Habits and Timeboxes

I’ve been thinking a lot about how and when I work recently. I missed a couple Wednesdays posting here, so I’ve been looking at ways to become more consistent.

I looked at two big resources here: MPJ‘s great video on timeboxing and The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.

MPJ’s video basically says, “getting a lot done is about setting aside specific times to work, not about being able to make yourself work all the time.” Rather than try to summarize the video, which you should just go watch, I’ll talk about how it helped me.

I had fallen into the trap of “I’ll make myself write for my blog whenever I can.” Then, I would work hard all day, come home tired, and another Wednesday would go by with no new post.

The mistake I was making was trying to decide, at random times, whether I ought to be working on the blog right then. The answer came back “no” too often, and I wasn’t getting much done; if I wanted to keep blogging, I needed to fix this.

I looked at my week and decided to set up some timeboxes. In the mornings before work, I like to get up early and go to a coffee shop as soon as I’m up, then head into work a little later in the morning. I took two of these days, Monday and Tuesday, and declared them “blog day.” I’ll put some real effort into the blog before work every Monday and Tuesday. That amounts to probably 75-90 minutes of focused work a week. I’m pretty busy, and can’t promise much more than that. I think the important thing is that the number isn’t zero.

I also have a bad habit of starting one million side projects per year, then finishing zero of them. My GitHub profile is full of projects with 7 commits. I want to break this habit, because finishing a project to the point where it’s good is so much harder and results in so much more learning than starting a new one, so I decided to make Saturday morning into a side project timebox. I hope in a few weeks I’ll be able to blog about things I learn from side projects.

And speaking of habits, The Power of Habit is a great book. It sheds a lot of light on how and why people stick with things or don’t. One point in the book is basically this: If some behavior is a habit, it doesn’t require willpower to behave that way. I think that is why timeboxing is so powerful. If I get home from work every day and have a mental debate in my kitchen about whether I need a beer or a jog, well, I know from experience how that discussion will go. On the other hand, if I can build an enduring habit, a new behavior will be automatic.

I’ll write in a few weeks about how the new habits and the timeboxing go.

Till next time, happy learning!

-Will

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