- How To Get Nothing Done: The Art and Science of Wresting Defeat From the Jaws of Victory
- Timeboxing Trilogy, Part 1: What Is Timeboxing, Why Does It Work, And Why Should You Care?
- Timeboxing Trilogy, Part 2: Nested Timeboxing
- Timeboxing Trilogy, Part 3: Dual Timeboxing
- Timeboxing Trilogy, Part 3.5: Timeboxing Turns Work Into Play
- Timeboxing Trilogy, Part 4: Decremental Timeboxing
- Timeboxing Trilogy, Part 5: Incremental Timeboxing and Mixed Timeboxing
- My (Current) Timeboxing Tools: Hardware Timers
- Timeboxing Trilogy, Part 6: Q&A
- Timeboxing Trilogy, Part 7: Isn’t Timeboxing Just A Waste of Time?
- Timeboxing Trilogy, Part 8: Don’t Those Super-Short Timeboxes Make Timeboxing Meaningless?
- Timeboxing Trilogy, Part 9: Birthlines And Timeboxing
- Timeboxing Trilogy, Part 10: Timeboxing, Tony Schwartz and Recovery
- Decremental Timebox → Real Time Conversion Table
- Can Timeboxing Help Me Do Really Big, Hard Things?
- Three Minutes Of…
- Nothing Is Hard
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 seriously not talking about this any more.
Some very pertinent questions about the value of timeboxing (or lack thereof) came up on the Twitter the other day. Since my answers are too long to tweet, I’d like to share them with you here.
“Isn’t time boxing just a long-winded way of procrastinating? Isn’t a better idea just ‘get crap done’? Why use timers and crap?” — @TracyBBoy
Excellent question…s. Let me attempt an answer.
>Isn’t time boxing just a long-winded way of procrastinating?
How is it procrastination to say “I’m going to do thing T for M minutes starting now“, and then do it?
>Isn’t a better idea just “get crap done”?
Is it? What about the people who sit around paralyzed thinking “but it’s gonna take forever”? What about tasks that do need to be done, but also need to be prevented from taking too long? What about tasks that are cyclical, that do not finish? What about tasks that cannot be easily divided into even parts but would benefit from being done piecemeal (and since time can always be divided evenly…)
>Why use timers and crap?
If time is easier to divide than task quantity, then it makes sense to divide by time. Time is (now) a universal, standardized, unambiguous, and often quite convenient metric.
Timeboxing is about giving form to the formless. It’s about making the large small.
At some meta-level, we are only afraid of what we can’t understand. And what does the word “understand” mean? Well, in Japanese, you say 分かる/解かる/理解 (wakaru | rikai), which shares the same root as 分ける (wakeru) and 分解 (bunkai), all of which mean “to break apart“. In jive, when you’re explaining something to someone, you (used to) say “let me break it down for you”.
Once something is broken down into small, visible pieces, you own it; you control it; you understand it. You can’t fear it and you can’t fantasize about it. All that’s left is to do. To play with it. That’s what timeboxing is about.
But…whatever. It’s not like it’s an idea that needs defending. If it would work to go slap everybody in the face and tell them to shut the fork up and get it done, Nelson Mandela bootcamp style, I’d be for that, too. But that’s what we do right now, and it doesn’t work. All it does is make people feel like crap, teach them to work reactively out of fear and shame (rather than proactively out of joy and greed), and add an unnecessary “moral” element to work.
Most work is and should be amoral. I vote for “cleanliness is next to knowing where the heck your stuff is, being able to think straight, and having no household pests” over “cleanliness is next to godliness”.
The difference between timeboxing and “just do it” is the difference between abstinence (“tell them kids to just not do it”) and contraception (“let’s put some mechanisms in place to mitigate the consequences of the fact that those kids may just do it”). The former is simple and straightforward, but also produces higher per capita teen pregnancy and STD rates. The latter requires some overhead, but we’re at least admitting what the nature of most humans is going to be in a society that allows freedom of motion. And that is the point — we need to work with the human organism and not against it; if the human organism wants smaller pieces, then it should get them. The least we can do for ourselves is present work in appealing portions, even if the content of the work itself remains largely unchanged.
Hmmm…got a bit racy there with the examples…
It may well be that you’re already able to just do it. It certainly sounds like it. There are people like that, just as there are people who simply can’t use, won’t use and don’t need to use tools like Remembering the Kanji and SRS. That’s wonderful — it really is. You’re making the right choice; you should continue to go ahead and just do it. There are many areas of my life where I’m like that — where tools and equations just get in the way. But there are plenty where I’m not. In these latter areas, I need to introduce new ideas and tools; I need to think and strategize and tweak; I need to use my head and I need to allow for some overhead — because the alternative is that nothing happens.
Timeboxing is overhead. But it is not net overhead… it brings us net gain. Except when it doesn’t, in which case, it’s just overhead and should be avoided. So don’t timebox, TracyBBoy. You don’t need it; it would be like a dark-skinned person going to a tanning salon. Like the people who just can’t get into SRS, you already have things figured out, and that is a good thing. Run with that. Leave the children to their toys 😛 .
“@ajatt All you need to get crap done. No timers, no convoluted equations, etc.: nowdothis.com” — @TracyBBoy
I’m mostly a pragmatist, too. But you have to know when to be a pragmatist and when to be an intellectual. And sometimes, you need to intellectualize your problem in order to come up with a more pragmatic solution for it. When pragmatism and simplicity get in the way of effectiveness, we call that anti-intellectualism.
I actually really like that app, NowDoThis. It’s not the antithesis of timeboxing at all. In fact, it’s a great timeboxing tool. Timeboxing is all about single-tasking.
Let’s say I put “write book” in the app. Am I going to be able to single-task that? No toilet breaks, no eating, no sleeping? All in one day? All in one sitting? 500 pages? No. I’m going to need to say “write 1 page” or “spend 30 minutes writing”…What’s that? Is that the pitter-patter of little timeboxing feet I hear? 😀
Will timeboxing solve all my problems?
Timeboxing will not solve all your problems any more than your favorite dish is good enough to eat at every meal every day for the rest of your life. Timeboxing is a tool, an ingredient. And it goes great with NowDoThis! While far from omnipotent, it is highly potent. Batteries not included. Dilute to taste. Results may vary.
Big thanks to @TracyBBoy for his probing questions and app suggestion. He really touched on core issues and made this post possible. Tracy exemplifies a healthy attitude toward tools; he is not submissive; he is better than any tool — the tool has to prove itself to him, not the other way around.