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The Timebox Is Smarter Than You

Suit up and fasten your seatbelt. Strap up and strap in. Because this post is gonna be one of those epically sucky ones. What’s that? They’re ALL epically sucky? Yeah, I hate you too lol.

No, but seriously. This post is probably gonna suck (and be cryptic to boot) because I’m getting frustrated just writing it. Why am I getting frustrated? Because it’s full of ideas that are very crystal clear in my head but that are hard for me to express in words. And that gap is driving me NUTS!! ARRRGGGH!!!

Real rage here, mate.

Believe it or not, I suck at expressing myself; which is probably why I write in such large volume. I’m sorry, what’s that? Oh, you do believe it? Again, I hate you too lol.

OK, here we go.

We (humans) are incapable of working and monitoring our work at the same time. We can only do one thing well at a time 1. When working, and I mean really working, it is very easy to get lost in the moment, lost in the work, and continue indefinitely. 2

Sometimes, this is good thing. Sometimes, we want to get lost and just keep going. But long-term it can be a bad thing because it encourages and endorses binging behavior; it sets a precedent and expectation of limitless work.

If we’re always going over our timeboxes then they start to lose meaning. Consciously and unconsciously we know that the game is rigged for binging. And, as we well know, after the binge, must come the purge. If we binge on doing a task, we will tend to “purge” by not doing it, by avoiding it, by putting it off. This isn’t a real psychological theory with academic backing or anything, just an empirical observation of human behavior.

Again, for one-off task, this may be fine. But not if we want to create an active habit 3, then you want to obey the timebox religiously.

Only do activities for as long as the timebox you set for them. The timebox is smarter than you not because you are dumb but because you can’t work and monitor/think about work at the same time. The timebox is smarter than you because it was decided by you when you had the time and energy to think only about time. More accurately, it’s not so much smarter than you as it is wiser; it’s sort of a crystallized intelligence (and I mean that both literally and metaphorically…mostly it’s just a pun on quartz crystals, though…I dunno, man, go with it lol.).

If you want to lay a timebox egg every day then do not kill the goose by going over your time. Stop when the bell rings. You have done your job. Now let it go. Come at it again next time. It’s all about that mediocre excellence.

Let me tell you something. I’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again — experience has taught me that everything that matters is worth repeating because we don’t remember what matters most; we remember what we hear most frequently. Having lived in both types, the difference between a so-called Third World country and a First World country is this: the average (and the baseline, but mostly the average). The highs — the high points of luxury and lifestyle — in a Third World country can easily equal and best any First World country. So, Third World countries are hares. They top high, but their bottoms are ridiculous, which destroys their overall average.

In a way, you want to be a First World nation of one. No binging, no purging. Instead, balance, trade-offs, stability, logic, consistency. Raise your bottoms. Do more than nothing. But not too much more. Work little and often. Have wide standards, not high standards.


  1. we do passive immersion because we don’t need to do everything well all the time in order to benefit from it, but that’s another story
  2. This is why managers exist.

    One of my college buddies, Stantheman, became a Project Manager at Microsoft right out of college. Most of his work, he told me, consisted of getting his team of engineers to stop working.

    We tend to think of managers and supervisors as slavedrivers, on the lookout for malingering. But this is far from the whole picture. Via negativa, deciding and enforcing the cessation of work is as important — arguably more so — as simply going balls to the wall and working to death — hello, Japanese companies 😉 .

    This is why Dan S. Kennedy calls the deadline the greatest human invention of all time, because it is the invention that made all other inventions possible. Generally speaking, we do not have forever, so it is no use working forever. Set limits.

  3. Again, passive habits are a different beast. You definitely still want to turn on your L2 TV at 9am and turn it off 2 years later, as it were.

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