Timeboxing: A simple technique to reclaim your time

  • March 15, 2021
  • by Kat Ciesielska
  • No comments

Have you ever ended up the day with less than half of your tasks done? Doesn’t matter if you are a procrastinator or a perfectionist. Going to sleep with the feeling that you lack control in your life can be extremely frustrating. Especially when you have really tried to stick to all the scrum rules to boost your productivity, but still missed some important deadlines. 

Timeboxing is one of the newest time management solutions. Once you learn how it works, you will understand why so many people despise to-do lists lately. If you want to reach the next productivity levels at work, achieve every single goal, or simply want to get more from your personal life, keep reading.

In this article you will find:

What is the timeboxing technique?

If you’ve been looking for the answer how to take the most of every single day, you probably heard about this method before, even you weren’t aware of its name.

Timeboxing means actually literally this: you cut the time into the boxes and apply them to your calendar. Each one of them has its size and as a normal box, can’t be extended. Thanks to this limitation, the task you decide to put into the timebox should be finished immediately when the time comes. 

There is no possibility of putting in “for later”. The rule “better done than perfect” is very alive in this case. 

Timeboxing works perfectly for every team member, starting from manager up to freshman junior. It can be used to plan a single project, create an event’s agenda, or coordinate all the tasks your team needs to accomplish.

There are two ways of using timeboxing. The soft one and the hard one. 

Soft timeboxing

Let’s imagine that you dedicated a 45-minute timebox for the weekly team meeting at work. If you decide to use timeboxing in the soft version, when the box is finished, you will allow your team to finish the current topic. 

This version is more flexible, but it also kills the discipline. There is always a chance that finishing one thought will take much more time than you want, and it will have a bad influence on the next task; or for the break which is crucial for human mental health. 

This way is also known as open timeboxing

Hard timeboxing

Sometimes called also closed timeboxing.

The hard version of timeboxing is much stricter. In this case, when the 45-minute box for the meeting is finished, the meeting finishes. No more talking, no more thinking and noting. You just pack your things and walk out of the room or shut your zoom. 

There is a huge difference as you see. In this case, people won’t have any chances to manipulate with time. Probably at the beginning, they will find it difficult to stop so immediately. There will be voices like: “We haven’t finished yet!” or “I don’t know what to do!”. 

However, if you dedicate yourself to teach your team working with hard timeboxing, after some time and practice, they will learn how to fill the time effectively. You can always remind them 2 minutes before the meeting, that the time is limited, and conclude all the important topics. 

 

Team of people planning their sprint with timeboxing

Time blocking VS timeboxing

If you read our blog regularly, you might have seen already the article saying why you should be using time blocking in your company. Why am I writing about this topic once again then?

I’m not. 

Time blocking is a time management system that encourages you to block some specific periods of time for exact activities. If you don’t finish the task, you just add the next block for the next time.

Timeboxing is the time management technique that also limits your time. You are supposed to finish the task in the time you’ve estimated for your timebox. 

All your decisions need to be quick enough. For example, if you decided to handle all your old clothes, with time blocking you could do this every single Friday between 9 AM and 9:30 AM, and continue it forever. With timeboxing, you would estimate the time and had to be done when the timebox is finished. No time for thinking about your favorite sweater. 

When it’s over, it’s over.

Do you feel it now? 

That is why timeboxing can help to make things done for real. 

Top 4 benefits of timeboxing: also great for the perfectionist

If this short story of your success isn’t enough to encourage you to open your calendar, let’s summarize what we’ve learned from it. 

1. Timeboxing increases your motivation

Remind yourself of all these moments when you had some to-do list from your boss, or you made them by yourself. The plan was to deliver everything until the next week. Without it, you would have serious problems. Maybe this time you also used the scrum method, so you had some nice board in Trello or Clickup. 

How many times did you wake up and realize that somehow the deadline was the next day? How many times did you simply lose all the week? And finally, how many times did you make the 30 hours job in just 6 hours – just because you didn’t have more time? 

Imagine now, that you work so efficiently every time you decide to do something. 

2. Timeboxing helps you to win with Parkinson’s Law. 

This law explains why do you feel busy all the time, no matter how far is the deadline. You simply adjust the amount of work to the deadline. As much time you have, as long you will be working on every single task that drives you to achieve your goals. 

It doesn’t mean that you’re lazy, of course. It actually also doesn’t mean that you’re a proactive fan of perfection. This is just the way all human beings operate. 

Furthermore, sometimes it even may seem ok, like you’re taking care of the quality, but actually, it just kills your efficiency. Timeboxing prevents it.

3.  Timeboxing can help to deal with your perfectionism

Many people struggle with procrastination but also many of us have serious problems with perfectionism. This is a little brother of Parkinson’s Law.

If you want to do everything in the best way possible, you often just lose your time. Not every single document needs to be edited twice, trust me.

Very often done is better than perfect which means that spending too much time on one task may cause you just trouble. If you struggle with deciding when you can finish one thing and switch to another, you may end up with dozens of unfinished tasks. 

Timeboxing will help you to take control of every task. No matter how long could you polish one thing, you will need to stop when the timebox is finished. Thanks to this approach you will manage to achieve everything that you’ve planned

4. Time limits give you peace of mind

Among many other obvious benefits of timeboxing, I really appreciate this feeling of knowing how much time I will spend on each task. It is similar comfort to this one when you read the agenda of the meeting. 

People love to know how will their future look like, and timeboxing technique gives this comfort every single day. 

When someone at work asks you “how much time will it take?” you will have the chance to answer very precisely. This will help to coordinate the team’s work and your life

Working with the timeboxing methode


Is there any timeboxing app?

There may be some extra applications made specifically to plan timeboxing, but I like the simplicity and prefer to use as few tools as possible. That is why I find the ClickUp and TimeCamp the best combination for planning everything I do. Both in private life and at work. 

Thanks to ClickUp, I control all my tasks and I divide them into those related to work and others (personal life, developing new skills, hobby). I assign every single task to the exact day and time (this is timeboxing exactly), so calendar view is my favorite one. 

TimeCamp helps me with estimating all the tasks. I measure everything I do on my computer, so I can see how much time I really spend on every activity. I can also control how much time do I spend on distractions. 

What is important to say now is to explain what actually do you consider a distraction. Many people would say that social media are distracting them.

But what if you are running Facebook Fanpage? What if you gain leads from LinkedIn? What if you are an Instagram influencer? In this case, social media are your tools. You can’t consider them simply as distractions. 

Distraction then, is everything not related to your current task, don’t you agree? 

If your timeboxes include time to manage social media, it will be exactly what you should do when the right moment comes. However, you shouldn’t check how your Facebook Ads campaign is going during the timebox reserved for checking the e-mails and answering Slack messages. 

TimeCamp is the tool that will show you how do you behave during each timebox, so you can moderate your actions better next time and learn how to work more efficiently. 

How should you estimate your time?

The best way to estimate your time is to make a small sprint retrospective. If you’ve been using some time tracker before, you will be able to schedule your tasks effortlessly. 

As in many other situations, data are everything. 

That is why, when you just start with timeboxing, I would recommend you using soft boxes, and turning on the timer for every task you start doing. After collecting a satisfying amount of data, you will be able to learn estimating right. 

Thanks to TimeCamp, you will be able to measure how many short breaks you need during the day to stay focus, what are your most common distractions and how much time you really spend on every activity.

Don’t be surprised if you find yourself wasting more time than you’ve expected. We’ve all been there. 

Your new way of sprint planning

How do you plan your tasks usually? Does your team like scrum? This is the framework that the authors created for boosting productivity and help in project management. Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland defined it very well in theirs Scrum Guide – including roles. 

Don’t you worry then! Timeboxing isn’t supposed to replace scrum. You can use it as your only time management technique, but you can also implement it to your sprint planning. 

Just remember to create timeboxes in your calendar for all tasks you take from the backlog. Soon you and your team members will see how your productivity rises, and you achieve all your goals smoothly. 

How to use timeboxing to get back control of your life

Work is important but also your personal life. Wouldn’t be great to receive all the benefits of using timeboxing also out of the office? 

Every single task has its time limit, and every bigger idea can be turned into a personal project. Do you remember our first example of getting read of the old clothes? That was one of many personal tasks you create for yourself and for your family. 

You can also use timeboxing to achieve some big personal goal like losing weight for example. Just schedule every training for each month and put it into a timebox. Do the same with meal preparation, sauna, and bedtime, and you will see how easy it becomes. 

But that’s not everything. Why not schedule timeboxes for watching TV, reading books, self-development, and spending time with your children and lover? 

With the timeboxing technique, you can not just achieve all the goals you want, but you stop being a slave of the time. You become the master of it. 

Knowing your calendar, you can easily decide how many more responsibilities you can carry, how much time you can spend on your hobby or self-development. When you decide to enjoy your day with beloved ones, you will be committed to it. 

No more e-mail checking on the nice romantic dinner. You have another timebox for that. 

How to start timeboxing?

1. Get your data. 

Measure how do you spend your time during the workday and later on. Know your enemy, which are distractions. Check when you are most productive, and when it’s hard for you to focus on one activity. See how many breaks do you really need and when. Try TimeCamp: it’s free now! 

2. Prepare the list. 

Write down all the things you need to do at work or both, there and in your personal life. Make it in the SMART way (every task should be specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and timely).

3. Estimate. 

Analyze the data, collect all the tasks for the next 1, 2, or 4 weeks, and turn your list into boxes. Decide if one timebox should last 25, 45, or 60 minutes and how long do you need to rest between jumping to the next tasks. One prefers the Pomodoro technique, someone else flies during long-runs. It’s up to you.

4. Schedule. 

Put your boxes into the right order. As Brian Tracy would say: eat this frog! People love to procrastinate, especially on hard tasks. It will be wise then if you decide to take care of the tough first. You will feel satisfied and proud of yourself, so the rest of the tasks will seem easier to finish. Book some time for surprises as well because we all know how life looks like. Decide what to do with this timebox if nothing unexpected happens. 

5. Do it! 

Start your day by checking the calendar and go with the flow. 

6. Get more data.

Try to stick to your timeboxes and check how it goes. Set a timer, turn on the TimeCamp while using the computer, and keep improving your planning method. 

7. Keep going. 

Share the idea of timeboxing with your team members at work and put yourself as a living example. Boost your productivity, watch the results, get healthy and simply enjoy your life without fear of losing it!

Kat Ciesielska

Freelancer copywriter and salesman. Currently, in love with timeboxing time management (using TimeCamp). Writing since childhood (the story about dwarfs was the first one ever). Bookworm, foodie, gamer & nature lover (yes, she walks without shoes sometimes).

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