Time boxing big projects

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Time boxing means scheduling time on your calendar for working on specific tasks. Some people plan their entire day in 15-minute increments. They know what they’re supposed to do, and when, and by sticking to their schedule, they get a lot done.

Other people, including yours truly, schedule 30 minutes to an hour, or a couple of hours each day, dedicated to certain activities: email, seeing clients, writing, catching up on reading, and so on.

Either way, scheduling your workday in blocks of time allows you to get your important work done, and avoid wasting time doing things that may be urgent but aren’t necessarily important.

Time boxing works because “constraints” force you to focus. When you know you only have 30 minutes for email, you don’t spend two hours.

The Pomodoro Technique (25 minutes of focused work, 5-minute break) is based on this concept.

You can also use time boxing for big projects.

If you’re working on a new presentation, for example, you might schedule one hour a day to work on it until it’s done. If your experience is anything like mine, however, you often find that what you thought would take days or weeks is somehow taking months.

This morning, I heard about another way to use time boxing for big projects. In addition to scheduling the days and hours you will work on the project, decide how many days or weeks you’ll work on it.

In other words, set up a time block of (say) 90 days to write the book, finish the presentation, or achieve the goal.

This forces you to focus on getting the project done, making it more likely that you’ll finish it sometime before the end of next millennium.

I wish I’d thought of that before I started my current work in progress.

The Easy Way to Write a Book

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Taking a look at ‘time blocking’

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Not long ago, I mentioned my horror at the idea of using your calendar to schedule your entire day (in 15-minute increments). Apparently, some folks do that. More power to them. It’s not for me.

On the other hand (when you’re a lawyer, it’s good to have more than one hand), I’ve recently been reading about how some people use their calendar to manage their day and what they do makes sense to me. Instead of breaking up the day into bite-sized segments of time, they schedule blocks of time that are dedicated to important projects or groups of tasks. Because it’s on their calendar, an appointment with themselves, they do them.

When I first heard about this, I balked because, being invested in GTD, I see the calendar as a place to record appointments and other must-do time-oriented tasks.

Once I saw how other people use time blocking, however, I realized that it’s not inconsistent with GTD, as long as you are committed to keeping those appointments with yourself.

Anyway, here’s what I’m doing right now.

I scheduled a one-hour block for writing. I do that first thing.

I scheduled a second block for my walk. I was already walking every day so this was just a matter of putting it on the calendar.

And I scheduled a third block for writing my blog post/email and doing other tasks associated with the business such as answering email.

By 11 am, I’m accomplished my MIT’s (Most Important Tasks) for the day. I’ve got the rest of the day to do other tasks, do more writing, read, work on small projects, take a nap, run errands, or whatever.

So far, so good. I like getting my MIT’s done early. If that’s all I do on a given day, it’s a good day.

Do you use time blocking? GTD? How do you use your calendar to manage your day?

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How to be more productive every day

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“We often assume that productivity means getting more things done each day. Wrong. Productivity is getting important things done consistently. And no matter what you are working on, there are only a few things that are truly important.” So says James Clear in his blog post, The Only Productivity Tip You’ll Ever Need.

His advice: “Do the most important thing first every day”.

It works because our energy is higher, our willpower is stronger, and because human nature compels us to finish what we start (so start something important). When you do the most important thing first, other things that come up during the day won’t keep you from doing what’s most important because, well, you’ve already done them.

If you are a night owl, if you aren’t at full throttle until some time after the morning, start there. Whenever you start working, work on the most important task first.

Clear acknowledges that most people don’t do this. We are conditioned from an early age to respond to the stimuli around us, and we do. We answer emails, return phone calls, and take care of whatever might be in front of us, even if it’s a low priority. We also have work assigned to us by others, or by our duties as parents, and we are conditioned to take care of these things first, even if they aren’t the most important tasks in our day.

Clear doesn’t suggest shirking our responsibilities, but to make room in our life for the things that best serve our agenda, not necessarily someone else’s.

I’m guilty of this myself. I write a daily blog post. I don’t do it first thing in the morning, but I do it before working on other projects which are more important. I write the blog post “first” to get it done, so I can spend the rest of the day working on other things. I get the post done every day but I don’t always get as much work done on my most important projects. In fact, some days, I don’t get anything done on them at all.

I like the idea of starting the day with my most important task which right now means finishing a new book. My fear is that I will get engrossed in working on the book and leave no time to write a blog post, or other things I need to get done during the day.

I think the answer might lie in time blocking. That is, starting the day committed to a block of time for the most important task(s). Give it an hour, or two, and then work on other things. If there’s time left over, I can go back to the most important tasks.

I’ll try it and let you know how it goes.

I use Evernote to be more productive. See how in my ebook, Evernote for Lawyers.

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