A very well-known principle of productivity and time management is known as Parkinson’s Law, which simply states that any task will expand to fill the time allotted for it’s completion. In other words, if you have one week to write a report, it will take you about one week to finish. If you have only two days to write the same report, that same task will take you about two days to finish.
There’s a simple technique often called “time boxing”, that helps you use Parkinson’s Law to your advantage and in this post I introduce the experiment I will be doing with this method over the course of the next week.
The “boxing” in time boxing refers to boxes (i.e. the act of putting time in boxes or compartmentalising time), not the type of boxing that involves gloves and headaches. Time boxing is simply a time-management method in which you schedule a fixed, relatively short amount of time for any task at hand. So, instead of beginning work on something with the intention of keeping at it until it’s done or until you get fed up with it, you begin work with a clear time-frame in mind and a countdown timer running.
The trick is to set the time-frame for each task short enough to keep your focused and productive, but long enough to still get the task done or make good progress (on a larger task that cannot be completed in one sitting).
If you’ve ever tried doing time boxing on a regular basis, you might have noticed that it’s not necessarily easy to implement. Because of this, I’ve decided to do an experiment that may make time boxing easier for me.
The 5-Hour Day
Next week, from Monday to Friday, I will limit my working hours to only five hours per day. For those of you who don’t know: I am self-employed and therefore I can work as much or as little as I like. I also have a hell of a lot of projects going, so I tend to A) work too much and B) feel overwhelmed with all the stuff I should do.
Why limit the working-hours like this? The reason I want to try this is because I’m trying to get at the underlying cause of a lot of problems with productivity. This underlying cause, I believe, is that we do not feel that time is a limited resource. Sure, in theory, we know that time is limited, but it doesn’t really feel that way, does it? Especially if you’re relatively young and if your days tend to be repetitive.
Not feeling that time is a limited resource leads to two problems: Lack of focus and procrastination. It leads to a lack of focus because without a certain sense of urgency, you tend to work on what’s easiest instead of working on what’s most necessary and you tend to take too much time for menial tasks. And it leads to procrastination because you always feel like you can do whatever needs to be done “later”.
By limiting my working hours to just five per day, it will be very clear that my time (for work) is very, very limited. This, in turn, will make time-boxing almost inevitable: With so little time to do all of my daily tasks, I almost have to make a schedule, keep the time spent on each task to a minimum and focus.
Will it work? I have no idea, that’s why it’s an experiment. I will probably make a short post on Wednesday with some updates and then do a full report on how the experiment went next Sunday.
Hopefully, the experiment will be a great learning experience for me and everyone reading along.