Timeboxing: What It Is and How to Take Advantage of it
Why are there only 24 hours in a day? Why can’t we have a few extra hours? These are questions that we ask all the time.
The problem is not time itself but the number of tasks that we try to do. How we use these hours to study, work, play, and sleep affect the satisfaction we get from them. You probably have a boss, a teacher, or a parent who wants to put more things on your plate than you can handle. If so, you understand how challenging task management can be. This is where timeboxing comes in.
What Is Timeboxing?
It is a simple and direct way to get quality work done in the best possible time. It is all about managing how much time you spend on doing anything. However, it is different from setting deadlines. When you decide that you will only spend ten minutes every morning doing yoga, that is timeboxing. Another example is setting alarms so you can only sleep between 9 am and 5 pm.
Most of us are not fans of deadlines. Most of the time, we end up cramming and spending hours doing different things simultaneously. You may think that this is efficient, but in reality, it affects your productivity and brain negatively. A Stanford University study shows that heavy multitaskers are often distracted and have trouble controlling their memory. So, instead of doing several things at the same time, you should try timeboxing.
What Is the Timeboxing Technique?
Has your boss ever extended the date of submission for a project? How did you react to this? If you are like most people, you settled down and stopped fussing. You might have even put it off, waiting for the last few hours before completing it. With timeboxing, this will not happen.
The timeboxing technique is not a new or modern way of managing time. It has been known since the 1980s as a method of increasing productivity per task and per period. It is even possible that the idea of speed dating comes from timeboxing. The fundamental premise is to attach certain tasks to specific periods. We’re talking about duration of time like 30 minutes or 2 hours.
Now, what is the timebox technique? It is any method that uses this principle of assigning durations to specific tasks. Some examples include speed dating and the Pomodoro technique. The point of these time management strategies is to increase productivity by reducing time spent doing unnecessary tasks.
What Are the Methods and Benefits of Timeboxing?
Methods of Timeboxing
There are different methods of timeboxing. Still, the underlying principles are the same. Hard and soft timeboxing are the two types of timeboxing. Both of them are based on the importance of the task and the amount of time you are willing to spend on it.
Hard timeboxing is usually used for tasks that have definite time limits which are usually short. So, when you perform hard timeboxing, you must complete the task within the time frame you set. The point of this is to get as many things done as possible instead of dwelling on one task.
Take, for example, morning exercises. When you decide to jog between 6 am and 7:30 am, you must do this within those 90 minutes. Exceeding this time frame will probably delay you from house chores, school or office work, or business.
It is a ‘hard’ timebox because you usually cannot afford to use too much time for the task. So, you impose time frames on yourself to squeeze out more potential and productivity within the duration of time you set.
When you perform soft timeboxing, you give yourself more breathing room. Usually, the point is not to be productive in the shortest time possible, but to be consistent. The activities that require soft timeboxing are normally long-term.
A good example is learning to code. Here, you can assign 30 to 40 minutes, four times a week to this practice. The more you stick to this timebox, the more comfortable you are with what you are learning. As time goes on, you become accustomed to the process and task.
Knowing whether to use hard or soft timeboxing is key to ensuring the technique’s efficiency. Your choice depends on your goals and how much time you can give to the tasks at hand.
Benefits of Timeboxing
For most people who want to know what timeboxing is, the benefits are usually what piques their interest. It’s no surprise that the method ranked first in Filtered.com’s 2018 study entitled, 100 Most Useful Productivity Tips. You can fit each timebox into your daily, weekly, monthly, or even yearly targets. Also, these benefits bleed into everyday life, study, career, or any other preoccupation.
There are four broad benefits of timeboxing. They are focus, productivity, organization, and balance.
Purpose and focus are the main benefits of timeboxing. If you have settled your mind on performing and completing a certain task at a particular time, timeboxing is for you. With this method, you end up using time wisely and get to do other things that you wouldn’t usually have time for.
Productivity follows focus. While you timebox and fix certain hours or minutes on a particular task, you end up focusing on that single task. As Cal Newport suggests in his book, Deep Work, productivity comes from intense focus.
Imagine a team assignment or something your boss asks you to look into. Without timeboxing, you might go online to get materials, but get distracted along the way. Every minute you lose is gone for good. Even if you do end up getting good materials, you would need to sort them according to their relevance. Then, you would need to report them properly. In the end, you would have lost every chance to be productive.
A person who timeboxes is organized. They manage their tasks and use their time wisely. Days that used to seem too short or too long will become just right.
Being organized gives you a better grasp of your life. An organized person may not be very successful, but successful people are always organized.
Balance comes after organization. When you timebox, you take out everything—task or thought—that might disturb your peace and progress. For example, by using this method, you can do your chores at the best time possible. You can take out time for jogging, yoga, or any other exercise before getting to the main duties of your day. This means that you have considered every period and task and assigned its place.
The idea here is simple: timeboxing helps you focus, organize everything around you, keep a balanced lifestyle, and remain consistently productive. This is not the same as a compulsory routine or living like that is often very boring. Timeboxing helps you take things one day at a time, at your own pace.
You can enjoy all the benefits listed above at the same time. In fact, as you use the timeboxing technique, you’ll notice them after a little while.
The How-To of Timeboxing
Timeboxing is an effective method you can use to become more productive and efficient at whatever you want to do. However, there are steps you must take to get the results you expect. There are four broad steps required for this:
The most important key you need to timebox successfully is prioritization. You must prioritize your tasks. This means that you have to decide which tasks are very important, which tasks are necessary, and which tasks are not. This process depends on your goals.
Take, for example, an ordinary workday in the life of the average employee. There are different tasks ahead of them. Some of these tasks are urgently needed, while others are still as important. Meanwhile, there will probably be tasks that they don’t need to do. That employee must identify each of these tasks and make a note of their importance.
Most people create to-do lists and follow them in order. You should also create to-do lists, but you must add durations to them. This is the logic behind Parkinson’s Law that “…work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” In other words, as long as there is time, you will always find something to do.
Timing is another key step for effective timeboxing. It is also the easiest. All you need to do is add specific time frames to your prioritized tasks.
There is a slight difference between timing here and the latter stages of prioritization. During prioritization, the time frames you add to your lists do not need to be specific. Instead, they only need to be in order. However, during the timing stage, the frames you add must be specific to the minute.
When you have added specific time frames to your tasks, you can consider your timeboxing half-done. However, make sure that the time frames are adequate for each task. You can test the time spent on a typical work to develop a good frame of reference.
Once you have prioritized your tasks and assigned the time to execute them, what follows are the stages of verification.
Visualization follows timing. The idea here is to keep your eyes on the clock, and you have to be conscious of time to use it properly. If you lose track of time, you might spend too much of it doing one task. You would have failed to timebox effectively and used the period for other tasks. The other outcome is that you spend too little time on a task. In this case, you would have more time on your hands than you know what to do with. Then, you get distracted.
Visualization helps you keep time on your mind. You can do this by placing sticky notes where you can see them. These notes should have the task in question, how long it should take, when it should start, and when it should end.
Keep your notes as simple as possible. This way, you only need to glance at them to be mindful of them.
Compensating or rewarding yourself is important. Timeboxing is not only about tackling arduous tasks, but also about knowing when to rest. Your compensation can take many forms. For instance, you can take breaks after tasks. If you have to stretch your legs or play a video game after completing one task, do so. Taking a nap is another way to reward yourself. Furthermore, as the notable author on time pressure and productivity, Elizabeth Tenney explains, these rewards can boost your productivity.
So, after ticking off a task, appreciate the time you used and the time left. This step is as important as prioritization. So, bonus point, make it a priority.
Tools and Apps for Timeboxing
It is not easy to manage time without external help. You can increase the effectiveness of timeboxing by using tools and mobile apps. Examples of these are Google Calendar, Traqq, and Trello.
Google Calendar is a mobile tool that is easy to use. It is exactly like a normal calendar with dates. However, it is more useful for timeboxing. You can use it to create and prioritize tasks, schedule meetings, and set timers and reminders. Also, since it is a web application, you can have it on your mobile phone and computers. The best part is it is free.
Traqq is another useful tool you can use for timeboxing. As we’ve mentioned, you need to watch your time when working on a task. As a time tracker, Traqq lets you do just that. You can set it to send notifications for every hour worked. This way, you know how much time you’ve spent on a particular task. It is available on browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, etc.) and operating systems (Mac and Windows).
As long as you know what is timeboxing and follow the steps of prioritizing and timing tasks, you will become more productive than you have ever been. Keep your tasks simple and make your time frames flexible. As you go along, you will get better at timeboxing and the level of discipline you must have to execute every task.