Whenever I don’t want to do something, I timebox it. Timeboxing is the art of boxing tasks into a set amount of time. It’s a little like the Pomodoro Technique, but more haphazard. For me, it normally looks like thinking about a task…silently dreading it…doing anything I can to avoid it…and then watching the thought edge in: well, how long could it possibly take? Then: setting a timer, on my phone or my watch, for three or ten or twenty minutes. Going at it. And then it’s done.

Thinking about timeboxing, memories float in:

Running on the treadmill in the basement as a teenager. Insisting to myself that I not step off (not even glance down at the time whizzing by!) until the time was up. This was probably too intense (I was an intense teenager), but it did create a lot of discipline.

Before that: setting a kitchen timer with purple buttons for practicing piano for an hour each day. The timer sat by the metronome. I still sometimes wake up in the middle of the night after dreams about how I haven’t done my piano time.

In college, I would set a timer for twenty minutes at a time to overcome my dread of writing term papers. There were only so many twenty-minute stretches available in an all-nighter, but I made the most of them. I remember doing a lot of typing on my bed, and also a lot in the dining hall full of thick wooden tables.

More recently, I’ve set timers to overcome my resistance to reuniting with notifications and email after a vacation. And, maybe I’m imagining this, but also for cleaning out the refrigerator.

Timeboxing is the best way I’ve found to take dread and cut it down to size. It’s the only productivity technique that’s really stood the test of time in my life. Well, that and keeping a calendar. There’s a real time theme here. My ambitions, hopes, and fears feel big, but time can be small. It unfolds minute by minute, and so does life.

Diana BerlinWriting, Time