Time Management using Ivy Lee-senhower Timeboxing

You probably haven’t found that one time management techniques that works for you. Let’s make a time management smoothie out of several simple techniques.

Multitasking to be an influencer, to brand yourself, to juggle multiple projects — that may not be working out so well.

Breathe.

We’re gonna make a pretty timeboxed calendar like this.

A seven-day calendar showing sample coloring of timeboxes.
Tasks timeboxed by color.

Ingredients

You don’t need a productivity app. Or a book on productivity. Or a productivity guru, a subscription to ProductivizeMeForMonthlyFees.com, or anything like that.

What you need is the following:

  • A calendar you’ll create using paper and/or a simple calendar app
  • Scraps of paper
  • A willingness to read to the end of this blog post
  • The will to iterate over a period of weeks

Our time management smoothie is made out of several off-the-shelf ingredients. I’m writing on a schedule — blogging is timeboxed, right? — so you and I will both appreciate brevity.

The ingredients list:

The Ivy Lee method focuses you on a few tasks per day. The Eisenhow matrix helps you prioritize the tasks. Timeboxing sets a regular schedule.

Read the articles linked above. Or read the sections below.

The Ivy Lee Method

Thanks to fellow Medium blogger August Birch, we have a succinct description of The Ivy Lee method. We’re on a schedule here, so let’s just copy and paste some of Birch’s article.

The purpose: identify and prioritize tasks for tomorrow.

1. The night before, write out the six most-important tasks for the following day. …

2. Number those tasks in order of importance. …

3. Start your work day with item number one. Work until you finished item one. Don’t skip to item two until item one is done. …

4. Physically cross-out each item as you finish it. …

5. At day’s-end transfer any unfinished tasks to the following day’s to-do list. …

Try that for a week or two by itself.

But how do you prioritize tasks?

Eisenhower Decision Matrix

The Eisenhower matrix is your prioritization machine. The Indeed.com article about the matrix is good. Google “Eisenhower matrix” for more articles and images. Here’s a quick summary.

  1. Create a 2x2 grid
  2. Label the two columns as Urgent and Not Urgent
  3. Label the two rows as Important and Not Important
  4. Consider how each task fits in the grid.

Urgent and Important: Do that now. Makes sense, right?

Not Urgent but Important: Decide when to do it. Then do it.

Urgent but Not Important: Delegate or delay (postpone).

Not Urgent and Not Important: Delete. Recycle. Don’t do.

Thanks to Lee & Eisenhower we’ve got

  • a method to choose tasks for the day
  • a means to prioritize tasks

But when do we tackle these tasks?

Worked in unstructured time can be stressful.

Parkinson’s law:

Work expands to fill the time allotted to it.

What if you’re in a groove? Shouldn’t you keep working? Generally no. Try to break the inspiration trap. Work regular hours.

Rather than allot a lot of time for a task, give yourself a limited time to work on that task each day. Consider Horstman’s corollary to Parkinson’s law:

Work contracts to fit in the time we give it.

That’s what we want!

Timeboxing

I’ve got about 18 minutes left in my biweekly blogging allotment, so we’re gonna wrap this quickly.

Timeboxing is simple: pick a box (a block) of time in which to work on a task. Work on the task during that time. At the end of the time box, wrap up work and move on to the next box.

Let’s make a calendar.

  1. Spend two weeks logging how you spend your time. Create the simplest weekly grid you can, then start logging hours: 8 to 10am Monday on accounting; 1pm to 4pm Wednesdays networking on LinkedIn; and so on.
  2. Categorize your tasks. In my calendar the categories are Engineering, Governance, Marketing, etc., but below I’m calling them A, B, C, etc.
  3. Pick a color for each category. If you don’t see color, use some other means of distinguishing categories.
  4. Identify categories for which you should spend more time. Are you “always” behind on some category? Allow 1–2 additional hours per week on it.
  5. Create a weekly calendar. Allot time for tasks in each category. You can stick to one category/color per day, but for variety break up the days a bit. Use lighter and darker shades of the same color for back-to-back tasks in the same category.
  6. Allow longer contiguous blocks of time for intensive tasks. In the calendar below, purple corresponds to engineering for me. I’m still heavy into engineering.

So now I’ve got my timeboxed calendar.

A seven-day calendar showing sample coloring of timeboxes.

Consider how many hours you’ve allowed per day, per category.

An Excel screenshot showing a breakdown of hours by category. The same image from earlier in the article.

Only five minutes to go for me! I’m wrapping up.

Rules of Thumb

As you approach the end of a time box, start to wind down. Document what you’ve done, and what’s next. Documentation makes it easier to step into the task again next time.

Only shift boxes around to accommodate someone else’s schedule. You control your schedule. Stick to it!

Iterate! When your first draft of a timeboxed schedule is 80% as good as you think it needs to be, use it for a week or two. Rebalance the time allotments if you need to.

But Wait, There’s More!

There’s always more. There are always more tasks. There are a half a dozen things I wish I’d written, but then this article might be longer than I wanted.

And so? So it’s done. I’ve got one minute to go and my child wants to show me something about dinosaurs.

A last thought: give yourself time to recuperate. Try not to work through lunch. Block out “me time” evenings and weekends.

Time’s up! I’d better stop writ-

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