If ‘Waste Less Time On The Internet’ Is On Your 2024 Goal List, Try Timeboxing

How much of your day dissolves down the plughole of the internet? If you’re anything like the typical woman, it’s plenty. One 2022 study found that the average adult now layers an extra five hours of screen time – including television – on top of those dedicated to work.

Conscious of doing less of this in 2024? Then you might be wondering what the sharpest techniques for doing so are out there – especially if your working day is spent in an office, largely tapping at a computer and attending meetings, and in which getting lost in digital rabbit holes is common.

Pomorado? The 80:20 rule? Blockers for social media sites?

Enter: a new method

One method that might just revolutionise things is ‘timeboxing.’ Effectively an extension of what you’re already doing – a digital calendar, filled with blocks of varying time scales for specific tasks – the concept was first named in the eighties. In our modern, blue light-soaked world, it’s risen to greater prominence.

After writing a feature for the Harvard Business Review on the topic in 2018, tech CEO Marc Zao-Sanders has expanded on the idea for his first book. Timeboxing: The power of doing one thing at a time is published on 11 January.

Zao-Sanders credits the method with doubling his productivity. It has, he says, allowed him to be more in control of his day, confident that he’s working on the most pressing task at any given time and, as such, has granted him a degree of serenity – a pleasing antidote to the feelings of hurry and stress which characterised the earlier days of his career.

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Is it a lot to take on?

In short, not really. A straightforward philosophy underpins the concept. That is, it’s better to do one thing at a time, rather than flailing from task to task. “This idea of doing one thing at a time is so fundamental and so simple,” Zao-Sanders tells WH. “Life is complicated partly because we’re tethered to devices – any number of people can get in touch with you at any time.”

“The liberating thing about timeboxing is that, while there are a thousand things you could be doing and which you could be pinged about, there is a log which says ‘do this one thing.’ If you can train yourself to stick to that, refusing to give into distraction, that stress dissolves.”

He’s an evangelist for resisting the lure of multitasking or context-switching – zipping from preparing a presentation to doing your emails to inputting data into a spreadsheet.

“Doing this is really common. You’re working on something on your computer, you see a notification that you’ve got an email, you go to that, become distracted and, before you know it, half an hour has passed and you’ve lost track of what you meant to do, leading to stress and frustration.”

He acknowledges this sounds obvious. “While it’s simple, a lot of people don’t do it. This leads to more stressful lives.”

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What is the timeboxing technique?

To elaborate, here are the pillars which Zao-Sanders says provide a framework for timeboxing.

What: Choosing what to do, with intention, before the day has begun (so, the night before or the early morning).

When: Start times and end times; a period in which to get the aforementioned ‘what’ accomplished.

One: Doing that one thing, single-tasking, not multitasking.

Enough: And doing it to a good enough standard, rather than chasing perfection.

How do I start timeboxing?

Let’s say you’re sold on timeboxing as the tonic to a harried mode of being. How, then, is it done? Try the formula, below.

Get your calendar up

Open up your existing digital calendar, whether that’s via Google, Outlook or whatever system you prefer.

Timebox your timeboxing

Add in a 15-minute appointment for tomorrow, or the next working day, titling it ‘timebox today.’ You can make this recurring, so you get a reminder to do it, each morning.

Select your sizes

Pick what sizes your boxes will come in such as 15, 30 or 60 minutes. (When it comes to tiny tasks, like remembering to acknowledge an email, bundle a load up into a smaller box, to avoid cluttering your calendar.) You’ll likely over or under-estimate how long some things take you, and that’s okay; you can hone as you go.

Take your to-do list

When it comes to planning your day in timeboxing, take your to-do list, work out which time frame each slots into, and decide what you can fit into the day.

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Timebox away!

Now, actually create your boxes, put everything into your calendar. Working around things that are non-negotiable (meetings; appointments), fill your day out. Here, take stock of your own rhythms and preferences.

Early bird? You might like to front-load your day with harder, more thoughtful tasks early, leaving lower-stakes admin for after lunch. Get into the groove a little later? Reverse it.

You might prefer to start by just timeboxing a morning, or an afternoon, but can then scale up to the whole working day, plus leisure time (gym, go to a mate’s for dinner, play with the kids.)

When you’re flying with it, experiment with colour coding (for creative tasks versus admin, work versus leisure, etc.)

This article was first published by Claudia Canavan on womenshealthmag.com/uk

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