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Time Management: Time-Boxing and Sacrificing

Wed May 18 2011
Time-BoxingDoes time-boxing work? Like many things, there's no clear-cut "yes" or "no" answer here. It all depends on how you apply it. It may work for some, while not for others. It works for me. First, let's back up a few steps.

What is Time-boxing?

The term "time-boxing" basically is the practice of allocating a "box" of time to something, and sticking to that without fail. The idea is to stick to this as if it's the law, and there would be serious penalties if broken (sometimes this is actually the case!).

Who needs it, and why?

Anyone with time management issues can possibly make use of time-boxing. It's not just about that though. It also has to do with managing what you do with that time, and accepting the fact that sacrificing things sometimes is ultimately the answer. To relate this to learning Japanese, I'm sure a lot of people are wondering exactly how I manage to fit it into my daily schedule. For starters, I have a full-time job, at 40 hours a week (sometimes more), with an hour drive each way to and from work. I also have a house to take care of (repairs, maintenance, cleaning, cooking, etc.), which is a daily effort. I also have animals who require a metric fu- crapton of attention. This begs the question - how do I fit Japanese in? Quite simply, I allocate time for it every day. Specifically, I give it an hour a day for Kanji studies alone. And every day, my study time is exactly an hour, no more, no less. The key is not to set goals in terms of "I have to get x, y and z done by...", but more along the lines of "I'm going to work at this for 30 minutes to put a dent in it, and come back to it later". Simply put, It'll be there tomorrow, and the next day. Time-boxing is applying this concept to everything (within reason) in life. At work, at home, etc. For example, in the morning I allocate 45 minutes to walk the dog, get a shower and eat breakfast. I don't go over that time frame. Sometimes I'll wind up getting done early, in which case I might pick up another Kanji or two. If I'm running late, I'll grab breakfast as I go out the door to work. However, I try to keep that as rare as possible. Obviously there are things that come up in life that you can't control, and that's okay. Just work with it the best you can. Time-boxing is only as effective as you make it, in your situation.

Okay, so what if I HAVE to be done with something, but go over my allotted time?

Honestly, it can happen. But try some various things to work around it or prevent it (or at the very least reduce how much you go over). For example, when I have a coding project that's due, the due date isn't going to change because it took me longer to program something. It's still due when it's due. Sometimes features or "extras" have to be cut to meet the deadline, and that's okay.

Is there any advice for avoiding this?

Some, yes. Let's face it - sometimes running over schedule is out of our control, and there's nothing that can be done about it. This should be rare. Some ideas to consider to avoid this: Basically, always aim to hit your goal on target, or even before hand - but not so much beforehand that you miss things you could have fixed, done or added. If you use time-boxing strictly, as if it's the law you'd be breaking by going over, your efficiency will skyrocket. I should add also that I add Japanese to everything I do if I can. I listen to it while I work, walk the dog, etc. When I'm driving home, I have Japanese radio playing and I repeat Japanese sentences as I hear them, even if I don't understand them. So, while I generally get about 10+ hours a day immersed in Japanese in some form, I'm guaranteed 1 hour per day by time-boxing my schedule. There's one more point to make. Don't forget to take breaks. Time-boxed breaks. Your mind and body need rest, so be sure to allow for it. Just make sure you time-box it as well. So many people forget to do this, and not taking breaks will lead to getting "burned out", thus reducing productivity vastly.