Monday, 28 January 2013


I always have to have a daily diary which has time slots because I tend to use time-boxing for my to-do. Apart from the day that I ricked my back and couldn’t do anything at all for more than five minutes, I usually do a task to completion then tick it off my to-do list. [See here for a nice article on time-boxing]
At the start of the day, I look at my to-do list and then allocate when I am going to do it. Sometimes it’s as loosely allocated as ‘morning’, ‘afternoon’, ‘evening’, but more often it has a specific time blocked out for the task.

Now I know that there are conflicting schools of thought on this – some think you should time-box and some think it’s the worst thing in the world. I think it depends on how your brain works and that there probably isn’t a one-size fits all in any realm of life, never mind time-management. If it works for you, do it. If it doesn’t, don’t.

And to be honest, although I normally time-box it doesn’t always work for me! Here’s some of the reasons why it does; and why it doesn’t.

Why time-boxing does work for me:
1. It holds me to a timetable and I get things done
I can be prone to procrastinating and getting distracted by almost anything, depending on the day and on my mood. I have a 30 minute sand-timer and when I really, really need to get on with something and can feel the twitchiness in me start up, I time-box something into every half-hour (including breaks) and use my sand-timer. Works (almost) every time.

2. It reminds me how many hours there are in a day
When introducing something new (for example, I’ve been trying to incorporate yoga and some strength training etc. into my daily schedule) it makes me more aware that, since all of my time was allocated to something before I introduced the new thing, some of that something has to go – whether that’s watching TV, reading blogs, whatever. It reminds me that there are only 24 hours in a day, however much there is on my list to do and that unless I decide what I’m not doing, I won’t be able to fit in the things I have decided I am doing.

3. It makes me work out where my day has gone
Some weeks I wonder what on earth I have done and then I can look back through my time-boxed, ticked lists and think, “Oh. That’s what I did.”

4. It stops me from over-loading my day
There are times when I see a blank, unboxed day and I think I am Wonderwoman and write a massive to-do list. Unless I time-box it, there is every possibility that my optimism will hugely outweigh my ability and the laws of physics. Time-boxing makes me actually think how long it will actually take to re-paint the house and that half an hour quite probably isn’t enough!

Why time-boxing doesn’t work for me:
1. I can feel too restricted...
…and then I rebel and go ‘sod it all’ and do nothing. Sad but true! If I feel too much like I’m working to a timetable, all the time, it makes me mutiny.

2. Unless I time-box all day it can all go a bit wrong
This can be a major issue for me as I often only time-box the ‘working’ day (whether this is actually at paid work or my writing days) but then assume I will shoe-horn loads of things into the evening. If I don’t time-box the evening, then I forget that in order to do the ‘extra’ I have to remove something else. I should really have the whole day planned out, including the evening, but if I do that, then I end up rebelling (see no. 1 above!).

3. It can be inflexible
If I’ve time-boxed the whole day and then something pops up unexpectedly, then there isn’t enough fluidity in the system to cope. That’s partly why I only schedule my day on the actual day, so that if that day has already gone awry, I can adapt and if the day before went other than planned, I can incorporate that into the new day.

4. My estimates for how long everything takes can be wrong
For example, I always think it will take me half an hour to stretch and shower after a run. It never does. It always takes nearer to 45 minutes (despite the fact I know this, I’m not very good at remembering it when I’m planning the day!). In the same vein, I can expand a task to fill the time I allocated it. Or feel frustrated when the time I allocated has come and gone and I am nowhere near finishing it. Getting the ‘guesstimate’ right comes with practice though (and is helped by noting how long things actually took).

Overall, I work better with time-boxing than not. What do others do?


  1. This is really interesting. I was wondering about trying this. I have a massive to do list at work which consists of about 60 - 100 items, generally small, which have to be done in a week. With other stuff coming in, it's hard to get through them all. I also like the 30 min sand timer, I might try that too!

    1. Have a read of the article I linked to - there are some good ideas about how to get rid of 'mosquito' tasks - lots of little things that need doing that never get done because they're small. There's also a link out from that article to another about something called (10+2)*5 - where you set a timer for ten minutes and chunk through things for ten mins, then have a 2 minute break, then another 10 minutes of tasks etc until you have done an hour. It's a good method for clearing a big list of small things.
      Hope that's all helplful! Let me know how you get on?

  2. I so agree and can relate to everything you said! I'm especially bad about making a long to do list without regard for whether I actually have enough time to do what's on the list.

  3. I agree too! I think it's a tendency of list-makers to not be realistic about how much time things actually take. I've been using time-blocking with my freelance projects, so at the end of the week I can really see how much time I've spent on 1) individual jobs and 2) freelance as a whole. It's been eye-opening :)