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Discussion Forum > Timeboxing

Dear Mark and all, Many years ago I read Mark's first book 'Get Everything Done', where he demonstrated the power of incremental timeboxing, (although I don't think he used that term) .And from there on, I adopted this technique with great affect. I mainly use this at home, because I run a food business where this approach is not really applicable,but when I'm not at work my passion is studying jazz guitar, which I divide into various facets such as ear-training, fretboard knowledge, chords.....etc.. I found a great piece of software recommended on this site called 'The Action Machine' that is perfect for this, along time ago, but sadly it doesn't appear to be compatible with the latest update of windows 10. Does any one know of an equivalent windows multi-timer that I could use? Thanks in advance team Forster
June 2, 2018 at 16:06 | Unregistered CommenterMambo71

I haven't tried this app myself, but it might be what you're looking for:
June 3, 2018 at 0:49 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Thanks Mark, Sadly, I think that particular program is obsolete, like the one I was using. But let me just say, the timeboxing strategies that you shared with us, and I have purchased all of your books, were so powerful, that it helped me on the way to effective music practice,(I'm just a hobbyist), which to me is analogous to language learning, which I know you can relate to. Best wishes, Stu.
June 3, 2018 at 1:05 | Unregistered CommenterMambo71
Thanks, Stu

If you do happen to find the sort of timer you are looking for, then please do share it with this forum.
June 3, 2018 at 16:13 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Cheers Mark,

I will have a hunt around and report back. There must be something out there. Until then it's back to the kitchen timer for me. The brilliance of your your system, (in my opinion), is that firstly, it could allow me to break through inertia, (my first increment was typically 4 mins), and, secondly, it provides a sort of metric to compete against, I.E. 'can i beat the number of time blocks I completed yesterday?'. And as you are well aware, when learning a language, or jazz language, in my case, it's a bit like weightlifting in that time under tension is one of the most important variables. Thank You for sharing your wisdom-Best, Stuart Foley.
June 3, 2018 at 18:28 | Unregistered CommenterMambo71
Like you, the incremental timeboxing chapter in Get Everything Done really helped me. Mainly with overcoming inertia and overwhelm.
I am a saxophonist, like yourself studying the instrument, jazz language, the repertoire etc.
i dont use incremental timeboxing for music, just split things up in small sections. i've used timers for years, now got a double kitchen timer, mainly set one to 15 mins, the other to 5, or one to 15, the other to 45., depending what i'm working on. Triple timers are available as well, guess you could have three incremental settings to save resetting a singe timer. Slightly less awkward than having loads of timers, all over the place, though i've probably got five or six dotted around, even got one in the kitchen!
June 3, 2018 at 21:58 | Unregistered Commenterjimp
Many thanks for responding, that's great jimp. I had a two day rotation set-up in the program that I mentioned, divided into various learning resources. As you will undoubtedly know, learning jazz is really about mastering vocabulary and then being able to lock it in within a context (harmony). I correlate this with Mark's latest project to master the Welsh language.
It's just a shame that I can no longer use 'the action machine' (to which I have no affiliation btw) where I could pre-program the increments and log them. I did contact the developer, but I think he has sold the rights on, and so I don't know if he would be motivated to update the program. But if you could recommend a specific manual timer jimp, that would be appreciated. Stu.
June 3, 2018 at 23:36 | Unregistered CommenterMambo71
I posted this a while ago, might be helpful for you:

Free Timers on the Web
June 4, 2018 at 0:35 | Registered CommenterBernie
Grateful Bernie, I'm just checking them out. I'm lost without my timers. Not just for my hobbies but also for my share of the domestic chores, as the missus has noticed recently. Haha. Stu.
June 4, 2018 at 1:11 | Unregistered CommenterMambo71
Actually I've never used a web timer. I just use a normal kitchen timer. Plus paper and pen of course.
June 4, 2018 at 2:13 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark,

The advantage that I found with using this particular web timer was that I could pre-program the specific facets of what I intended to get done in the day and set up the timers in rotation in 4,5,6, minute etc increments as your fantastic book taught me many years ago. Before you know it, One has achieved quite a bit of quality work. I think that I found that 3 or 4 tasks in rotation starting from small increments, was optimum for me but I think that I am naturally lazy. Haha. Stu.
June 4, 2018 at 2:46 | Unregistered CommenterMambo71
In fact Mark, my lifelong (If futile) study of of jazz is broken down somewhat similar to how you explained your approach to language learning in your last blog, In that there are several areas that you want to touch upon each day. Which has just reminded me of something that you wrote about spinning plates that I'll have to seek out.
June 4, 2018 at 3:01 | Unregistered CommenterMambo71

Khatsumoto has some interesting variants on the timeboxing principle on his AJATT site.
June 4, 2018 at 16:25 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Thanks Mark,

This guy delves very deeply into the variants of timeboxing, as you say. I always found that for a fairly static project, I mean static in the sense that the information is readily available for the learner to seek out, such as language learning, that an ascending incremental approach was best. I find that the decremental approach always added pressure to finish the cycle but with the ascending increments, you could do what you could do and feel good about it. Cheers Stu.
June 5, 2018 at 0:30 | Unregistered CommenterMambo71
Try Tabata or HIIT (or HITT) , from the fitness realm. There's a wide variety of them, from simple very complex.
June 6, 2018 at 16:44 | Registered CommenterCricket
How about this online timer - you just type in the times with a plus sign in between them. Not a program however if that is important to you.

(Just a short comment as in the past years of reading the blog, no comments actually appeared on the site. Last try today... if it works, hello to everybody!)
June 6, 2018 at 22:23 | Unregistered CommenterSitkeys
Grateful folks,

What a great community Mark has created. Thank you for the suggestions. Cricket, I purchased a heavy punchbag and a 'Gymboss' timer a couple of years ago on the basis of the HITT principle, so I guess I could use that for my domestic/hobby stuff. (I mean the timer, not the punchbag). Stu.
June 7, 2018 at 19:21 | Unregistered CommenterMambo71
Looks like you've got plenty of advice.

Concerned to hear re futile attemps to learn jazz! So easy to get totally overwhelmed.
One approach is to work on specific tunes, e.g. Autumn Leaves for major and minor 251s.
etc. You may do this anyway, of course!
Also, compose solos/etudes possibly using pre-existing licks, sort of Frankenstein solos.
All helps to solidify the language.

Possibly a good resource for language learning would be Cory Christiansen's essential jazz lines series.There is one on Wes Montgomery, Grant Green and Joe Pass, but I think most of the language is fairly generic.

Back to the subject, of timeboxing. For saxophone pracice I am using a nice pink double kitchen timer from Aldi. Tend to work in 15 min chunks, i.e 3x5 mins.per thing. Sometimes 15 mins on one thing. Sometimes 45 mins/15 mins if feeling energetic.That's what i'm currently doing, been through many variations.
For "silent" practice my current first thing in the morning 15 min routine. 5 min piano chord practice, 5 mins memorising changes through singing roots-just about got middle 16 of Jobims 'girl from ipanema firmly implanted- , 5 mins on Louis Bellson's Modern reading text in 4/4.
This way, every day i'm making small improvements. I do more later on these if i remember to do it.
Previously I have made loads of false starts on the piano, ear training and reading rhythms for sight reading. This 15 mins in the morning is mainly effortless and a nice way to start the day.

The single timers I have used for years are the little white (approx 2.5x2 ins) salter timers. Dont take up much space and just work.
June 8, 2018 at 12:10 | Unregistered Commenterjimp
Thank You Jimp, you are very kind to give me such an extensive response.

On the jazz front, maybe 'futility' was too strong a word. I've learnt to enjoy the process rather than become world famous by now. But Jimp, do you not find that, with the internet age there are so many learning resources around now, that it's easy to get pulled into so many directions when studying music. I'm actually taking Skype lessons with a guy from the US which gets me a bit more organised now. There are so many options these days.

Thanks for the recommendation on the Aldi Pink timers. Apparently the Missus is checking it out on her Aldi 'App', whatever the heck that is.


June 9, 2018 at 2:10 | Unregistered CommenterMambo71
Absolutely agree .about the internet. The volume of information is pretty bad for saxophone, but much more so for guitarists.
There is actually some fantastic free advice out there, but you tube, for example, is a distraction machine. Great idea to work with a teacher online.if none within striking distance where you live.
Re pink double timers-may be a fruitless search as it is not a stock line. It is very handy for my practice regime and ordinary work timeboxing. Saves remembering which timer is going off.
June 9, 2018 at 10:02 | Unregistered Commenterjimp
Yes Jimp, I think that one has to be selective about the material to learn otherwise there is the danger of overwhelm. There is only so much you can digest at a time. But I don't know if you agree with me, but over the years I have come to the conclusion that getting the lines under your fingers is the easy bit. It's just a matter of repetition really. But the real challenge is organising your thinking, and applying the lines over the harmony.

There is a guy that I'm sure you've probably heard of called Steve Neff, from whom I purchased a book of tasty ii-V-I licks. He's one of the most esteemed sax teachers isn't he?

Sorry Mark. You now have yourself a music forum. Haha.
June 9, 2018 at 14:41 | Unregistered CommenterMambo71
Probably best to carry on this conversation on a jazz improvisation forum!
back timeboxing, used it a lot yesterday getting ready for a gig.
Set out 6.30, got back 12.30
This morning very tired, did following
5 min clear up from yesterday, put things away
15 min silent practice routine
5 min put things away
5 min write practice plan for today
That 30 mins has made me feel that I have had some little wins already at the start of the day.

Proceeded to stumble through rest of day recovering,reading newspapers, thinking how to reply to your post, playing through some ideas on piano.

Taking licks/ lines/ language,( however you wish describe them ) through all 12 keys is excellent for technique, fluency in all keys, and if you sing along to them- which you can do on the guitar (think George Benson!) good for ear training.

To quote Jerry Bergonzi-"recalling lines you practiced just jams up your creative channel and makes it next to impossible to improvise. When the consciousness is involved with a particular task like remembering a line, it puts a spotlight on that subject. Floodlight consciousness, on the other hand, illuminates all of the areas of sound that might be open to the artist. To make material your own, spotlight consciousness is necessary. After learning countless number of lines, you forget the phrases, but remember the sound and context. These lines become part of your reservoir of melodic and harmonic material."
June 10, 2018 at 13:57 | Unregistered Commenterjimp

A bit like learning a language?
June 10, 2018 at 14:30 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I would say it is similar, but even more akin to learning improvised verse., because there are rhythmic considerations.
You may be aware of Caedmon's Hymn, which is an early anglo-saxon poem miraculously composed by a humble cowherd.who previously was unable to do anything when they passed the harp round for an improvised song.The thinking is that perhaps years of listening to improvised verse, with it's oral formulas, i.e stylised phrases that fitted over the form, had finally sunk in and this beautiful hymn came out.
Still waiting for divine intervention,myself, though occasionally, very ocasionally something comes out, in the meanwhile back to the practice!
June 10, 2018 at 17:47 | Unregistered Commenterjimp
Yes, good analogy. In fact the whole of the Iliad and Odyssey is supposed to have been composed that way. Basically a collection of improvised passages on well-known themes with a lot of standard phrases and an overarching rhythm. But no one really knows, I suppose.
June 10, 2018 at 18:31 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I have found this phone app very useful for time-boxing: It's flexible. You can specify any number of time interval sets. It does the job. But even though I know that time is time, I found the 'time end' sound jarring and the whole thing too relentless in the end!
June 11, 2018 at 8:24 | Unregistered CommenterKatreya
Realised i haven't answered you questions

!. Playing over changes is definitely harder than working on licks. More plates to spin. Working licks through the keys can be quite zen like and relaxing, maybe not to neighbours!
My little quote from Jerry bergonzi was possibly if you were trying to recall licks as you were improvising-trips you up. However, practicing applying lines in the practice room and working out how to connect them is good. I met a trumpet player at a jazz summerschool who said that one of his biggest breakthroughs was when a teacher pointed out that he could actually deliberately practice applying the lines he was learning in 12 keys to tunes, rather than hoping
they would come out on their own.
My biggest breakthrough was really working on chord tones, really going into them in depth over tunes such as All thre things you are.

2. Steve Neff I have bought a couple of videos from his site. He is amazingly productive. He could certainly teach us a lot about productivity. Amazing that he has recovered from a brain tumor and still keeps up such a work scedule.

If you have a bit of downtime when not working, researching timeboxing apps and practicing licks in all keys, check out the web forum The thread Why you need a teacher in 2018 is quite instructive, How to find creativity in the moment is also a good one.
June 11, 2018 at 11:19 | Unregistered Commenterjimp