Mark Kirby’s piece on Time-Boxing for Freelancers this week got me thinking about all the time I could waste trying to find the perfect tools for the job. The irony of this is not lost on anyone I’m sure so, rather than waste unnecessary time on “productivity p0rn”, I thought I’d take Mark’s advice to heart and set aside exactly (and only) fifteen minutes to find the tools I needed.

Planning work

First I went to see what everyone else was doing and immediately stumbled across what I thought was the perfect little notebook from Muju:

A novel way to plan your day, using items around a clock-face rather than the boring grids we usually squeeze our daily tasks into – unfortunately the Chronotebook is in beta and there is no actual stockist yet.

Luckily time boxing is tool-agnostic so all week I’ve been using Post-it notes, a much cheaper option. I just scribbled the name of the task on the note and put the time I’d allocated in the bottom right-hand corner.

Keeping time

I reminded myself that the timings had to be sacred; if I finished in time great, I’d give myself a gold star and get onto the next task. But when it comes to something open-ended, like a weekly review, I found this was a great way of staying focused on the task in hand and make sure it was competed (while avoiding the temptation to work on any of the tasks I was reviewing).This all worked a treat, I did a weekly review in 25 mins, and I spent the remaining 5 mins doing a quick brain dump to make sure I had nothing else on my mind that I’d forgotten about. I also finished a proof-reading task in plenty of time – I’d originally scheduled 30 mins for the job so I made a mental note that in future 20mins was probably more a accurate for an article of that length.


The other potential Time-boxing ‘foul’ is going over time. Although the serial procrastinators among us might rejoice at forgetting time and getting the job done this leak in the system means we may not have enough time to complete the other tasks of the day. I found this particuarly hard to do, but as the week progressed I found it easier to stay disciplined and realised that plenty of tasks were ‘good enough’ by the time I’d reached the end of the time set – the perfectionists amoung us will find this particularly useful for getting things finished and not in a state of perpetual polishing.

The easiest way of keeping to time (and being reminded to stop!) is to get a timer.

If you are at home a cheap and cheerful kitchen timer will do the job. But if you’re working in front of a computer then there are plenty of free timers available online. I settled for the 3-2-1 dashboard timer widget for Mac because it was simple and unobtrusive, hiding on the dashboard and making a cute ‘ping’ when time was up. If you’d like to keep track of multiple-tasks over a whole day then I’ve found the Slimtimer plugin for Firefox a great way to track tasks and timings right in your browser.