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Published on May 17, 2021

How To Master Timeboxing For Increased Productivity

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How To Master Timeboxing For Increased Productivity

If you’re looking for ways to improve your productivity, chances are, you’ve come across a concept called timeboxing. Even if you’ve never heard the term “timebox” before, you might have come across other aspects that belong to timeboxing, such as calendar blocking and the Pomodoro Technique.

In any case, timeboxing is one of the simplest yet most effective time management strategies. And in this article, you’ll learn exactly how to apply this technique in your day-to-day life.

What Is Timeboxing?

Let’s first look at what timeboxing is. Timeboxing is a very simple concept where you give yourself a certain amount of time for a certain task. This stands in contrast to the “normal” way of working, which is to just work on a task until it’s done. You can either use your calendar and add blocks for certain tasks in your calendar, or you can simply use a timer to give yourself a deadline for your timebox.

The most efficient way to go about it is to combine both. This means you’ll add blocks for work and break blocks in your calendar. Then, write down your to-dos for the blocks in each block.

From here, write down your to-dos for each day. While doing that, make sure that it doesn’t get over three to four hours of high-focus tasks for maximum efficiency. Ideally, the total doesn’t go over six hours because you won’t be able to focus for longer than that.[1]

Now, let’s look at how timeboxing can increase your productivity with a bit more detail.

How Timeboxing Can Increase Your Productivity

While timeboxing is a simple time management technique, it has huge potential to increase your productivity. The effect will be especially big if you haven’t monitored the time you need for certain tasks previously.

1. Making Use of the Parkinson’s Law

Parkinson’s Law says that time expands with a task at hand.[2] This means that you’ll need as much time for a task as how much you give.

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Did you ever have a super tight deadline and wondered how you even got that task done in such a short amount of time? On the other hand, did you ever have a full Saturday with no plans apart from vacuuming your hours ahead of you? Normally, that might take you an hour. But if you’ve got the whole day to only get that done, then you’ll likely need the whole day for it, right?

Now, with timeboxing, you can take advantage of that. Give yourself a deadline to get a task done. Even if you don’t hit it in the beginning, it will soon give you a good gauge as to how long you realistically need to get it done. If you’ve set a timer and work without interruption during that time, you’ll likely get it done once the timer goes off.

2. Helping to Stay Focused

I highly recommend setting a timer for timeboxing. While entering blocks into your calendar is great to give you a good overview, it won’t necessarily help you get more done in less time. Setting a timer and giving each box a deadline will help tremendously, though.

Another huge benefit of timeboxing with a timer is that it helps you stay focused. The easiest way to get started is to use short intervals. The 25 minutes of the Pomodoro Technique (we’ll get to that in a minute) are a great place to get started.

Choose a short time frame and then work without interruptions for this amount of time. Twenty-five minutes is nothing, and even if you feel a strong urge to do something distracting, just push through this short time frame. Even short chunks will help you stay focused. And you’ll be surprised about how much you can get done in 25 minutes if you don’t allow any distractions or interruptions to take away your attention.

3. Making the Amount of Time You Have Visible

Another great benefit of timeboxing is that it makes the amount of time you have each day visible. This is where calendar blocking comes in handy. If you add blocks for your breaks, time off, and your work, then you’ll quickly see that you only have a certain number of hours each day to work. This is especially helpful if you tend to overload your to-do list because you don’t really know how long you’ll need for a certain task.

4. You’re in Control of Your Time

The last main benefit of timeboxing is that you’re in control of your time. Instead of just working on any given task until it’s done, you proactively decide how much time you’ll give it.

You take full control over how much time you want to spend on a given task. This means that you’re in charge of your own work and life, not the other way around. Instead of not knowing what to expect on any given day, you craft it the way you need.

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7 Tips to Master Timeboxing for Increased Productivity

Okay, now that you’ve understood the benefits of timeboxing, here are seven tips that will help you master time boxing for increased productivity.

1. Calendar Blocking Is Essential

As mentioned earlier, calendar blocking is essential for timeboxing. This is what allows you to actually “box” your time. Plus, it will make the amount of time you have each day more visible. Here’s how to do it

Use Google Calendar or another calendar app that you have access to on different devices. Then, add break blocks and blocks for time off. This will give your work a pre-determined limit in which you have to fit your tasks.

Once you’ve got that, add at least one block for high focus tasks. This block should take at least one hour, preferably more, and its purpose is to allow you to work on tasks that require a lot of focus.

Once you got that, add several blocks for low-focus tasks. These are tasks that need to get done but aren’t the most essential tasks that will truly move you forward in your job or business. The most common low-focus tasks are checking and answering emails and admin tasks.

2. Add Your To-Dos to Your Calendar Blocks

The next step is to add your to-dos to your calendar blocks. This gives you a great overview of what needs to get done that day. Plus, it’s a great way to store that information ahead of time. So, if you think of a task that needs to get done on a certain day, you can already add it to this block on that respective day.

Another great benefit of the calendar blocks is that you can make them recurring. So, have the general blocks set as recurring and then add the individual to-dos in each respective block.

3. Determine How Much Time You Need for a Task

Now, this is a very important tip: determine how much time you realistically need for a task.

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In the beginning, this will just be a guess. Just determine something and then see how long it really took you. After a few repetitions, you’ll know how much time it will realistically take you to get that task done.

For instance, writing an article like this one takes me about two Pomodoros or 50 minutes. Preparing it takes me one Pomodoro or 25 minutes and editing it will take me between one and two Pomodoros.

Once you know how much time you need for a task, try to always go a little lower. For instance, let’s say an excel analysis takes you 2.5 hours. Once you know that, set your timer for two hours and 20 minutes next time. Always decrease it a little until you end up at a place where it’s virtually impossible to work even faster.

With this add-on to timeboxing, you’ll increase your productivity a whole lot!

4. Always Set a Timer

To track the time you really need for a task and to have a deadline, you obviously need a timer. I highly recommend always setting a timer, no matter what task you’re working on. Chances are that you’ll take longer if you don’t use a timer, simply because you don’t realize how fast time passes.

Plus, getting distracted is far easier if you don’t have a clock ticking that’s indicating how much time you’ve got left until your timebox is used up.

5. Don’t Allow Any Interruptions

As stated earlier, don’t allow any distractions or interruptions during a timebox.

To increase your productivity, you need blocks where you can work in a focused manner, and that only works if you get rid of all distractions. So, close your email inbox, get rid of all notifications, and put your phone on mute and in a different room when you’re working. Trust me, this will be an incredible booster for your productivity.

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6. Get Started With the Pomodoro Technique

The best way to get started with timeboxing is to use the Pomodoro Technique. This is a very simple technique where you work for 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break. Twenty-five minutes might not seem like much, but if you work without any interruptions, you’ll be able to get a whole lot done.

Plus, this amount is just perfect to push through even if you’d much rather go on social media or surf the web. It’s far easier to push through 25 minutes instead of a straight 8-hour workday.

This is why it’s best to get started with this technique. Make sure to get up from your desk in between the Pomodoros, and allow yourself a longer break after about 4 Pomodoros. Once you have no issues working for 25 minutes straight, you can extend your timer if you’ve given yourself longer time for a task.

7. Get an Accountability Buddy

The last tip for increased productivity with timeboxing is getting an accountability buddy.

Timeboxing, calendar blocking, and the Pomodoro Technique are great techniques to increase your productivity. But an accountability buddy can help you make sure that you actually put your good intentions to work and follow through with what you said.

Team up with someone who will kick your butt if you don’t stick to your timeboxes.

Final Thoughts

Timeboxing is a super simple time management technique that will increase your productivity tremendously. The best way to use it is to add blocks to your calendar. Then, add your to-dos to your work blocks to get a good overview of what needs to get done on any given day.

Determine how long you’ll give yourself for each task. Once you’re ready to start working on a task, set a timer. Either use the Pomodoro Technique and determine how many Pomodoros you’ll need for that task. Or set the timer for the exact length you’ve given yourself ahead of time, for instance, one hour.

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Don’t allow any interruptions during your timeboxes. If you stick to that, you’ll get your tasks done as quickly as never before.

More Time Management Hacks

Featured photo credit: freestocks via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Caroline Dougoud

Productivity and Lifestyle Design Coach helping busy entrepreneurs and professionals get back control of their time and results

How To Master Timeboxing For Increased Productivity How To Ask the Right Questions For Effective Learning

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Last Updated on December 2, 2021

10 Reasons Why You Have Trouble Concentrating (and Their Solutions)

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10 Reasons Why You Have Trouble Concentrating (and Their Solutions)

What were you doing when this article caught your eye? Chances are, you were having trouble concentrating on another project.

Even before COVID-19, balancing your work, family, and social life made concentrating a challenge. These days, it can seem downright impossible.

Don’t let a little bad news—or good fun—break your focus. Here is a simple guide and tips to help you concentrate better.

Signs of Trouble Concentrating

Signs and symptoms of not concentrating vary from person to person. However, what we can experience are:

  • Have a struggling working memory. You don’t know what occurred not that long ago;
  • Trouble sitting still;
  • Not being able to think clearly;
  • You frequently lose things or can’t remember where things were placed;
  • Have an inability to make decisions or perform complicated tasks;
  • Unable to focus
  • Lacking physical or mental energy
  • Constantly and consistently making mistakes even if you don’t mean to.

When it comes to difficulty concentrating, you may notice these symptoms occur at various points for people. Some people need to be in certain settings for these symptoms to happen. For others, it can be during a certain time of day.

10 Most Common Causes of Trouble Concentrating

Here’re 12 most common reasons why you have trouble concentration, and the fixes for each of them.

1. Digital Distractions

Right now, do a little experiment. Pull up your browser history, hit Ctrl+H, and see where you’ve been all day. Frightening, right?

You jumped in and out of email. You bounced from social media to digital publication and back again. Oh, and look at those half-dozen retail sites you scrolled through looking for a new pair of shoes.

Then, there’s your smartphone. Every few seconds, you get a new notification from Twitter, Instagram, or CNN. Each time, your eyes dart from your computer screen to your phone. You’d hate to miss something, right?

The Fix: Schedule Your Day

While a little flexibility is important, you should set aside a period of time for tasks you know you’ll need to complete.

Schedule time to:

  • Read and respond to work emails
  • Make headway on your top two or three work projects
  • Engage in professional development
  • Do household chores
  • Help the kids with homework
  • Run that Zoom tutorial with your partner again

Leave short gaps in between as buffer times in case something goes over the intended time. Everyone needs to unwind with a good distraction now and again.

The key is controlling when you do so, rather than letting it control you.

2. Daydreams and Memories

Remember that little café where your spouse proposed to you 15 years ago? Wouldn’t your dining room look great with the same little tables and subway tile on the floor?

Everyone loses themselves in daydreams and memories sometimes. Your mind wanders to the future or the past because those places are more pleasant than what you’re handling at that time. This causes you to have trouble concentrating on what you need to focus on.

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Nonetheless, you have a deadline to meet, so how can you keep yourself focused when you have trouble concentrating?

The Fix: Stay in the Present

Daydreaming isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Imagination can provide a spark of creative genius or visualization of what you want in life. You just need to do it when it makes sense, not when you should be focusing on work.

Stay in the present by keeping your daily to-do list on your desk. When your mind starts to drift, pull yourself back to what’s right in front of you. Ground yourself by focusing on something real, like your breath, before turning your attention back to the task at hand.

With that said, make time to let your mind wander on occasion. Allow yourself the luxury of dreaming when it’s not pulling you away from something you need to get done.

3. Headaches

While you might be able to power through mild ones, a splitting migraine can destroy any hope you have of concentrating for a period of time.

Headaches and migraines are caused by a wide range of issues, including stress, sleep deprivation, diet, eyestrain, and medications[1]. Throw a global pandemic on top, and it’s no wonder your head is pounding.

The Fix: Use Your Head

Like that bottle of hand sanitizer, keep your headache and migraine medications on hand at all times. If getting to the pharmacy is a challenge these days, migraine services like Nurx can diagnose you and deliver medication to your door.

If your headache isn’t severe, try a medication-free approach. Some people find relief simply from drinking water, applying a cold compress, or inhaling essential oils.

4. Racing Thoughts

When is that project due? I’ve got to get something for Jane’s baby shower. I’m almost out of shampoo. I need those audit figures. What do I make for dinner tonight?

Does that scenario sound familiar? When you get busy, you suddenly remember five other items that you need to do or think about.

All of this can be so distracting that you’re unable to keep up and have difficulty concentrating.

The Fix: Meditate and Be Mindful

If you’re like most people, your mind is lost in thought 47% of the time, causing concentration problems. [2]

Meditation is a great way to clear the clutter, restore cognitive functioning, and focus on the present.

The good news is that meditating is easy.

Simply sit somewhere comfortable, take off your shoes, and set a timer for ten minutes. Then, just focus on your breathing.

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Don’t try to control it; simply notice your inhales and exhales, and let thoughts pass unjudged.

Mindfulness meditation, described above, is just one type. Mantra and movement meditations are also popular. Figure out what works for you, and keep those racing thoughts at bay.

5. Unresolved Issues and Arguments

Life is messy, and if you’re like me, one of the greatest concentration killers is unresolved disputes and arguments.

Maybe you argued with your partner last night. Perhaps you both went to bed angry, and it’s been bothering you all morning.

Or maybe you’re fed up with a co-worker who always talks louder than is necessary because they want everyone to hear about their latest date.

Your anger and annoyance might be well placed, but it doesn’t help to linger on these things. Your brain cells are better used for something else.

The Fix: Get Some Closure

Instead of leaving an argument up in the air, try to solve it. Stick to the point, stay calm, listen, and bring the disagreement to some sort of resolution.

If a co-worker does something to irritate you enough to interfere with your ability to concentrate, pull them aside and tell them. Be rational—not angry—and try to understand what might motivate their actions.

Otherwise, nothing is going to change, including the fact that you’re having difficulty concentrating.

6. Lack of Sleep

Sleep deprivation isn’t just a health issue. It also hinders your ability to concentrate during waking hours.

There are medical reasons for poor sleep too. Diabetes, sleep apnea, respiratory issues, cardiovascular disease, generalized anxiety disorder and neurological disorders.

For those, you need to seek medical advice and treatment.

But for most people, poor sleep is the result of mental health struggles and anxiety about all kinds of things. Finances, kids, parents, or maybe that job change you’ve been considering.

You have a lot on your mind, and this causes you to have trouble concentrating.

The Fix: Have Some Sweet Dreams

Losing as few as 16 minutes of sleep can throw you off your game the next day. Getting to sleep might be as easy as changing your mattress or your pillow, but the bigger culprit is your routine. Key steps include to help restore cognitive functioning are:

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  • Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including on weekends.
  • Control your exposure to light at night, including smartphones and computer screens. Use that time to confront those weighty things on your mind by making a list of concerns or updating your to-do list.
  • Avoid overeating. Large meals close to bed can make you feel bloated and uncomfortable.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine. Both substances interrupt your natural sleep cycle.
  • When you do lie down, turn off the lights and close your eyes. Take some deep breaths, and drift into dreamland.

7. Lack of Exercise

Exercise lands at the bottom of the to-do list for many people. When they run out of time, they skip it. But they pay the price later in the form of their concentration.

Even moderate, regular physical activity benefits your physical health, improves your sleep, lessens anxiety, and increases mental acuity.

If you aren’t making time for exercise during the day, you’re hurting your ability to stay focused.

The Fix: Get Moving

Not everyone is an athlete, and not everyone wants to work out under the scrutiny of their fellow gym-goers. And that’s okay.

At the end of the day, what matters is sustainability.

Rather than launch into that soon-to-fail New Year’s resolution approach to exercise, start with literal small steps, like walking the dog or taking the stairs.

If it only takes you five minutes to eat that protein bar at your desk, use the rest of your lunch break to take a walk. Even if it’s around the block, you’ll come back feeling refreshed.

8. Boredom

If you’re bored with a work project, it’s easy to fall victim to even the smallest distraction. The same can happen when not enjoying what you’re doing too.

Boredom is the starting point that can spiral out of control easily. It leads to a lack of motivation, which leads to fatigue, which leads to scrolling through your Facebook feed for hours, killing your ability to focus.

Depression and boredom are tightly linked too so boredom could be a sign of something deeper.

The Fix: Get a Fresh Perspective

The pandemic has put a stranglehold on our social lives. Despite the restrictions on seeing other people and going out in public, you need to find a way to put the “social” back in your life.

Work-life balance is important, especially under these circumstances.

Even if you’re not comfortable with eating at a restaurant or visiting Grandma, there are things you can do. Zoom and Facetime are good options, but you might also think about having a couple of friends over on your patio while maintaining social distance.

Keep it short so no one even has to use your bathroom.

And about that boring work project? Tweak your attitude by thinking about how it will benefit your client.

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Find a way to make it fun, perhaps by discussing it with colleagues who make you laugh. You can check out more ways to make boring work interesting in the following video:

If all else fails, just muscle through it. Mark it off your list, and move on to something more engaging.

9. Excess Stress

The pandemic, politics, the economy, what’s happening in the news, your work, and more can be big points of stress. In some cases they are manageable.

But there are some days where you can’t help but worry and get stressed out about these things.

I understand that, however, it’s also a lifestyle choice for you to be getting stressed out about those things.

The Fix: Destressing

Stressing out over those things will not only cause a decrease in cognitive functioning and concentration but is also the starting point for other problems listed in this post.

To solve this, learning to destress in various ways will help out a lot. These methods include:

  • Making it a rule to stress out about things you can control rather than worry about what you can’t control.
  • Practice mindfulness or meditation
  • Give yourself a break
  • Talk to other people about your worries
  • Avoid using drugs and alcohol and instead, find some other way to unwind

10. Lack Of Nutrients Or Hunger

Finally, the last reason you can’t concentrate is maybe you’re not getting the right nutrients or not eating enough, to begin with.

Lack of nutrition is very common since people can get distracted by other things that they forget to eat. That or they only grab small snacks and aren’t getting the nutrients they need.

The Fix: Eat Better And Healthier

It’s vital that you’re eating properly and that you’re getting the right nutrients in your body. Vitamins like D3 and B12 help out a lot and can be taken as supplements.

In terms of actual foods, blueberries, green tea, avocadoes, fish, water, dark chocolate, flax seeds, and nuts are all proven to help with focus and concentration.

Beyond that, ensure you are eating enough at each meal and that you are eating consistently over the course of the day.

Though it’s not very common, you may also have trouble concentrating due to chronic conditions. Difficulty concentrating is a side effect of:

When Should You Seek Help?

Looking for help should be a priority if you:

  • Haven’t been diagnosed with any of the cognitive functioning disorders mentioned above and you’ve tried several of those methods mentioned above to fix difficulty concentrating;
  • Experienced loss of consciousness, severe chest pains, severe headaches, sudden and unexplained working memory loss;
  • Unusual feelings of tiredness;
  • Trouble sleeping;
  • Or seeing a decline in performance in work or school.

The Bottom Line

Concentration requires a lot of energy, motivation, and focus. That’s why most people have trouble concentrating. When there are all sorts of sounds, lights, and people competing for your attention, that combination can be elusive.

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Do your best to remove distractions, clear your mind, and take care of yourself. Those work projects will practically check themselves off once you get into a groove.

More to Help You Concentrate

Featured photo credit: Rabie Madaci via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Health Publishing: Headache: When to worry, what to do
[2] Columbia University: How Meditation Can Help You Focus
[3] Mayo Clinic: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

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