Timeboxing: A simple technique to reclaim your time

  • September 7, 2022
  • by Kat Ciesielska
  • No comments
a hand and wooden blocks

Timeboxing is a pretty fresh time management technique. It separates your day into nice boxes of time. Once you’ve got a time frame for a particular task, you can really focus. When 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 all your goals, or you simply want to get more from your personal life, keep reading.


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 deadline. Time-boxing comes as a rescue. 

What is timeboxing management technique?


Timeboxing time management technique is actually literally this: you cut the time into the boxes and apply them to your calendar. Each fixed time period has its size and, like 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. Time limits you, so you won’t lose all day because of your perfectionism. It’s also harder to lose focus, as you know which task you work on at the exact moment. Even an unpleasant task is easier to be done when you already allocated time for it, and you know when you will finish. 

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

👉 Read also about different Time Management Techniques.

Soft timeboxing


How many meetings do you have monthly? Would you like to set a strict limit for each of them to save your team’s time? You can.

Let’s imagine that you dedicated a 45-minute box of time 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. 

It means that a particular task can be completed while extending the box a bit. That’s closer to human nature, for sure. 

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. What was supposed to take two hours, suddenly takes for… and you can simply break your own work.

But it works for some people. 

This way is also known as open timeboxing. 


Hard timeboxing

Sometimes called also “closed timeboxing”.


The hard version of timeboxing management technique 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. When the time frame is set up, you just don’t change it. It’s an extremely strict deadline. 


There is a huge difference as you see. In this case, people won’t have any chances to manipulate the 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!”. Getting used to this will be difficult for every team member. 


However, if you dedicate yourself to teaching your team working with hard timeboxing, after some time, 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 work

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 limits your time. You are supposed to finish the task in the time you’ve estimated. 

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 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. 

👉 See The Best Time Blocking Apps.

measuring time
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 and implement timeboxing time management technique, let’s summarize what we’ve learned from it. It has many benefits. These are 4 of them.


1. Timeboxing increases your motivation

Remind yourself 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 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. All important tasks will be finished. 


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 more time you have, the longer 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. 

parkinsonslaw

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 on 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 what you’ve planned. 


4. Time limits give you peace of mind


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


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


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 team work and save their mental resources. 

Is there any timeboxing app?


Timeboxing in the calendar is possible, but it will be much easier if you use one of the time-tracking apps. You will be able to plan a few weeks ahead and control time spent on individual tasks. Thanks to this, sprint review will be much more effective. 


TimeCamp

timecamp app
Timeboxing with TimeCamp is a piece of cake. Because the software track automatically how much time a task takes to be completed, you can estimate your time boxes correctly. TimeCamp will also help you to keep self-discipline, as it shows you all the distractions and unproductive activities. Many people don’t know how easy it is to lose time if you don’t track it.


But successful timeboxing is not the only thing that TimeCamp can help you with. Fighting perfectionist tendencies, invoicing, budgeting… all this becomes easier!


You can easily switch tasks, create complex reports, and break time into smaller or longer periods. That’s a time management tool that has it all. 


TimeCamp grants you unlimited access even in the free plan, so there’s nothing to lose. Check it out. 

 

ClickUp

clickup
ClickUp is a cloud-based project management tool that helps you get stuff done.


You can use it to manage your team, organize your tasks and projects, and track progress on everything from sales goals to marketing initiatives.


Whether you’re responsible for a small team or a large enterprise, ClickUp has the tools to help you keep everyone on the same page—and set them up for success.

With powerful features, simple integrations, and an intuitive design, it empowers you to build better workflows and lead your team to success.

It’s a simple tool, but very effective. The free plan is enough for most users. 

Check our ClickUp Time Tracking integration!


Any.Do

anydo app
The AnyDo app is a free, easy-to-use to-do list that helps you get things done. It’s designed to be simple, intuitive, and fun.


You can keep track of any kind of task you want. AnyDo lets you easily create, delete and modify your important tasks. If you need to break a task down into smaller steps – no problem! Just add sub-tasks or add notes and comments to them. You can even set reminders so that you don’t forget any essential tasks.


TimeTackle

timetackle


TimeTackle helps you track your progress in real-time. You can also synchronize it with Google sheets, prepare reports and even prepare calendar audit. It’s a solution good for  smaller tasks and big projects. When you turn on the tracker manually, you can also track sales meetings or sales calls time. 


Software is available from $12, and it promises 10x your ROI on your time spend.


Sunsama

sunsama app

Sunsama is a perfect time management tool for those of you who love minimalism when it comes to design. An interface is very intuitive and simple to use. It offers a kanban-style board, great drag-and-drop features, integrations with apps like Jira or Trello, and more. It also has a similar to Slack communication option. 


It doesn’t have a free version, but you can test it during a 14-day trial. 

Best combo for time management technique

There may be some extra time management applications made specifically to plan timeboxing, but I like the simplicity and prefer to use as fewer 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, hobbies). I assign every single task to the exact day and time, so the calendar view is my favorite one. 


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


I would say that distraction is everything not related to your current task. 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 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 by making 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 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 to estimate right. 


Thanks to TimeCamp, you will be able to measure how many short breaks you need during the day to stay focused, what 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 helping in project management. Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland defined it very well in their 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 in your sprint planning. 


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

timetable

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 goals 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 and 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 you spend your time during the workday and later on. Know your enemy, which is distractions. Check when you are most productive, and when it’s hard for you to focus on one activity. See how many breaks you really need and when. The way I recommend? 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 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 in 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 what 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 going with the flow.
  6. Get more data.

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

    Boost your productivity, get healthy and simply enjoy your life without fear of losing it!

Conclusion

As you see, timeboxing is effortless if you have a good plan and a nice set of tools. Every team member can implement this technique to boost their productivity. Use timeboxing in agile software development and in other situations. It’s perfect for everybody. 

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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