare I say freedom? Whenever I find myself behind on tasks, my emotions sink, motivation wanes. The time-box is a buoy of productivity, pulling my energy back up from the depths and getting me back on track, albeit in small manageable increments.

Time-boxes have also helped limit time spent on things that I feel take away my balance. They might be things I enjoy, or are not important for the “bottom line”, but they are necessary for my good functioning. Things like reading, re-editing blog posts, studying flashcards, practicing the craft of programming, journaling, drawing, woodworking, the list goes on! These are all important to me, but there are just too many things I want to do. If I spread myself so thin, that I’m able to delve into all these areas, my chances for mastery in any one area are slim. Problem is I don’t know how to properly balance my time spent on all these interests. The Pomodoro book states that one should not time-box pleasurable activities, but I’ve found a time-box has the potential to possibly be a useful method for incorporating more balance into my life. Right now it is food for thought in this arena.

I still have issues accomplishing more than a handful of time-boxes in a given day and for now the time-box has been more useful as a task starter than a project finisher. Notwithstanding this is an interesting start and the next phase is to begin working towards concrete goals for how many time-boxes I wish to accomplish and tracking my progress in a useful manner.

Throughout this experience I’ve begun to think more about how I spend my time and where my energy goes. I want to make sure that I am truly living life, that is with passion, purpose and zest – not the soap. I’ll discuss this more in a later post where I begin to think about the concept of “life design” and how to find a symbiosis between productivity enhancing life hacks and meaningful purpose. For now I wish you happy time-boxing and luck with getting all of your tasks started… and finished!

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