Timeboxing for Fun and For Profit

As I mentioned in my last post, I am great a devising projects, and terrible at follow through. This includes blogging, language studies (Japanese and Korean), Buddhist practice (e.g. nembutsu, meditation, etc), among many other things. The problem is always the same: at the end of the day, I never feel like I have enough time to finish things, so I inevitably sacrifice all or some of my projects and get frustrated. I am a real type-A personality sometimes. ;-p

But then recently, I read on AJATT’s website a simple concept called timeboxing. AJATT didn’t invent this, it’s a well-known subject, but AJATT is very effective at bringing such useful bits of advice to a broader audience.

The idea, as I understand it, works like so: if you have an activity you want to do, it’s better to do it in small units of time, even daily. The amount of time you put into it depends on the activity, but it should short enough that you’re practically guaranteed to have time for it. Having a timer helps too.

For example, for my Anki flashcards, which I do on my iPhone using AnkiMobile, I set a timebox for both Japanese and Korean decks to be 5 minutes. Five minutes is short, and may not cover all cards due, but I can definitely spare 5 minutes for each deck. Anki is nice enough to warn me that the time is up too so I don’t forget.

As AJATT writes in another article, smaller blocks of time “invite action” rather than procrastination. If I did 20-minutes blocks of time on Anki, I could accomplish more per block, but I am also more likely to hesitate and procrastinate, rather than do something. The point of all this is to just keep doing something routinely, rather than not doing it at all.

So, I also started trying this for Buddhist practice too. Being perfectionist, I spend more time worrying about what is the right practice, whether I am doing it enough, or is it working, etc., than actually doing it. So, I decided to time-box this as well. I “boxed” my Buddhist practice to just reciting the nembutsu 10 times a day. If I stick within my time-box daily, this takes about 30 seconds a day. Pretty easy.

You can do this with exercise too. I started experimenting with exercising for 1 minute a day. One minute may seem like much, but that’s still more than I did all last week. I found 1 minute of push-ups and sit-ups was still a good workout, and I am less likely to procrastinate over a 1 minute task, than a 30 minute task.

So easy, a caveman can do it!

But sometimes 5 minutes is not enough. For example, blogging a post on average takes me 1-2 hours (like I said, I am a perfectionist), so here 5 minutes is simply too little. Instead, I can time-box to something smaller like 20-30 minutes, and simply finish the next day rather than spending hours and not getting other things done. ;p

But for longer blocks it helps to subdivide them into smaller tasks and timeboxes. Timeboxes within timeboxes in other words. I’m doing that right now with this blog post. ;-p

Or, for my Korean studies, I listen to podcasts that take about 10-15 minutes on average. I also need a little time at the end to put new vocabulary into Anki. So here, the timebox might be 20 minutes, but I can divide that into 15 minutes for listening and 5 for inputting new vocab.

I am still working out the details of particular timeboxes, but having projects and hobbies put into smaller, more manageable chunks of time has helped immensely already. I feel like I am getting a lot more done, and not so flustered like before. To my surprise, I feel satisfied just getting even a little bit done a day, rather than doing it in big, big chunks that took too long.

Amazing what 5 minutes can do for one’s life. :-)

About Doug 陀愚

A Buddhist, Father and Japanophile / Koreaphile.
This entry was posted in General, Japanese, JLPT, Korean, Language. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Timeboxing for Fun and For Profit

  1. ヤンヤン says:

    Good solution.
    I’m exactly the same type of person. I make myself a daily to-do list and try to do everything, but it’s not always possible :) )

  2. Doug 陀愚 says:

    Hi ヤンヤン,

    Me too. I tried checklists but I found it wasn’t enough. It doesn’t help you balance time between tasks, so time-boxing can help your checklist work. :-) . Or just do timeboxing alone.

  3. ヤンヤン says:

    You also mentioned that you worry about the right or wrong practice with Buddhism.
    I do daily sutra chanting, and even though I’m confused in certain aspects, a japanese friend of mine told me to go on and do it, and the answer will come in time.
    He also told me of a japanese saying, something like “a person can’t do something more than 3 days”, so to do something, you have to be very determined and go beyond the 3 days hehe.

    By the way, what tradition have you chosen in the end?

  4. Doug 陀愚 says:

    Hi ヤンヤン,

    Yeah, I’ve tried to continue practice in spite of doubt, but it still happens. I know the 3-day rule too, and it really is true. :)

    As for tradition, that’s a really good question. It’s still undecided, I guess.

  5. ヤンヤン says:

    For example, I am Jodo Shinshu(took kikiyoshiki at the Honganji, so that would make me one, right?) but that doesn’t mean I fully agree with everything Jodo Shinshu has to say.

    Most Japanese have a tradition(more like a tradition family lineage thing) but don’t necessarily identify with it in practice or personal beliefs.

    So I guess the tradition is not so important as your personal beliefs.

  6. Doug 陀愚 says:

    Yeah, I actually left the Jodo Shinshu tradition about 2-3 years ago over personal disagreements, so I definitely do not identify with that one. I don’t identify with Zen either for a variety of reasons. So, I guess I just tend to follow general lay Buddhism with an emphasis on Pure Land Buddhism, the Lotus Sutra and Hosso (Yogacara) teachings.

    I am aware of the difference between tradition and personal beliefs in Japan, and it’s definitely true. People are born into certain traditions (just like Christians in the West), but learn to develop their own beliefs independently.

    Since I converted to Buddhism, I struggled for a long time to find where I fit, but that struggle isn’t so bad now. I have support from friends and such, and that is enough for now.

  7. ヤンヤン says:

    I believe that it’s best to look at how the japanese practice their religion: they don’t identify with it. They say they have no religion, yet they do the rituals, ceremonies etc.

    It’s a relaxed atmosphere.

    Nobody cares if you get an omamori from a Tendai temple or whatever other tradition temple. You go and pray to Kannon at a Shingon temple, yet you are a Jodo shu, and nobody cares. You can chant whatever sutras you like at home. Nobody will come and say “hey, it’s wrong!”.
    This is my understanding of the religion situation.

    Also, it’s how they go to christian churches just because “the music is so beautiful!”.

    One friend of mine told me that “you have a central belief, and on that you keep adding small details”. You go for a tradition, but still can add whatever you want for your own personal practice.

    Jodo Shinshu doesn’t sell omamori, doesn’t give paper talismans, and doesn’t have other statues except for Amida(this is one annoying detail for me…I don’t see what’s wrong with having something else…well whatever)…But it’s not wrong to go somewhere else for those things.

    Here in the west I was given the very westernized Jodoshinshu teaching, and I didn’t like the fact that the priest even somewhat “forbade” me Shinto. Because “it’s a different religion”.
    So I’m also an independent practitioner. I have my obutsudan, I chant sutras in the morning and in the evening and study by myself.

    And that can be quite cool:D

    I have a question now. You say you chant the nenbutsu. How do you see Amida? Symbol? Literal being? Both?

  8. Doug 陀愚 says:

    Hi ヤンヤン,

    Have you ever heard of the Jodo Shu Buddhist group on Google Groups? I highly recommend it because it is a good forum for the kinds of questions you ask, and it has many Shinshu visitors too. I am on there too. I think you might like the diversity of people there.

    As for what the nembutsu means to me, that’s a good question but it’s difficult to answer.

  9. ヤンヤン says:

    I just found it.
    Whoa, tons of information!


  10. Doug 陀愚 says:

    Glad to help. :)

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