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TimeBoxing: What Is It And How To Use It

TimeBoxing: What Is It And How To Use It

In time management, timeboxing allocates a fixed time period, called a time box, to each planned activity. Several project management approaches use timeboxing. It is also used for individual use to address personal tasks in a smaller time frame.

What Is TimeBoxing?

There are many software development (and personal development techniques that use a form of timeboxing as their main productivity tool. TimeBoxing:

  • Stops Procrastination and Perfectionism – because we only have a limited time on a task we can’t put it off or keep on tweaking it until it’s “just right”
  • Makes you move on to the next task – You don’t work on a task until it’s done, you work on it until your allocated time has run out.
  • Allows you to spread time and energy across multiple areas – You don’t concentrate on that one thing you’re “good at” or “like”. It forces you to focus on the stuff that you’d rather put off or don’t usually make time for such as physical health, mental wellbeing, knowledge.
  • Breaks tasks into manageable chunks – As you have a smaller amount of time to work on something you won’t get bogged down in the minor details.
  • Allows you to see results quickly – In certain software (and personal) development philosophies time boxing allows you to release results in smaller chunks rather than one big release at the end. In terms of software and web development, this is very relevant. In terms of personal development it allows you to track your progress quickly and provides motivation.
  • Allows you to audit your time – This means that on future projects you can better estimate how long a similar task will take.

TimeBoxing focuses on the time you allocate to tasks, not really the tasks themselves. There is some element of prioritising required in order to set your day up, but due to the nature of TimeBoxing this isn’t a key element of the technique.

Download your TimeBox planner now

How Does TimeBoxing Work?

Timeboxing, in the way that it operates, is very similar to the Pomodoro Technique where you work on a task for 25 minutes, take a break and then resume the task. The difference with Timeboxing though is that after your allotted time is up you move on to the next task on your list.

Pomodoro technique compared to TimeBox

As you can see from the above example, the Pomodoro technique actually fits in well with Timeboxing and both techniques can be used together to make yourself doubly productive. And, as with the Pomodoro technique you don’t really need any special tools just some paper to note down your tasks and a timer to help you keep track of time. You can though, if you prefer a more technological solution, check out my post on the Pomodoro Technique technique for a massive list of tools to help you keep track of tasks and time.

My Issue With TimeBoxing

There is one jarring aspect to the Timeboxing technique that I find hard to get along with and that’s leaving a task unfinished and moving on to the next one, especially when you may be quite close to completion. Perhaps this is because I come from a programming background where, if you stop something mid-way through and try to get back to it the following day it can be difficult to remember what you have done and what you were going to do (or perhaps that’s just me?!) Because of this, I suggest ensuring that you have a TimeBox at the end of your day for reflection on what you have done and what you need to the following day.

What Do You Think?

Will Timeboxing help you? Is there any real difference to the Pomodoro technique? Will it help you manage your tasks and your day any better? Let us know in the comments.

Get your free timeboxing download and read how to use it in my post “Free Timeboxing Planner

Featured Image: Box Photo by Keerati, Alarm Clock by Pong from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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6 Responses

  • Jerry Quinn says:

    Just a quick mispelling ptr.  You have a section title:

    “My Issue With TomeBoxing”

    The idea seems interesting to me.  Thanks for your article!

    1. Katy Whitton says:

      Thanks for pointing that out Jerry, I’d like to say I do it on purpose to make sure people are paying attention but… 😉

  • Great post and some good suggestions to improve personal productivity.

    I am also a big proponent of allocating only a specific amount of time to an activity. This is a key approach I advocate for Email Management, but works for nearly any type of task or activity. The “Pomodoro technique” is a fairly popular approach, since it mixes both focused work sessions with “non-work breaks” (gives you a “reward” for your effort). But this approach has been around a long time, previously referred to as “time-boxing” or even “sprint sessions”, methods you highlight in your post.

    But a key piece of this approach is to eliminate all your distractions and truly focus on that one task for the intended duration. I have found that meditation and mindfulness exercises can actually be helpful to this approach, since they help you learn to “acknowledge” and “eliminate” stray thoughts and distractions from your consciousness. The key is to really turn off all potential sources of interruptions, and make a significant and purposeful effort on that one task. And this takes effort and practice. It’s not easy. Even doing a 5 minute “work sprint” is more then most people can really do at first. But if you work at it and practice, you can learn to really “get in the zone” and “flow”, and true productivity and creativity will flourish.

    There are a number of tools and utilities that can help you with this, but you can also achieve the benefit very simply by using a timer and shutting off your phone, email, and browser!

    I personally suffer from “shiny object” syndrome myself (reason I study this stuff is that I am challenged by it myself!), and I find that time-boxing to be a big help in keeping me “on task”!
    Regards,
    Dr. Michael Einstein
    http://www.EmailOverloadSolutions.com

    1. Katy says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful response Michael.

      I know what you mean about “Shiny Object Syndrome” and suffer from it myself majorly on occasion, along with fake multi-tasking and other productivity sins!

      I have been thinking about revisiting meditation, it’s something I used to do years ago but sort of got out of the habit. You mentioning the link between distractions and meditation is giving me pause for thought to take another look at the benefits – thanks!

  • Brian Robben says:

    Getting rid of perfectionism is the most attractive benefit of TimeBoxing for me. Also, I think that taking a break from task one and moving onto another task will give your subconscious mind some time to come up with better solutions to task one. Going to try it out in 30 minutes!

    1. Katy says:

      Let us know how you get on, don’t forget to download my paper based solution if you prefer to track things in an “old school” way!

      http://www.flippingheck.com/free-download-timebox-planner/

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