Time management: more advanced techniques

Naïvely, I thought that choosing the right fit for me – out of the myriad of time management techniques out there – would be straightforward. However, I could not find a suitable match among the most popular ones (i.e. Pomodoro, Pareto Principle, Eat That Frog, and Biological Prime Time). What about exploring more advanced techniques then?

Figuring out a process that works for you, whatever that may be, is key to creating your most efficient life.Hannah Greenwood

It is worth mentioning that cutting some of my activities out is not an option (see A nonsolution). In fact, not only will I need extra time to have CogitActive back on track, but I will also need to leave time for leading a healthy life (see Time management: a balanced life). I am aware that time management is not a magic trick to create time; still, I need drastic measures.

Timeboxing

Many people approach their work one task at a time, and concentrate on each until they complete it, however long this takes. Timeboxing is different because it encourages you to focus on time instead of tasks.The Mind Tools Content Team

The method is based on the assumption that tasks often take as much time as you have for them (see textbox below). With timeboxing, you assign tasks to specific timeboxes within which the tasks must be completed (even if only partially). In other words, instead of working on the task until it’s done, you proactively decide how much time you’ll spend on it and when (and even where). Importantly, a timebox should always have specific deadlines and goals associated with it.1 Deadline is indeed a key component of this method. Not only do they allow you to set strict limits on how much time you will spend on a specific task, but also they create a productive sense of urgency; you will thus focus on achieving as much as you can until the timebox expires.

Make sure you never go over 90 minutes without taking a break.

This method allows you to accomplish more because, in addition to the aforementioned sense of urgency, it does not allow multitasking – one of the single biggest killers of productivity (see the so-called textbox in Time management: techniques). Moreover, with the time constraint inherent to this method, perfectionists will have less time to tweak every detail, as they’ll have to move on to the next task in the schedule. Touché!

Parkinson’s Law

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.Cyril Northcote Parkinson

This adage, articulated by the British historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson, means that the amount of time you give yourself to complete a specific task is the amount of time it will take you to complete that task. A corollary of this law is that tasks will increase in complexity to fill that apportioned time.

A simple way to combat Parkinson’s Law is to change your mindset by not assuming to finish a task you must use up all the allotted time. In terms of time management, you should only allocate the necessary time for a task. Thus, if you reduce the time you have to complete a task, you force your brain to focus and complete it. In other words, you should use deadlines and time limits to your advantage.

The trick with this method, however, is to set appropriate lengths of time for your timeboxes. For the method to be effective, timeboxes shouldn’t be too long or too short. On the one hand, allocating too much time for a task will defeat the whole point of timeboxing. On the other hand, if you underestimate how long a task will take, you will not be able to complete your work. Either way, if your timeboxing calculations are off, they will create stress, which impedes good results.

Once your set time is up, stop working immediately – then, assess your results.

Beyond improving productivity (see above), this technique can also be used for tasks you don’t want to spend too much time on1, such as sorting out your emails for instance. By setting a strict deadline for such activities, and ensuring you never cross it, you are making sure you are spending your time on the important things instead. The main idea here is not to finish any specific task, but instead to define the time you will spend on them right from the start.

You can also timebox tasks you have no motivation to do1 – or even activities that you would otherwise neglect (e.g. having a personal hour of power for reading). For the former tasks, it is better to allocate short periods and to make these timeboxes recurring. Even though you may only partially complete your task during a specific timebox, in the end, you will make slow, but certain progress. For the latter activities (e.g. spending time with your kid), not only will this approach guarantee that you dedicate them some time, but also that you make the most of these moments.

Some jobs have to be completed to a high level of quality, however long they take. Timeboxing can cause you to rush, meaning that you fail in your objective.The Mind Tools Content Team

In short, as concluded by the aforementioned authors, timeboxing is a powerful approach, but only use it when it’s appropriate! In particular, because you have to stop working on a task when the time for it expires, this technique can be counterproductive when you find yourself immersed in an important task.

Time blocking

Time blocking means carefully planning your day in advance and dedicating specific hours (which you reserve in your calendar) to accomplish selected tasks. It’s timeboxing at large.Blaz Kos

In time blocking, you divide your day into chunks of time — time blocks. During these blocks of time, you focus on one specific task and do it with an imposed time limit (see timeboxing above). This time management technique was made popular by Elon Musk – for a good reason. This productivity strategy is extremely effective. Like timeboxing, it is based on a single-tasking mindset, promoting devoting one’s full attention to a task for a specified duration of time. However, not only does it give you micro-deadlines to complete tasks, but also blocking out time provides structure. It allows you to be extremely protective of how you distribute your time.

Time blocking and timeboxing are often confused, but while both involve allocating fixed periods to activities, they are different. In time blocking, you set aside certain chunks of time to focus on a given task. In contrast, with timeboxing, you impose a limit on how much time you will dedicate to a specific task. Time blocking is essentially a thoughtful approach to budgeting the set amount of hours you have each day between all the things you need to do.

You take the [168] hours in the week and the 24 hours in the day and chart that out. You include what time you wake up and what time you go to sleep. Everything in between is the space you have to work with.Julie Morgenstern

Specifically, you map out your day with all your activities and tasks. These can be anything from eating breakfast to writing a blog post. By allocating time blocks – thus finding time for everything on your agenda – you have better control of your workload. A structured schedule is indeed crucial for actually delivering what you set yourself for. In addition, this method allows you both to create containers around low-value daily chores (e.g. emails) and to protect space for important in-depth works.

This is more powerful and way more productive than endless to-do lists.Daniel Silvestre

In keeping with Parkinson’s law, the stricter you are with the time you allocate to each task, the more focused and results-driven your work output will be; still, the more chunks of time you can devote to complex tasks, the fewer start-up moments you will have. At the end of every workday, you should review any tasks you didn’t finish — as well as any new tasks that have come in — and adjust your time blocks for the rest of the week accordingly.

We are terrible at estimating how much time tasks will take, and we have a tendency to overcommit our future selves. Time blocking forces you to confront your current priorities and commitments and get intentional about how you spend your finite time.Laura Scroggs

By front-loading your decision-making on what to work on for the day or week, you will be saving time and mental energy when it comes to getting to work. All you need to do is follow your time-blocked schedule. Moreover, when you schedule your tasks, you are more likely to follow through. Last, but not least, this method also ensures unqualified new tasks can’t push their way into your schedule.

The beauty of time blocking is that you can adapt it to your particular productive habits. Remember to block out your breaks and try to keep a spare half hour for flexibility—just in case something unavoidable comes up that you have to respond to.Timely

Day theming

Day theming is a more advanced version of task batching. Specifically, you dedicate a day of the week to a single theme. Not only does this creates a reliable pattern of work, but it also limits the cognitive load of context switching.

When you have single-themed days without any interruptions, your productivity can skyrocket and you can achieve far more work in less time.Timely

This type of time management is useful when you want to make greater progress in a short amount of time2. It is also beneficial when you have a side project or hustle outside of your primary occupation. In keeping with this idea, day theming is a great way for somebody who has multiple kinds of work to be done; just like me!

To be continued…


1 See Timeboxing by Clockify. ^
2 In an article about the benefits of day theming, I have found an interesting example (about learning a new skill), but it can apply to anything else. Specifically, the author explains, If you decide to learn for an hour a day after work, there are days when you’re too tired, when something else comes up, and so on. One month quickly becomes two months, and soon the goal has fallen by the wayside. Touché! This describes perfectly what I am currently facing. Of course, the alternative is to schedule a few themed days in a row (e.g. 2 days) and to devote some focused hours (e.g. 10 hours) to learning that skill each day. Although I fully agree with the problem and the solution, I have a big question for the author: where can you find these “free” days when you have a full-time job? Weekend? I don’t know what this word means anymore (see Sick, again!). ^

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