Win Your Day with Time Blocking and Time Boxing

When stressed and overwhelmed, even the most disciplined person can lose their way. According to Parkinson’s Law, work will expand to fill the time allotted to it. Cyril Northcote Parkinson’s direct quote is, “It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” He wrote this in reference Read More

When stressed and overwhelmed, even the most disciplined person can lose their way. According to Parkinson’s Law, work will expand to fill the time allotted to it. Cyril Northcote Parkinson’s direct quote is, “It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” He wrote this in reference to bureaucracy, but it is a perfect explanation for what happens to tasks and projects without boundaries. Tiffanie Wen provides an excellent deep dive in her article, “The Law That Explains Why You Can’t Get Anything Done.

Projects and Tasks

Every project should have a deadline. A deadline, whether imposed by you or someone else, creates a boundary, and boundaries are good. Not only do they provide structure, but they also help you prioritize.

According to David Allen’s GTD system (Getting Things Done), anything that requires two or more tasks to complete is a project. And if a project has a deadline, the tasks that support it should also have their own deadlines. If you have six important tasks to accomplish in a month, but only four have specific deadlines, those tasks with deadlines will be prioritized at the top of the list. The two tasks with vague or non-existent deadlines will flounder at the bottom of the list and may not get done at all.

So how can you structure your day so that your tasks and projects actually are completed? How do you motivate yourself when you are staring at a monitor or junk room and overwhelmed at the enormity of the work ahead? By putting boundaries around your time with Time Blocking, Time Chunking, and/or Time Boxing.

Before I explain how this works, let’s weed out one term. Time Blocking and Time Chunking are used interchangeably, so I will refer only to Time Blocking and Time Boxing in this article.

Time Blocking

Schedule for Time Blocking in 25 Minute Increments

Time Blocking involves dedicating a block of time to a task or project. With the Pomodoro Method, developed by Frances Cocirillo, you work for 25 minutes, take a five-minute break, and repeat. One round of this is referred to as a Pomodoro (think of a traditional tomato-shaped kitchen timer). After the fourth round, take a longer break. Are you dreading a big, time-consuming project? It’s less overwhelming when you only have to commit to 25 minutes of intentional work at a time. This graphic shows what that might look like.

That’s a strict schedule but with about six hours and forty minutes of focused work time. Think that’s not enough? According to a study of 2,000 office workers, most people who work an eight hour day are only productive for about three hours. So, if you achieve this schedule, you are twice as productive as most. There are health benefits for breaking up your work session. According to the American Optometric Association, to prevent eye strain, follow the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds to stare at something at least 20 feet away. Working within short blocks of time can help achieve that.

Hacking the Tomato (Pomodoro)

Schedule for Time Blocking in 50-Minute Increments

For most tasks, the Pomodoro method works for me. But when I get in a writing zone, I don’t want to stop. If stopping after 25 minutes feels like an interruption that stymies your workflow, try different durations until you find one that works for you. In his book, The Time Chunking Method: A 10-Step Action Plan for Increasing Your Workflow and Skyrocketing Your Productivity, Damon Zahariades found he works better with longer blocks/chunks of time. This graphic shows a much more condensed schedule for six and a half hours of focused work.

Time Boxing

Time Blocking is an excellent way to stay on track, but you can still stretch a project out without additional boundaries. Enter Time Boxing. With this technique, you set a limit on the amount of time you will spend on a task or project. If you want to get a blog post written in four hours, schedule the time on your calendar and get to work. At the end of the four hours, evaluate if the task is done or “good enough.” If you absolutely must spend more time on it, then schedule the minimum amount of time you might need to finish.

This is an excellent practice if you have perfectionist tendencies. And if you often miscalculate how much time a task or project takes to complete, this technique will help you create more realistic estimates – a key component of good project management.

Time Blocking vs. Time Boxing

So which technique should you choose? Either will help you manage your time better, but they can also be used effectively together. Use Time Boxing to schedule when you will complete a task and Time Blocking to keep your focus and momentum during that time limit.

I’d love to hear what works for you. How do you manage your time?

Need help with productivity? Call 904-500-7678 (SORT), message me or schedule your free consult. I’d love to help you get some clarity so you can live the life you desire!

Barbara Trapp, CPO®, Certified Professional Organizer® and Productivity Coach
Zen Your Den®  and Zen Your Biz™
Professional Member, NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals)
Life Transitions Specialist, NAPO
Residential Organizing Specialist, NAPO
Workplace Productivity Specialist, NAPO

Five Myths about Goals, Habits, and Willpower

Goals, Habits, and Willpower New research shows that some of what we have been told about goals, how long it takes to form a habit, and the willpower needed to get those things done may be wrong. Here are some of those myths and ways to flip your beliefs. The best way to achieve your Read More

Goals, Habits, and Willpower

New research shows that some of what we have been told about goals, how long it takes to form a habit, and the willpower needed to get those things done may be wrong. Here are some of those myths and ways to flip your beliefs.

The best way to achieve your goals is to tell people

Goals, Habits, Potential

“Tell everyone your goals.” Going public with your goals has been a popular suggestion for years. But does it really make a difference? According to research by Peter Gollwitzer, Professor of Psychology at NYU, telling people your goals takes the edge off of motivation. It’s as if the act of telling people was the first step towards making progress towards that goal. So telling people you are going to lose 20 lbs by summer actually gives you a slight feeling of accomplishment and you may delay a relevant first step, like clearing unhealthy stuff out of your pantry.

Flip it: Keep your big goals to yourself but write them down and keep them visible in your planner and vision board. (Announce them to the world if you want when you’ve reached a milestone!

Start with the hardest, “worst” task first

Eat that Frog. Fit that big rock in the jar first. But is it a tasty frog? Is that the right rock? Should you focus on the hardest/easiest or the biggest/smallest? What’s important is to distinguish between the important/unimportant tasks. The hardest task may not be the most important task and vice versa.

So zero in on the most important task and break it down into micro-tasks. The satisfaction that comes from completing a tiny first step of an awesome (as in big and life-changing) goal is a feel-good motivator for getting things done. That accomplishment might provide just enough positive reinforcement to keep you moving forward with a harder/bigger task.

Flip it: Start with the smallest task of an important project. It may be the easiest, but it will give you a feeling of accomplishment that can provide motivation to keep going through the tougher ones.

It takes 21 days to form a habit

This idea originated from Maxwell Maltz, in his book, Psycho-Cybernetics (1960). 21 days is certainly a good start, but it may be just the beginning of making it stick. According to a research article in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it can take from 18 to 254 days to make a habit a… habit. Yes, 254!!

If you are new to meditating, hanging your keys on a hook, or making your bed every day, it may take a bit longer than 21 days. Consider that a 30-year-old who has never been the bed-making type will have been practicing the habit of leaving their bed unmade every morning for about 25 years (I’m giving 1- 5-year-olds a pass here!). That’s 9,125 days. So 21 days may not be the magic bullet, but it is certainly a milestone to be celebrated!

Flip it: Consider 21 days as a goal for a streak – an unbroken number of days you have practiced this new habit – and reward yourself with something meaningful. Note: “Meaningful” does not have to mean “expensive.”

We have a limited amount of willpower

Willpower printed on silver metal key tagGoogle “limited willpower” and you will see all three sides: It’s limited. It’s not limited. Have some sugar to get more. Ego depletion is the belief that we have a limited reserve of willpower. Deny yourself bacon at breakfast, a greasy burger and fries at lunch, and cookies and a Snickers bar in the afternoon and you are doomed to blow it all in the evening.

This concept gained traction in the late 1990s when Psychologist Roy Baumeister led a study on the topic. But more recently, another study has suggested this might not be the case. Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck discovered that the subjects of Baumeister’s original project already believed that willpower was limited. Note: Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success is one of my favorite books. I recommend it to all, especially parents who are trying to figure out how to support and motivate their children.

What does this mean? Henry Ford’s quote, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right,” may apply here. Belief may drive behavior.

Flip it: This is where positive thinking comes into play. When willpower reserves are running low, review your goals and your reasons why recognize your progress and give yourself a gritty pep talk to stay the course.

Think only of positive outcomes

I will be the first to encourage people to think positive,  happy thoughts! Positive thinking reduces stress and keeps you motivated to be productive. Negative self-talk, on the other hand, is self-defeating and non-productive. When I am anticipating a win or loss for myself, I hope and plan for the best, but… I also imagine the worst-case scenario. Why? Because it forces me to do a little risk analysis and imagine plan B or any actions I need to take to ensure a great outcome. It’s not that I’m planning for failure; I’m preparing for success! And rarely does the worst-case scenario happen!

Flip it: Think positively, but also analyze the worst-case scenario. You might identify some quick fixes that will help you realize your ideal scenario. Just don’t stay in the pit of negativity too long!

Do you need help with goal setting, habit-building, and accountability? Life coaching can help! Call me at 904-500-7678 (SORT), message me, or just go ahead and schedule your free consult for life coaching or organizing! I’d love to help you simplify, amplify and Zen Your Den® (and your life).

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Barbara Trapp, CPO®, Certified Professional Organizer®, Productivity Consultant, and Life Coach
Zen Your Den®
Professional Member, NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals)
Life Transitions Specialist, NAPO
Residential Organizing Specialist, NAPO
Workplace Productivity Specialist, NAPO