Timeboxing

Maximizing Your Productivity

Timeboxing - Maximizing Your Productivity

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Pratchaya

Make sure that tasks stay within their timeboxes.

Have you ever tried speed networking? At these events, you quickly exchange information with a whole lot of potential contacts. When the moderator indicates that each five-minute "meeting" is over, you move on to the next member of the group.

If you make a strong connection with someone, you can exchange details and arrange to talk again. By the end of the event, you've likely gained lots of exposure, collected a number of business cards, and laid the foundations for valuable, ongoing relationships, quickly and efficiently.

Speed networking is an example of a time-management technique called "timeboxing." Here, you break down projects or daily tasks into set periods of time, which allows you to accomplish more than you would with a less organized schedule.

In this article, we'll look at what timeboxing is, and we'll explore how you can use it to improve project planning, delegation, time management, and productivity.

What Is Timeboxing?

Many people approach their work one task at a time, and concentrate on each until they complete it, however long this takes. Timeboxing is different because it encourages you to focus on time instead of tasks. To use this time-management tool, you allocate a certain number of hours or days, called a "timebox," to each activity. You then use this time – and only this time – to complete the task.

Timeboxing is a simple and effective way to manage your own, and your team members', daily workload. For yourself, this ensures that you don't spend too long on a task that isn't worth the effort. For team members, it helps to ensure that they don't over-engineer solutions, and that they don't, unintentionally, blow the budget you have available for the work.

Tip:

Take our time management, procrastination and productivity quizzes to assess how effectively you schedule your workday.

How to Use Timeboxing to Schedule Your Day

Follow the steps below to organize your day with timeboxing.

First, estimate how long each item on your To-Do List or Action Program should take to complete, and allocate a set amount of time to each one. Don't forget to include breaks, and build in contingency time for unexpected requests or interruptions.

Then set a timer on your smartphone or computer to alert you to when you should move on to your next timebox.

Choose the length of time that works best for you. The Pomodoro® Technique is useful here – it's a form of timeboxing that involves working for timed segments, usually of 25 minutes, followed by a short break. You might want to skip these rest periods if you're absorbed in a task, but try to avoid doing this too often, because they allow you to return to your work with more energy and enthusiasm.

If you don't finish your task within the allocated time, you might be tempted to continue until you reach your goal. However, make sure that you analyze what you've accomplished and review your progress at the end of each timebox. Ask yourself the following: did you complete your work? If not, why not? How will you schedule your tasks differently next time?

How to Use Timeboxing With Your Team

You can also use timeboxing to delegate work to your team members. This can be particularly useful if they have problems procrastinating, maintaining their productivity, multitasking or staying on schedule. It can also help where people have a tendency to over-engineer work, or where there's only a limited budget available to complete it.

Start by discussing the tasks you want your team member to complete, and agree on the length of each timebox. Avoid assigning a deadline without asking for his or her input first. Encourage him to use the strategies above to organize his time, or to find another method that works well for him.

At the end of the timebox, ensure that she stops working on the task, and review her progress. Did she finish the task? Was the length of timebox appropriate? Is she happy with what she's achieved? If not, decide what she should do to finish it, and agree what she should do differently next time to make sure she completes it within the timebox.

Note:

In this article we focus on using timeboxing to manage your own tasks. However, you can apply the same principles to delegating tasks and organizing your team members' time.

Benefits of Timeboxing

Using timeboxing to manage your daily tasks and delegate work has a number of advantages. Deadlines improve some people's focus and enhance their creativity, particularly if they're procrastinators, because the time limits force them to ignore distractions and prioritize their work.

If you're a maladaptive perfectionist, you might spend a lot of time stuck in analysis paralysis while making decisions, or you could struggle to sign off on projects until you're convinced that they're error-free. This can make you fall behind on tasks, which impacts the rest of your day. Timeboxing can keep any perfectionist tendencies in check, and limit the amount of time you spend on low-value activities.

If you struggle to concentrate during the day, it might be because of multitasking. Most of us find that we lose time when we regularly switch between tasks. Timeboxing, however, narrows your focus to one activity at a time, and you know that you'll switch tasks once you have completed each one.

Finally, timeboxing gives you a way to measure your productivity levels. You can use this information to schedule high-priority work during your peak productive period, and save less important tasks for times when you are more likely to be distracted. Timeboxing can also help you determine whether you have enough time available for other projects, so you don't overcommit yourself and risk burnout.

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Drawbacks of Timeboxing

Using timeboxing to manage your workload may not be appropriate for everyone. For example, you may find it hard to stop and switch to another task when you're in flow, because you worry that you might lose your train of thought. And you may find it difficult to stick to the schedule because of frequent interruptions, such as phone calls or colleagues unexpectedly stopping by to chat.

Also, some jobs have to be completed to a high level of quality, however long they take. Timeboxing can cause you to rush, meaning that you fail in your objective.

Finally, there's a risk that you may not set appropriate lengths of time for your timeboxes. If they are too short, you may not accomplish much; if they're too long, you might lose focus or procrastinate until the end of the period. So, make a note of how long different tasks take you, and organize your workload according to this.

Timeboxing is a powerful approach, but only use it when it's appropriate!

Key Points

The purpose of timeboxing is to ensure that you use your time productively.

To use this technique, you assign a specific deadline to each task. This is known as a timebox and when it's finished, you analyze your progress and move on to the next one.

Timeboxing offers many benefits. When you use it to schedule your workday or delegate work, it can help you and your team members avoid analysis paralysis, limit the tendency to procrastinate, and increase motivation.

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Comments (6)
  • Over a month ago wrote
    How to use Timeboxing With our Team
  • Over a month ago Michele wrote
    Hi Ben,

    Time boxing is an effective technique. I use it to help me to focus and it really works for me. I understand your concern about increasing the level of anxiety when you don't complete a task within a time frame you have allotted for yourself. Whenever I don't meet a timeline, I simply reset it. The deadline you are setting is self imposed and is based on your best estimate in terms of how long a task will take. Some tasks will take longer and others less time. "You" are in control and set the time line. Don't let the technique control you.

    Michele
    Mind Tools Team
  • Over a month ago Ben wrote
    Hi
    I will certainly try time boxing. Though I have a concern which is that it will make you more judgemental of yourself when you don't complete something and therefore more anxious.
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