As I mentioned in my last post, I am great a devising projects, and terrible at follow through. This includes blogging, language studies (Japanese and Korean), Buddhist practice (e.g. nembutsu, meditation, etc), among many other things. The problem is always the same: at the end of the day, I never feel like I have enough time to finish things, so I inevitably sacrifice all or some of my projects and get frustrated. I am a real type-A personality sometimes. ;-p
But then recently, I read on AJATT’s website a simple concept called timeboxing. AJATT didn’t invent this, it’s a well-known subject, but AJATT is very effective at bringing such useful bits of advice to a broader audience.
The idea, as I understand it, works like so: if you have an activity you want to do, it’s better to do it in small units of time, even daily. The amount of time you put into it depends on the activity, but it should short enough that you’re practically guaranteed to have time for it. Having a timer helps too.
For example, for my Anki flashcards, which I do on my iPhone using AnkiMobile, I set a timebox for both Japanese and Korean decks to be 5 minutes. Five minutes is short, and may not cover all cards due, but I can definitely spare 5 minutes for each deck. Anki is nice enough to warn me that the time is up too so I don’t forget.
As AJATT writes in another article, smaller blocks of time “invite action” rather than procrastination. If I did 20-minutes blocks of time on Anki, I could accomplish more per block, but I am also more likely to hesitate and procrastinate, rather than do something. The point of all this is to just keep doing something routinely, rather than not doing it at all.
So, I also started trying this for Buddhist practice too. Being perfectionist, I spend more time worrying about what is the right practice, whether I am doing it enough, or is it working, etc., than actually doing it. So, I decided to time-box this as well. I “boxed” my Buddhist practice to just reciting the nembutsu 10 times a day. If I stick within my time-box daily, this takes about 30 seconds a day. Pretty easy.
You can do this with exercise too. I started experimenting with exercising for 1 minute a day. One minute may seem like much, but that’s still more than I did all last week. I found 1 minute of push-ups and sit-ups was still a good workout, and I am less likely to procrastinate over a 1 minute task, than a 30 minute task.
So easy, a caveman can do it!
But sometimes 5 minutes is not enough. For example, blogging a post on average takes me 1-2 hours (like I said, I am a perfectionist), so here 5 minutes is simply too little. Instead, I can time-box to something smaller like 20-30 minutes, and simply finish the next day rather than spending hours and not getting other things done. ;p
But for longer blocks it helps to subdivide them into smaller tasks and timeboxes. Timeboxes within timeboxes in other words. I’m doing that right now with this blog post. ;-p
Or, for my Korean studies, I listen to podcasts that take about 10-15 minutes on average. I also need a little time at the end to put new vocabulary into Anki. So here, the timebox might be 20 minutes, but I can divide that into 15 minutes for listening and 5 for inputting new vocab.
I am still working out the details of particular timeboxes, but having projects and hobbies put into smaller, more manageable chunks of time has helped immensely already. I feel like I am getting a lot more done, and not so flustered like before. To my surprise, I feel satisfied just getting even a little bit done a day, rather than doing it in big, big chunks that took too long.
Amazing what 5 minutes can do for one’s life. :-)