This article was last updated on March 18, 2014
When you’re feeling dreary and not up for the challenge, timeboxing can give you a massive motivational boost. It can quite literally transform you from being an unwilling procrastinator to an all out working machine. If you’re not sure what timeboxing is, I’ll explain in a minute. Have you ever experienced this feeling?
You have a big boring task that needs doing. It could be clearing out a spare room, filing hundreds of reports, sending hundreds of email – it doesn’t really matter.
You look at the task and you have an overwhelming feeling of dread. You stand and stare at what needs doing, not knowing where to start. Your stomach starts to spin as although you don’t want to do it, you know it needs doing. The problem is that you just cannot summon up the mental and physical strength do start. You carry on standing and staring…
In this sort of scenario, timeboxing has helped me loads in the past.
What is timeboxing?
When you look at a boring task it can be demoralising. Especially if you don’t know how long it’s going to take. Nobody wants to spend their lives doing dreary things. That’s why motivation is difficult. Timeboxing flips this thinking. It’s easiest if I explain with a scenario.
You have a room to tidy that has been used as “storage” for years. You know it’s going to be hard work, boring, and take a long time. Instead of just drearily getting on with it, you could do this.
Instead of grinding through it, you could instead give yourself 20 minutes to do it. Yes, set a stopwatch, or look at a clock and give yourself a time frame to work within. Treat it a bit like a game. Have the mindset that you will do as much as you can, then stop once it’s hit 20 minutes.
That’s it in a nutshell. You give yourself a time frame to work within, try and get as much done as you can, then stop once the time has elapsed. If you treat it like a game or a challenge, and you know you won’t be doing it all day, you feel much more motivated to get to work.
It may even help you to take a picture of what needs doing at the beginning, then another one after your time period has elapsed. The difference can be quite striking when you really go for it. And you get a nice warm smug feeling of self satisfaction when you show others what you accomplished in a short period of time!
If you don’t complete the task in the time frame, that’s fine. It’s now far closer to being complete, and you can always timebox it again later. The important thing is that you have done some hard work and moved nearer to your goal of completion.
How it works
In my experience, timeboxing works for 2 reasons.
First it breaks the job down into a manageable time frame. It is not so daunting when you know exactly how long you’re going to be doing a job for. An unlimited time frame can be too much for us. Especially if it’s a job you don’t want to be doing.
Second it gives you a goal to work towards. If you treat it like a challenge, you want to make a big difference within the time frame you’ve given yourself. It turns a boring task into more of a game, and helps motivate you to work faster.
Timeboxing does of course have it’s limits. It doesn’t lend itself well to tasks where quality is the key. For instance you might not want to use it when writing a very important 5000 word report. And certainly not when painting a masterpiece! It is best used for those more monotonous jobs, which are usually the ones that are most difficult to motivate yourself to do.
Timeboxing is giving a task a time period to work on it. Then treating it like a game and seeing what you can accomplish within that period of time. This helps you to really “go for it” rather than slowly grind through the task with a dark cloud above your head. You have something to aim for, and you know it’s a relatively short burst.
I know it has worked well for me and I use it in some way most days.
Try it and see how it works for you. I think you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve in a short space of time when you are timeboxing. You never need to fear those dreary mind numbing tasks again!
I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments bellow.