Time Management Part 1: The Art of Time Boxing

Ever feel like you have five billion tasks you need to get done and only 24 hours to do them? One of the biggest internal struggles for high achievers and go-getters is juggling ideas and innovation that pull you in 360 different directions against sitting down and focusing on a single task for a designated period of time. 

My solution?...adopt the practice of Time Boxing. While there are those who thrive off of chaos and the unpredictable, there are numerous studies that show the benefit of having a designated daily routine.

Scenario 1:

You're sitting down to finish a work assignment but as you do, you realize you have to return an email to a professor, you need to finish your component of the group presentation then practice said presentation, you have to arrange time to have a coffee chat with a recruiter for the job you want, you need to finish and submit that application for a merit scholarship. Oh! And on top of these you need to go grocery shopping, clean your dorm, and do your laundry.

Now you can't fully concentrate on this important work assignment due tomorrow because there are about 15 other tasks you need to finish today!

Scenario 2:

You're sitting down to finish a work assignment. You've estimated and allotted 3 hours in your afternoon to complete it. As you settle into your desk, you turn off all your social notifications and get to work. Before you know it, your timer buzzes and your well-planned out calender reminds you that you have a one-on-one with your professor in 15 minutes. After that you already know you have a group presentation practice session scheduled at your college library.


Scenario 2 demonstrates the power of creating an effective calendar and time management system so that we can maximize our efficient thinking abilities. It gives you the freedom and ease of focusing on one project rather than using stress and impatience to just tick of a to-do list. 

So here are my tips for a Time Boxing Strategy

(1) Identify Your Key Life Categories
Let's zoom out and categorize your life into sections. What tends to consume a lot of your time? One of the primary categories that everyone has is school and/or work. What extracurriculars are you involved in? (clubs, sports, music, art, dance)
My personal recommendation is as follows: 
  • Work/School
  • Personal Events
  • Priorities
  • Opportunities
  • Club/organization(s) - as many as needed

(2) Create Color-Coded Categories
People are naturally drawn to visual-keys, patterns, and colors. After all, its one of the first things we learn to identify as children! So pick your favorite color schemes and gradients. Some of my personal favorites are pastels or any form of ombre.
Pick your favorite color and set it as the key for your most time-consuming every-day task (i.e. school, work, etc)
Here's an example color-coding key that I use:
  • Green - classes
  • Blue - personal
  • yellow - important/priorities
  • orange - opportunities
  • gray - office hours or lesser-tier priorities
  • purples and pinks - clubs/organizations
(3) Box Out Time in Even Time Frames
Stick to 15min, 30 min, 1 hr, or any number of hour intervals. This creates a nice even grid on your calender and also provides you enough buffer to take a break in case you finish a task early! It also allows you to passively remember when you have a daily deadline.
  • For example, you know you're going out to dinner with friends at 5. That means from 3pm to 4:30pm it is hour homework study session. You've given yourself 30 minutes to get ready and take and walk to the restaurant.  
(4) Schedule Your Essentials First
To many times we get bogged down by the minute filler tasks that help us to feel accomplished and able to check something off a never-ending to-do list. But if you spent all your time prioritizing laundry, dishes, cleaning, organizing, you'd never get to the "value-adding" goals that drive you to reach new levels of accomplishment.
  • Start with a consistent title of the event. (i.e. class title - details; club name - activity)
  • Schedule your every-day must-dos (class, work, meetings) that block out a significant portion of your day
  • Then move onto your extracurriculars which also require designated time slots but can be more flexible in adjusting scheduling
  • Fill in big empty sections with your priorities where you need to focus and have ample allotted time
  • Schedule your breaks and personal time. We can't always be on overdrive. Everybody needs a break to have work-life balance.
(6) Make it a Routine
As much as you can, try to schedule similar tasks or projects at the same time each day. The less variance from your day to day, the less you have to actively think about "where do I need to go next? What do I need to do next?" For example:
  • 6am - 7:30am: Workout - Not only is it my preferred time to move, it also keeps me accountable knowing that I have a workout in the morning and can feel accomplished and ready to kickstart my day after a good sweaty session
  • 2pm-4pm: Piano - I have classes that vary in end times but at least I know between these two hours, I have piano practice and can reserve a room.
  • 6pm and onward: Clubs and Organization 
(7) Use "All-day" Events As Deadline Reminders
We can get caught up in the day-to-day activities and suddenly a midterm, final project, or presentation deadline is upon us! How'd it sneak up so fast? I use "all day events" as a reminder of upcoming deadlines.
  • You can put D-3, D-2, D-1 to indicate days till a certain event
  • If an event is not set in time yet, place it in the all-day events to remind yourself to follow-up with the organizer for more details
(8) Fill In the Details
What is fantastic about a lot of calendar programs is the ability to add notes without having to create a very long and illegible title. Especially in a virtual environment, it's nice to have a zoom link or video meeting link ready on hand embedded within your calendar event. Include
  • Reminders of tasks you should have done or things to have prepared
  • meeting invite information including the link, meeting code, and password
  • name of attendees you should know names of
  • file links if online
(9) Do it Once in the Beginning Then Maintain Weekly
Before each semester of classes begins, I like to set aside 30 minutes to create a calendar of my classes, organizations, and to-dos. This allows me to have a clear sense of my objectives for the semester. Moreover, rather than having to set aside 30 minutes every week to plan out the next, I can quickly brush it over Sunday night and make minute adjustments as needed.
  • Being Proactive is the Key to Being Productive
(9) Have Fun with It
Remember the end goal of scheduling is to provide ease and convenience. The goal is to remove unnecessary white-noise from your critical thinking and enable you to fully focus on tasks at hand for designated periods of time. Over the course of two weeks, you'll find that your body naturally falls into a rhythm. The consequence...less stress, less mindless thinking, greater productivity! 


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