Boosting productivity is not an easy task. As an adult, you’ll wear many hats, as either an employee, parent, volunteer, or, more than likely — all of the above. Balancing so many responsibilities and commitments can be overwhelming. Your to-do lists and schedules can get confusing and stressful as you try to manage a hundred things at once. You can solve this dilemma through the use of timeboxing.
What is timeboxing?
Timeboxing is a time management technique that involves setting fixed amounts of time for tasks to be completed. For example, you can set one hour of your day to work on a specific project and then incorporate that into your schedule. During this “box” of time, you only work on this project and nothing else. When the allotted time has ended, you move on to your next time box.
You can picture it this way: your daily schedule will have a “timebox” from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. for exercise. You will start exercising right at 7 a.m. and end right at 8 a.m. Keeping to your schedule in this way — your workout won’t spill over, and you’ll have enough time to get ready for your next timebox. You continue through as many timeboxes as you choose to set each day.
Timeboxing takes your regular to-do list and adds a calendar element to the mix. You dedicate specific blocks of time to tasks and do your best to get them done in that time frame. Adhering more closely to this schedule-practice helps you get more done by adding an extra layer of commitment to the tasks you have set before you.
Why is it used?
The purpose of timeboxing can be narrowed down into two explanations: Improve productivity and time management. Most of the personal reasons people use timeboxing fall under one of these two categories:
First and foremost, those who opt to use timeboxing are usually looking to make the most out of each day. Human nature often guides us to the path of least resistance, which can lead to slothfulness and procrastination. Timeboxing is a way to overcome those weaknesses.
Distractions are one of the biggest reasons we cannot fully commit to productivity. Once we lose our focus, it can be hard to get back on track. Timeboxing helps us maintain focus as we complete tasks while still allowing us time to enjoy more trivial pursuits.
While productivity and time management go hand in hand, sometimes you want to manage your time in a way that allows you more time to unwind or participate in hobbies or extracurricular activities. Time management makes it possible to include everything into your daily schedule, no matter what category the activity falls under.
Not many people feel satisfied dedicating their life solely to their occupation, but sometimes it can feel like you don’t have the time for anything else.
What is Timeboxing used for?
Timeboxing is used to maximize the amount of productivity in your day. By planning ahead, you better prepare yourself for the work you have in front of you. The focus provided by timeboxing helps block out distractions that can turn a 30-minute assignment into a two-hour project. Providing a starting point and an endpoint helps make the time you spend as productive as possible.
Working Hard with Timeboxing
People also rely on timeboxing to make sure they devote enough time to all of their commitments. Look no further than eccentric billionaire CEO Elon Musk. Musk spends a full workweek at not one, but two companies, all while juggling hobbies, family, and a non-profit organization. The “Musk juggling” may seem legendary, and may seem like more responsibility than one man can handle — but Elon Musk has managed it all — and gets it done — through strict timeboxing.
While few, if any, of us will ever have to deal with a schedule as demanding as that of Musk, he has everything pre-planned down to 5-minute increments. He is an excellent example of how timeboxing is used. Without setting aside the proper time to accomplish everything Musk needs to accomplish in a day, there’s no way he could get everything done. We can emulate this method for the smaller, less frequent tasks we have to handle every single day.
Without timeboxing, Musk could not successfully run two successful large-scale businesses week after week. The amount of planning and diligent execution that he puts into each day makes sure that nothing slips through the cracks. Many other factors contribute to his success — but timeboxing is the glue that holds it all together.
Using timeboxing can be of great benefit to freelancers, contractors, and anyone else working from home. With these demanding careers — many elements can cause distractions, and timeboxing ensures that every task gets the proper amount of attention. You can even box off the hour you need to get your yard work done without getting carried away and losing your entire afternoon.
Part of being productive isn’t simply working as hard as you can for as long as possible. While being productive is great, you want to be careful to avoid the burnout and stress that stem from overworking yourself. With timeboxing, you can schedule needed breaks to help you maintain your improved work pace. Frequent breaks can help you be more productive as long as your breaks are also approached correctly.
Balancing Your Life
The bottom line for many workers around the world is balancing their trade with the other aspects of their lives. Isn’t it amazing that Elon Musk can make time for his family even with such a demanding professional life?
Frequently work, and other responsibilities can overtake the time you could otherwise be spending with your family. An improper work-life balance causes us to feel stressed, affecting our work and our personal life in a lose-lose situation.
With timeboxing, you can take control of your life and make sure that your professional and personal lives are both getting the right amount of attention. You will see positive effects as you take care of every aspect of your life with better care.
When is Timeboxing used?
When you use timeboxing is dependent on how you want to implement this tool. For you, timeboxing may be used from the moment your alarm goes off in the morning, or as soon as you clock into work. Each approach comes from a different perspective:
Timeboxing can be followed to get more done throughout the entire day, from the time you wake up through breakfast, work, dinner, all the way to the night’s football game. In the case of a man as busy as Elon Musk, he needs to timebox his entire day so he can accomplish everything he desires.
Others, with the same mindset of making each day as productive as possible, will opt for timeboxing their entire day. They’ll want to stick to a morning routine and pack their working hours with productive and completable tasks. The sense of accomplishment that comes with a full day of progress will keep driving them forward.
If timeboxing your entire day is too much of a commitment, you can elect to timebox only your scheduled work hours. Timeboxing only work hours will help you focus and increase your productivity for the hours designated toward your career-work.
After completing all your work-related tasks, thanks to timeboxing, you can be more flexible with the rest of your day. You merely schedule your Calendar that way. The split-calendar-schedule is a popular option for freelancers and contractors who work from home on projects — while balancing the rest of their life. Remote work presents additional challenges and distractions that timeboxing can help with.
Employers can weigh the pros and cons of timeboxing for their teams. On the pro side, timeboxing can boost productivity by engaging team members and increasing their focus for the blocks you put in place. The primary connection in your thought process is ensuring that the implementation of the timebox management strategy is done correctly.
Timeboxing allows for the right amount of break time so that you and your workers don’t get burnt out from the extreme level of focus you’re using and applying to work projects. Some employees feel like they’re unable to take breaks for fear of insubordination or inability to complete projects. Adding necessary breaks to the timeboxed schedule ensures everyone gets the rest they need to maintain productivity.
Apply Timeboxing as necessary
If you prefer day-to-day flexibility, you can still implement timeboxing for particular situations that may require calendaring changes. Let’s say you take a family vacation but yet have some work projects that need finishing during your trip. You don’t want issues and plans to overwhelm your time off — so you can employ timeboxing to help you be as productive as possible in short blocks.
Schedule your timeboxing for certain hours of the day when nothing is planned so you can accomplish what you need without interfering with your fun. The timeboxing method holds you accountable for your timeframe. On vacation, you can’t use the, “Just a minute hon, I’m not quite done yet,” for hours on end, extending the time outside of your box.
The adaptable timebox-method is adaptable to any other situation you might find yourself locked into. Whether you’re trying to get extra work done to have an extra day off for your fishing trip, or you’re having trouble beating a creative block — timeboxing helps you skirt the pesky, vulnerable areas in your life.
You can combine “at work” and “as necessary” for an “at work when necessary” category. On a typical workday, you might be happy with your productivity level until a major project comes your way. An oversized assignment might seem daunting, but you can break it down into useful chunks of time using timeboxing. You’ll press through issues by the designated due date, while still staying on top of your regular labor.
What is a Timeboxing model?
A model is a “system or thing used as an example to follow or imitate.” We can see this in a business model that lays the groundwork of an organization with guidelines it follows to maintain operations. You can use a timeboxing model to get your time management plan moving and keep it consistent.
There is no “exacting,” concrete timeboxing model that everyone follows, but the concept narrows down to a single strategy: Use a calendar to create blocks of time in which to focus on a single task.
You can opt to create your own business model (or life model) by merely following a calendar with your timeboxing included. You can also incorporate other time management models as an extension to your timeboxing, such as the Covey Matrix.
The Covey Matrix
The Covey Matrix follows an idea presented by Former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower stated, “We should devote attention and time to our activities in accordance with their importance and urgency.” Steven R. Covey took this idea and presented it with a model or matrix in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”
The matrix consists of four quadrants with four categorizing factors: urgent, not urgent, important, and not important. You fill out your matrix with the tasks you have based on these four criteria. You will see which tasks are most urgent and most important, and which are not.
You can use this model to establish your timeboxing. Tasks that are both urgent and important are prioritized in your timebox planning. Other tasks that aren’t urgent or essential are pushed back if you choose, but timeboxing allows you to make sure that the tasks still get attention eventually, and aren’t forgotten.
How does timeboxing work?
In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Daniel Markovitz tackles the issue of ineffective to-do lists. He named five reasons why they didn’t work:
- To-do lists overwhelm you with choices that can bog you down.
- Human beings are more easily drawn to tasks that seem easier to accomplish.
- In contrast, important tasks that do not seem necessary, such as increased learning, are put on the backburner.
- To-do lists do not take into account the time you actually have to complete them.
- There is no way to hold yourself accountable to these lists.
Markovitz made a simple suggestion that would change the way we approach to-do lists forever: Move them to a calendar.
Move the list to a calendar is the one simple suggestion that makes timeboxing work. It addresses each of these issues we face with ordinary to-do lists and provides an excellent solution. Let’s analyze the five problems that Markovitz addressed:
- Timeboxing helps us organize our to-do lists and complete them with exactness.
- Using a calendar for our to-do list allows us to make time for even the most difficult of tasks.
- With timeboxing, we can set aside time for those meaningful tasks that would otherwise be forgotten.
- Scheduling your to-do list with time constraints ensures that you can actually get them all done.
- Timeboxing holds us accountable by requiring ourselves to adhere to a schedule and do what needs to be done in those boxes.
The Calendar approach is a straightforward method that makes your to-do lists a place for another victory!
Leading Influencer/Thought Leadership for Timeboxing
Nir Eyal is the Author of Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life. In his personal blog, he discusses why being “indistractable” is the skill of the future, and how eliminating distractions is key to our success. Timeboxing is one of the suggestions Eyal expounds on that shows how we can make time for everything important to us.
“The most effective way to make sure you’ll make time for your values is timeboxing,” he writes. “It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you do what you planned to do. Go ahead and scroll through social media, but at allotted times — not at the expense of other things you planned to do, like spending time with your family.”
Sticking with the approach at timeboxing is part of how we become “indistractable.” We can allow ourselves the pleasure of relaxing and turning to media entertainment on occasion, without allowing it to distract us from more important things. We get our best work done, and more of it, when we are able to remove ourselves from those distractions when they wouldn’t be appropriate.”
How to Timebox
Now that you know more about what timeboxing is and what it’s used for, we can break timeboxing down into five simple steps:
- Set goals
- Determine tasks
- Estimate time
These steps can help you get started with timeboxing even if you’ve never done anything of the sort before. They help you lay out a plan for timeboxing, something essential for ensuring productivity.
1. Set Goals
As Hall of Fame baseball player Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.” Identifying your timeboxing boxes will give you a more precise direction in which to go. Here are some ideas of goals you can set:
- Make time for hobbies
- Cut down on social media time-wasting
- Increase productivity during the workday
- Balance work and family
Your goals can change as you get the hang of timeboxing. Don’t be afraid to take a step back and reevaluate what you want to get out of timeboxing. Stepping back and taking a look is so essential — the process will be addressed in the final step of this cycle.
2. Determine Tasks
Next, decide which tasks you want to timebox. Start with as many projects as you feel comfortable handling. You might consider starting small to get used to the concept before amping it up. Timeboxing every single item on your schedule can make for an overwhelming start.
The tasks you wish to include should reflect the goals you’ve set for yourself. We can break the how-to and why down again with the goals mentioned earlier:
- To make time for hobbies, use timeboxing to efficiently get your work done, so you have more available time in your day.
- Use timeboxing to set a designated time for scrolling through social media, so you don’t turn to it every time you get a notification.
- If your goal is to be more productive while on the clock, find some projects that you usually struggle with and slot them into ultra-efficient timeboxes.
- For balancing your work with your family life, always dedicate time specifically for each area.
Timeboxing works best when you have specific activities in mind. Boxing off an hour for miscellaneous work tasks can be just as unproductive as your previous methods. Choose a target item and put your best attention towards it.
3. Estimate Time
Something you’ll want to consider before you start fully timeboxing is estimating the amount of time you’ll need to perform your regular tasks. Knowing how long any specific job takes will give you a better idea of how much time you’ll dedicate to each of your time boxes. You don’t want to go over the time allotted for each activity, so you’ll want to try and make this as accurate as possible.
Once you’ve set your goals and chosen which activities to include in your timeboxing, you’ll want to allow the appropriate amount of time for completing them. If you don’t allocate the proper time for work projects, you can feel stressed and rushed. Too much time can be counterproductive to the goals you are trying to meet.
One method you can use is to start timing how long it takes for you to complete the tasks you do most every day. Once you get a feel for the time commitment each requires, you’ll be able to create more accurate time boxes in your schedule.
The most important step of timeboxing is using it! After you’ve done all of your preparation, it’s time to put it into action. Use your calendar tool to map out your day and start working on adhering to your time boxes. Then, stick to your plan as closely as possible.
Continue to use timeboxing for as long as possible. You won’t immediately see its benefits; you need to hit your stride by getting into a rhythm. After a large enough sample size of time, you will be able to take a step back and move on to the final step.
Evaluate and reevaluate. To quickly reevaluate is the final step and should be repeated with some frequency. Timeboxing is used to make yourself better with your time and with your energy. That being said, you can always find ways to make timeboxing serve you better and be a more efficient time management tool.
Sit down and review the goals you set before you began timeboxing and ask yourself the following questions:
- Did I meet the goals I set for myself?
- What were the results of my timeboxing efforts?
- Am I happy with the results?
- What can I do to improve my timeboxing further?
These questions will help you reflect on your time management journey and revise your original approach.
Tools for Timeboxing
You don’t have to rely on a paper calendar or planner to do your timeboxing. Anything that is time-consuming and works against the time management skills you’re trying to develop, you’ll eliminate. Instead, you’ll try tools that will make timeboxing effortless to put into practice:
You can sign up for Calendar here and put timeboxing into practice today. Using an online calendar is the perfect way to set up your timeboxing plan and put it in action. Calendar’s clean layout takes care of all of your scheduling needs and provides the ideal format for timeboxing.
One of Calendar’s most potent tools for timeboxing is its time analytics software. The analytics software can be used before, during, and after you have implemented timeboxing. Time analytics is helpful for each of these phases:
– Before –
Start using your Calendar app to track how you currently use your time. Tracking your time gives you a visual showing which tasks you can condense, and which need a little more attention. Remember your goals and look at how your day is currently constructed. With a visual in front of you — you’ll know precisely what changes you want to make to meet your goals.
– During –
You can track your time management progress with Calendar to see how timeboxing has changed your time usage. Now you’ll have an actual visualization of your improvements while using timeboxing. Charts and data will show you how much time you’ve spent with family, work, and water-skiing with your buddies! You can cut down an area if you want to — or make any adjustments during your transition.
– After –
Time analytics will always be useful, even after you’ve found your rhythm. Timeboxing is a method used to help you improve, which means you should never wholly settle, even after you’ve become comfortable with timeboxing. Calendar will help you continue to see your time usage so you can always be on top of it and note anywhere you think could use a slight adjustment.
Nir Eyal’s Schedule Maker
As part of teaching his time management philosophy, Nir Eyal offers a free schedule maker so you can give timeboxing a try. He also provides a guide on how to use this schedule maker, along with some additional notes on the benefits of effective time management.
Using a schedule maker like this is a great way to get started with timeboxing on a smaller scale. Getting used to how this time management method works will help you feel more comfortable when you make the leap to timeboxing full-time.
You can also read his aforementioned book, Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life, for more research and methodology on how to maximize your time. The teachings from Nir Eyal’s book beautifully complements the practice of timeboxing.
When you’re looking to track how long your tasks take to complete so you can properly timebox them; you can use Toggl as one of your resources. The Toggl software makes it easy to monitor and record your time usage per project. The recording of time usage will give you a better idea of how much time is necessary for completing projects.
There is a work aspect of time-tracking available as well. Using Toggl’s system you can calculate how much your time is worth, making it easier to decide which projects deserve more time and attention than others. Maximizing the worth of your time is when you start to grasp the value of timeboxing.
Articles like this contain a lot of information, but you can refer back here while implementing your timeboxing work. Take a minute to go over the recap so you can return back here for a quick refresher of what timeboxing is and does:
What Is Timeboxing?
Timeboxing is a time management technique. It involves breaking your schedule into “boxes,” where the only thing you do is what was planned for that time.
Why is it Used?
The goal of timeboxing can be narrowed down into two main categories: productivity and time management. Those who use timeboxing are either trying to make the most out of the time they have or balance out their schedules.
What is it Used For?
The method of timeboxing is used to improve how you work, adjust your work-life balance, or add structure to your entire schedule.
When is Timeboxing Used?
You decide when to timebox and when not to. Timeboxing is a unique time management technique for your entire day, but can also be constrained to the times you want to focus on. For example, you can use timeboxing while at work but enjoy a more flexible schedule when at home.
What is the Timeboxing Model?
There is no standard, universal model used for timeboxing. The concept, however, is straightforward: Use your Calendar to create blocks of time in which to focus your attention on a single task. To add an extra layer, you can also incorporate other time management systems such as the Covey Matrix.
How Does Timeboxing Work?
Daniel Markovitz explains that timeboxing is essentially putting your to-do lists in calendar form. All of the problems that a regular to-do list presents — such as lack of commitment or disregard of time — are addressed through the use of a calendar.
Nir Eyal’s Thoughts On Timeboxing
Best selling author Nir Eyal touches on timeboxing in his book, Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life. Eyal calls it the “skill of the future.” Correct implementation of timeboxing helps us to be “indistractable” by helping us focus only on what’s in front of us at the appropriate time.
How To Timebox
There are five simple steps for you to follow when you begin timeboxing:
- Set Goals
- Determine Tasks
- Estimate Time
Goals give your timeboxing a direction. Determining which tasks to timebox and how long each task will take gives you a plan to meet your goal. Put your plan into action and evaluate your efforts to see how much progress you’ve made through timeboxing.
Tools for Timeboxing
We have touched on three of the best tools you can use to help get you started with timeboxing:
- Calendar — The clean and efficient online calendar for a perfect timeboxing layout.
- Nir Eyal’s Schedule Maker — For getting an idea of what timeboxing might look like and how you want to organize yourself.
- Toggle — A time tracker tool for getting a better idea of how long your timeboxes need to be.
The only way to learn more about timeboxing is to start putting the system into practice. Open up your Calendar and get going. Your journey toward being “indistractable” and living your most balanced and productive life awaits. We’re here to support you in your journey — we want your best success.