How to Use Timeboxing for Maximum Productivity
You arrive at work and start checking your emails.
Or maybe you work from home and you know that checking your email is a priority. You expect to spend at least 5 or 10 minutes in case there are some requiring a reply.
But 10 minutes turns out to be 30 minutes. Or even 1 hour.
And in case you don’t have lots of email to go through, then you could easily decide to update yourself on the latest news.
Before you know it, you’re hungry.
It’s lunch time.
Why does time fly so fast?
If you’ve ever asked yourself that question, then here is the answer: Time doesn’t fly fast. In fact, it doesn’t fly at all. It just slowly ticks away.
So if you don’t get things done on time, the problem is most likely on your end and not time.
There could be many reasons for your lack of productivity.
- Distractions cost the average employee 2 hours every day
- Every 6 minutes, the average knowledge worker checks email and instant message
- The average person gets 1 interruption every 8 minutes, or approximately 7 an hour, or 50–60 per day. The average interruption takes 5 minutes, totaling about 4 hours or 50% of the average workday.
- 80% of all “Crisis Management” events are preventable
- Working with a cluttered desk takes an average of 1.5 hours looking for things or being distracted by things.
Are you a slave to distractions? We’re here to help you break free.
Today’s article discusses a time management tool called timeboxing. This is a popular and highly effective tool used to increase productivity.
But we won’t just tell you what it is and how to use it. We’ll also share some tips which will help you successfully adapt this technique of managing your time.
Let’s get started.
WHAT IS TIMEBOXING?
Timeboxing can be seen as a tool or a technique used to manage time.
Time management is a big challenge for many people and they always try to extract more out of each day.
People employ different solutions based on their diagnosis of the problem.
Some understand the problem to be a lack of focus on the work to be done. Solution? A cup of coffee every hour. As long as there is visible progress, caffeine addiction is not considered a risk.
Others understand the problem to be a lack of planning. Solution: To-Do lists. Never mind the many times these have been shown to bring little positive change.
No matter what you have tried so far, timeboxing is sure to be the solution you’re seeking.
If you’ve tried it but are still experiencing challenges, read on. There’s enough advice here to help you succeed in your quest for increased productivity.
With timeboxing, all you have to do is allocate time limits for every task you need done. That’s it. Once you do that and stay within those limits, you’ll see your productivity levels soar.
Just imagine what it would mean for your career. For your business. For your family.
However, the truth is, things aren’t always as easy as they initially seem. If you’ve tried timeboxing and experienced challenges, you know this very well.
But do you know what makes it difficult to use timeboxing effectively?
Challenges in using timeboxing
The problem is mainly the tasks themselves and if not, the time limits you set. Both these issues will be looked into in the steps listed below. But let’s just take a look at something related to the time limits.
It’s common to feel frustrated once the set time limit is reached yet the task is not yet completed. This is when timeboxing can easily be said to be ineffective.
But is that so?
There are two types of timeboxes you should know about and choose from. One is a soft timebox and the other a hard timebox. The difference is what you do after the time set for a task expires.
With the hard timebox, once the time limit is reached, you stop working on the task. You immediately move on to the next task as per your plans. When you’re getting started with timeboxing, this is likely to leave you feeling helpless.
However, it’s just a process of learning some discipline. As you will realize if you continue down the path, this makes you determined to focus on the task and finish it on time.
The soft timebox on the other hand gives you the freedom to adjust the limit once time is over. If you set the timer to 30 minutes and the alarm goes off, you can decide to increase the time by 10 more minutes.
This is to help you finish off the tasks and not leave it hanging. Although this is not a bad option, it carries the risk of perpetually snoozing the alarm until you have no time for the other tasks.
But again, if this feels like the way forward for you, especially when beginning, it’s still okay.
The most important thing to think about is the discipline you’ll learn after using timeboxing for a while.
HOW TO USE TIMEBOXING EFFECTIVELY
Timeboxing is effective. But how do you reap from it?
There’s no doubt that you need to increase your productivity and when you get the opportunity, you should embrace it. Yet you should not run with the idea without even understanding it.
Understand the process then implement it. This way, you’ll know the pitfalls and avoid them like a pro. Afterwards, you can also train your friends and family and see them improve their lives too.
Here are the steps you should follow to achieve maximum productivity using timeboxing.
1. Identify your tasks
In order to use timeboxing, there has to be some tasks to be completed. Identifying those tasks is the first step towards timeboxing.
This step can prove challenging if you don’t know what exactly you should do and what you shouldn’t. The risk is in having too many tasks which can’t be completed on time.
This is often the problem with To-Do lists. Some people put in everything in their lists and by the time it’s evening, they’ve only completed a small portion of the tasks.
We’ll see how to deal with this problem in the next step. For now, just get the list of tasks to be done. You can use your most recent To-Do list to find out what pending work you have.
If there’s anything you think should simply not be in this list, remove it. This will help you minimize the work in the next step.
2. Prune your list of tasks
Now that you have the list of tasks you need done, it’s time to prune it.
This is the same thing done in farming. Removing the unfruitful parts of a plant to remain with the fruitful ones.
And to do this effectively, you should use another time management tool called the Eisenhower Box.
The Eisenhower box helps categorize tasks and duties according to importance and urgency. Eisenhower was the 34th president of the US credited with this productivity tool.
He correctly diagnosed the problem of lack of productivity. He realized that people do the wrong things and end up having no time for the right things.
Now take the list of tasks you came up with and subject it to this powerful filter. Put everything in the box you think it should be in.
If you think you’re taking too much time, it’s okay. It’s part of the learning process. You’re probably struggling with categorization because you’re not used to looking at those tasks critically.
Once you get used to it, it will be a breeze.
When you’re done, go through it again. The goal here is to reduce the number of tasks as much as possible.
This will increase your chances of successfully completing them. This is the secret successful people know and many others don’t.
It’s all about having only the most important things to do. Anything else, you either delegate or drop altogether. This way, you’ll have more peace of mind and time for important things like relationships.
3. Schedule your tasks appropriately
With fewer tasks to allocate time to, it’s easier to do just that. But that doesn’t mean you should just allocate time randomly.
First, find out what time you start working. If it’s 8:00 am, then the hours around this time should be your most precious. Generally, the time following your waking up is your most productive.
After deciding what time to start working, fix your break times. These include any coffee/tea breaks as well as lunch break.
The reason for this is to help you know what time is for working and what time is for breaks. Settle it in your mind that you must take breaks. We’ll talk about breaks in the tips below.
Once you’re done with this, now you go through the tasks and determine how much time you need to finish each. Depending on the tasks, you may have to plan differently.
Does this task require much concentration? Can you do it in the afternoon when you’re not as alert as in the morning.
Any tasks you think can be handled later in the day should be allocated time in the afternoon. Otherwise, try getting things done in the morning hours.
Number one reason for this is that your mind performs well in the morning.
Watch the below video for tips on how to have more productive mornings and the whole day afterwards.
4. Allocate the time
Having decided the time you’ll work on which tasks, it’s time to allocate the time frames. These are the timeboxes.
Keep in mind the soft and hard timeboxes. If you use the soft timeboxes, then have a margin of maybe 5 or 10 minutes. Once the alarm goes off, you know that you have some extra minutes.
The time limits you set should ideally be decided based on the amount of work to be done.
For example, you may have a report about the weekend sale which you need to submit by 2:00 pm. To do this, you have data to analyze, highlights to pick and some graphs to draw.
You can break this work into 3 or 4 smaller tasks. If 3 tasks, then the time needed by each task might be less. This is in comparison to if you broke down the work into 2 individual tasks.
If you work from 8 – 5pm, then fill up your work day with the appropriate tasks and their time frames.
5. Work ONLY within the timebox
Up until this point, everything should be relatively easy. If you’ve used timeboxing before, maybe the only new thing you didn’t consider was the Eisenhower box.
Now here is where the challenges usually start.
We talked briefly about the challenge addressed in this step. This is about the hard and soft timeboxes.
For the majority, the alarm goes off when they’re too far from where they expected to be. The portion of work they expected to be done with seems like an impossible-to-reach finish line.
Well, we’ll just remind you of the simple advice that patience pays. And here’s another one: nothing good comes easy.
Ask anyone who uses timeboxing and they’ll tell you it was difficult getting started. It is persistence that got them through the initial challenges.
One great benefit you’ll see once you’ve mastered timeboxing is that it actually helped you become more disciplined.
Hard timeboxing is a better choice
Despite the challenge of feeling as though you’ve been rudely interrupted when the alarm goes off, we advice you to use the hard timeboxes.
The hard timeboxes seem to be tough, but if only you can see it, there is fun in it.
When is the last time you had fun when working?
Just look at it as a game. There is no losing your money or getting punished for not finishing the work on time. You really have nothing to lose. Put on the right mindset and find out how well and easily you can adapt to a new environment.
If you have set 15 minutes for email, be ruthless with yourself. Don’t even read the emails. Scroll through them only checking who sent it and the subject. If the subject doesn’t sound important, ignore it. If the sender is known to send “unimportant” emails, ignore it.
This will be difficult at first so expect your mind to be troubled by your new and weird habit but keep going.
Next, having identified the emails to read, now decide on the ones to respond to. Quickly go through them looking out for questions or updates which need to be given by you.
Respond to the emails remembering that the clock is ticking away. But be careful not to reply to emails without giving the right information. Also check for spelling mistakes. Type out your response then take a few seconds to read and edit it accordingly.
In case you’re not able to finish the task after 15 minutes, drop it at the sound of the alarm. It’s time to move on to the next task. Do not let one task suffer because of the previous one.
One thing you can be sure of, if you looked at this as a game, you’ll come out a winner. If not the first time, the second or even third. Just don’t give up too quickly.
6. Review your productivity
What next after the very challenging step above? It’s time to review your success.
Did you manage to do all you set out to do? If yes, congratulations and keep going. If no, then find out what needs to be changed or improved on.
If you didn’t get the success you were hoping for, then there is always something you can do about it. You just have to check how you’ve gone about the process and look for loopholes.
It’s also possible that you should keep practicing with timeboxing. After some time, you’ll get used to it and achieve better results. There are also some tips you can apply to get more out of this.
But first consider reducing the number of tasks, allocating more time to the tasks and breaking things down into smaller chunks than before.
ADDITIONAL TIPS FOR MAKING TIMEBOXING WORK
The above six steps aside, there are some other things you should do to get to maximum productivity more quickly.
These are tips which work like enhancers. They help you stay the course and finish the race on time.
- Use visual aids – everyone loves visuals. From blog readers to marketing experts. In this case however, they’ll be serving a different purpose—helping you see how much time is left. This is because setting the timebox is not the problem, the problem is staying within the timebox. The best type of visuals to use are smartphone or tablets/laptop apps. An example is Pomotodo. These can be set up to occupy a section of your screen where a quick glance shows you the bar reducing in size. This keeps you alert and focused knowing that time is running out.
- Use kitchen timers – visuals are great but including sound in the plan makes things even better. Otherwise how would you know once you reached the time limit for a given task? That timer is important and if it has a snooze function, it can come in handy when using soft timeboxes.
- Create a distraction-free environment – if your work space is cluttered, there’s a big chance that you’re not very productive. From having unnecessary gadgets on your desk to having many sticky notes all around you. These could be distracting you. If you’re working from home, distractions can be a big challenge. From the bed located a few steps away to the TV and food available in the refrigerator, focusing might be hard. But you can set up your home for work. Make sure there are fewer things on your desk. Get rid of the sticky notes and focus on the timeboxing schedule. The fewer the things you see, the higher your concentration will be.
- Make room for breaks/rest – timeboxing doesn’t mean you should work till it’s time for tea or lunch break. You can have occasional breaks when you just walk around the office and talk with a colleague for a few minutes. Working from home also allows for this. Walk to the kitchen and come back to your working space. Do some stretches then get back to work. If working on one big project with multiple chunks, break after at least 1 hour. This will also help you avoid health issues.
- Look out for time wasters – by the time you seek help to become more productive, you definitely know that things need to improve. One of the culprits of lost time is social media. If this is a challenge for you, look for browser extensions for productivity.
Another culprit is analysis paralysis. If you think and analyze the situation too much till you don’t act because time is over, then you need to deal with that. This can really hold you back if you don’t work on it soonest possible.
All things said and done, your need and determination to improve are what matter most.
The question then becomes, “Are you willing to spend some time to learn the process? Are you patient enough to work through the challenges of learning something new?”
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