Time Boxing or Time Blocking—The Benefits, pt. 2

Last week, the education experts at SpeedyPrep discussed time boxing or blocking as a way to tackle your responsibilities and get them done. We discussed the benefits of this easy, highly effective practice.

This week, we want to share some tips on how to time block/box so you get the most from it. We hope that you will try this approach to your task organization and enjoy the same benefits we have.

Time boxing can be used on big tasks, like a work project or term paper. It can be used on little tasks, too, like chores around the house. Whether your task is large or small, how you box or block it will be the same.  

First, think through your task and estimate how long you think it should take. Then decide at what time you will do it and write this time down. When you write the task down include the name of the task, the start time and end time.  Many people use their calendar or planner to record their time boxes.

When the time box starts:

  • Set a timer for your chosen time length—no longer than 45 minutes. (More on this a little later).  
  • Turn off text messaging and notifications on your phone. Turn off any other potential interrupters—television, music, etc. Time boxing does not do interruptions!
  • Work the task. Focus on it and only it. Stay aware of your time and keep on task. Do not get side-tracked by low-value details.
  • Did you finish early? Great! If you do a similar task later, you can adjust the time you set for it.
  • Did you not finish? Figure out why. If the reason was unavoidable, that’s okay. If not, did you underestimate the time you needed or were you unprepared to really complete the task for some other reason?  Knowing this will help you plan future time boxes better. 

This is basically it. It’s simple. Its value is in its simplicity. Your work may be complicated but structuring it into time blocks is easy. As you use time boxing, you’ll get better at estimating the time you need for tasks. Prepare to enjoy a great sense of accomplishment with every completed box—a real plus for staying motivated and lowering your stress.  

Did you see the image at the top of this blog? If you have a large work project, time blocking will help you start and then build on each finished task until the job is complete…just like the picture.

Here are some specifics for boxing/blocking large tasks:

  • Break large tasks into boxes of 45 minutes or less.  
  • Start with an outline of steps in the order you think you need to do them. Identify your first block and then start.
  • Take a 5 – 15-minute break after you finish a time block. It should be a real break. Doing another task in this interval isn’t a break and does not reset your focus for another 45-minute round of work. Get up, move around, get some air, look at something different and don’t think about the work at all. This is a reset time—let your mind rest for these few minutes!
  • If you have several 45-minute time boxes planned, take a longer break between every two, at least 15 – 20 minutes.
  • Time boxes can be moved around as you need. If your planned time box #5 is better done after #2, you can do that!

45 minutes is generally the upper time limit of our ability to really concentrate on something. That is why we encourage you to keep your blocks no longer than this.

Is there a limit to how short a time block can be?  Not really.  In fact, people find short time blocking is very beneficial for pesky tasks that must get done. 

Let’s say you walk into the kitchen and it needs a good cleaning. You don’t have it in you to clean it all, but what about a 15-20-minute time box? Choose a couple of chores—sweeping the floor and loading the dishwasher, for example. Concentrate on the job and you’ll probably finish with time to spare!  (This author tried this with their family and the entire kitchen was cleaned in a 20-minute time block. Everyone had their task and 20 minutes was all it took…well, 25 minutes actually. We were so close we just stayed to finish!)

Closing Thoughts

Most people can concentrate on something for up to 45 minutes, which is why using time blocks is so effective. When you’ve completed one, you can walk away, having accomplished what you wanted within the time you set. If you’re like this author and many others who use time boxing, you’ll return to this task organizing technique again and again.

Last updated: 4/22/2020.

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