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Timeboxing Trilogy, Part 5: Incremental Timeboxing and Mixed Timeboxing

This entry is part 10 of 26 in the series Timeboxing Trilogy

Here we go again with another entry in the timeboxing series…I really should stop calling it a “trilogy”, since there are quite clearly more than three parts, but…whatever. I mean, it was originally intended to span only three parts but it kept — OK, no, we’re not talking about this any more.

Oh, go here to read the series from the very beginning, and here to read the previous installment.

What The?

That’s right — incremental timeboxing. As the name would suggest it is simply decremental timeboxing…in reverse. I haven’t felt the need to use incremental timeboxing as much as decremental timeboxing, but it can be useful for situations where you need to warm up and work up the energy to do some kind of work (rather than make effective use of waning energy).

Timebox Sizes (“Increment Patterns”)

Increment patterns:

  • 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10 (units: minutes) | Each timebox is one minute longer than its predecessor
  • 1-2-4-8-16 (units: minutes) | Each timebox is double the length of its predecessor
  • 30-60-90-120 (units: seconds) | Each timebox is 30 seconds longer than its predecessor

Mixed Timeboxing

Incremental-then-Decremental (“Curved” or “Parabolic” Timeboxing)

I haven’t tried it yet myself but I imagine that incremental and decremental timeboxing could actually be mixed together, with timeboxes growing in size up to a certain point, peaking, and then winding down. Depending on the work in question I get the feeling that it could be a really effective technique. Patternwise, perhaps it would go a little something like this:

  • 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1 (units: minutes) | Increment by one minute, peak, decrement by one minute
  • 1-2-4-8-4-2-1 (units: minutes) | Double timebox length, peak, halve timebox length
  • 30-60-90-120-90-60-30 (units: seconds) | Increment by 30 seconds, peak, decrement by 30 seconds

The only potentially tricky part would remembering which side of the curve you were on (rising or falling). You could also just go by your energy level: keep incrementing gradually until you feel tired, then start decrementing rapidly — more rapidly than you incremented — like so:

  • 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-5-3-2-1 (units: minutes)
  • 1-2-3-4-5-3-2-1 (units: minutes)
  • 30-60-90-120-240-480-120-60-30 (units: seconds)

Strictly speaking, it might be slightly inappropriate to call “incremental-then-decremental” a form of nested timeboxing. A more descriptive name would be something to the effect of “curved” or “parabolic” timeboxing. Coz…it cuurrrrves…like space-time. No? Dexter’s Lab? Anyone? No? OK, no…


Another timeboxing mash-up would be to use dual (two-timer) timeboxing that decrements. Basically you have the big timer doing decremental timeboxing, and the small timer looping through the big timer on a fixed loop of, say, 60 seconds. Example times:

  • BIG TIMER: 10-5-3-2-1 (units: minutes)
  • SMALL TIMER: 1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1… (units: minutes)

Fun for all the family. Anyway…that’s it from me for now 🙂 . I’d love to hear about your timeboxing techniques and success stories — feel free to share them here.

Oh yeah — here’s the next installment in the series, Timeboxing Trilogy, Part 6: Q&A.

Series Navigation<< Timeboxing Trilogy, Part 4: Decremental TimeboxingMy (Current) Timeboxing Tools: Hardware Timers >>

  16 comments for “Timeboxing Trilogy, Part 5: Incremental Timeboxing and Mixed Timeboxing

  1. July 11, 2010 at 00:13

    This actually sounds so interesting – and kinda fun – that I can’t wait to try it. At the same time, I’m kinda terrified by the idea of me actually wanting to try something related to _work_. It’s hard to break out of the assumption that work does not – and cannot – equal fun…

  2. July 11, 2010 at 00:28

    Next entry: Randomized timeboxing for unpredictable permutations of the same numbers 🙂

  3. John K
    July 11, 2010 at 01:30

    Oddly enough, I use the Mixed Timeboxing strategy when I’m doing long-distance running (long-distance for me, that is. You ultra-marathoners pipe down 😉 ). I intersperse one-minute walking periods into running segments of gradually increasing, then decreasing, durations. For example, maybe segments of 12, 15, 18, 15, 12, and 10 minutes. Haven’t tried it yet on SRS sessions, but I’m definitely going to experiment with it.

    Nice series of articles on timeboxing, Khatz. ありがとうございます!

  4. July 11, 2010 at 06:48

    I’ve been using incremental timeboxing, because for me, the hardest part of work is just getting it started, and getting it done with. As anyone who listens to what Khatz has to say, just keep starting, and let the finishing take care of itself. Also, the things we have to do and the things we need to do, if we get them out of the way, then we can just do the things we want to do. So, with that in mind, I’ve been attacking the things I have to or need to do, getting myself moving with incremental timeboxing, doing 1 minute at first. It’s funny though, I get going after 1 minute, and immediately start doing the 2 minute interval. Whenever I see something else I want to do (even if it’s something as simple as throwing away a paper cup, which you wouldn’t normally think of as a “reward”) I wait until my current interval is done before I do that thing. I’ve also used rewards like taking a bite of a muffin I’m having for breakfast as something to do between time intervals.

    I actually rarely get past 5, and definitely not 10, before I forget to reset the timer and just work and work a whole bunch on the thing that I originally needed to use timeboxing just to get started. If I stop working on it, and need to get going, I just start at 1 minute again.

    The other thing I’ve been doing, which isn’t exactly related, was to start blocking out times that I would like to get things done in. This give me a time when I “should” start working on something. Of course, I rarely want to start working on it, thinking of other things to do instead. But, I just start with a 1 minute timer, and just like that, I’m moving on the project that I need to be.

  5. Ceryni
    July 12, 2010 at 00:40

    I can’t believe I never thought of using the incremental/decremental for anything else! I generally have used that principle when it came to weight training (Specifically push-ups) I volunteer that we call that principle “Pyramid Timeboxing” based on the fact you go up oneside, peak, and come down the other.

  6. July 16, 2010 at 00:02

    A trilogy in six parts eh? I’ve seen stranger…

  7. 葩優等
    July 18, 2010 at 01:42

    Interesting about timeboxing…

    I’m a middle school student, just finished first year. Of course, suddenly I found myself with tons more homework and projects 😉 (that, and I switched to a private school.) A lot of times I was waking up at 4AM just to finish homework that I had procrastinated on badly.

    My solution? Timeboxing sheets!
    I would plan ahead and, say, write “代数学の宿題–5分 // 休み–2分 // 分学–10分” and so on and so forth. I would set my iPod timer and work on limited periods of time, knowing that I probably wouldn’t finish within them so I would add more. I became more focused all the time since I was switching activities constantly… and homework actually became a bit fun since it was a bit of a “beat-the-clock” game now.

    Now, I’m bad, but I really haven’t been very good about using the SRS and reps and anything D:
    My goal for today is to start RTK (for the third time) and really use the SRS more to help and all.
    And I’ll be sure to set my timeboxes!

    Timeboxing is a great strategy, thank you very much (:

  8. 葩優等
    July 18, 2010 at 02:03

    Sorry for the double post, but I wanted to share some ソフト!! (software time yay!)

    Like I mentioned, my iPod touch has a timer, but you have to program it each time. Besides, I’m the type of OCD person that likes to see the album artwork while listening to her music 😉

    So I set out to search for a timer for my Mac… and I stumbled upon 発表タイマー at the Apple Japan website.
    I don’t entirely understand, but you can set up to five timers at a time.
    When you Save Settings and Start, all timers start at the same time.

    Figured it might be useful to some of you guys, so here’s the dmg file link.:
    Mac OS X only.

  9. Dmitry
    October 28, 2010 at 01:24

    This reminds me of weight-burning schedules of a treadmill. One minute rest, two minutes running uphill, one minute rest, two minutes running uphill at a steeper slope, etc. They are designed to aid weight loss, but they also reduce boredom of the exercise, so more gets done and satisfaction is higher compared to straight running for N minutes.

    Another interesting thing is how workouts get organized. There’s usually a balance between too little change, which is doing the same exercises for long periods of time, and too much change.

  10. Jan
    December 15, 2011 at 07:23

    I’m definitely thinking about writing a program in Python that lets you input 1) what kind of time boxing: incremental, decremental, or parabolic 2) Peak time 3) value of decrement/increment 4) break time. Now if only I knew how to use Python… hmmmm.

  11. kai
    January 6, 2013 at 07:25

    Hey Khatz, have you ever needed to use any of these productivity hacks for your computer science studies? If not, what is the difference between studying Japanese and studying for a career related field beside the fact that a career related field has money as the extrinsic motivation while language has fun which needs to remain intact? If I just answered my own question feel free to tell me that as well. Thanks.

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