If you’re looking for ways to improve your productivity, chances are, you’ve come across a concept called timeboxing. Even if you’ve never heard the term “timebox” before, you might have come across other aspects that belong to timeboxing, such as calendar blocking and the Pomodoro Technique.
In any case, timeboxing is one of the simplest yet most effective time management strategies. And in this article, you’ll learn exactly how to apply this technique in your day-to-day life.
What Is Timeboxing?
Let’s first look at what timeboxing is. Timeboxing is a very simple concept where you give yourself a certain amount of time for a certain task. This stands in contrast to the “normal” way of working, which is to just work on a task until it’s done. You can either use your calendar and add blocks for certain tasks in your calendar, or you can simply use a timer to give yourself a deadline for your timebox.
The most efficient way to go about it is to combine both. This means you’ll add blocks for work and break blocks in your calendar. Then, write down your to-dos for the blocks in each block.
From here, write down your to-dos for each day. While doing that, make sure that it doesn’t get over three to four hours of high-focus tasks for maximum efficiency. Ideally, the total doesn’t go over six hours because you won’t be able to focus for longer than that.
Now, let’s look at how timeboxing can increase your productivity with a bit more detail.
How Timeboxing Can Increase Your Productivity
While timeboxing is a simple time management technique, it has huge potential to increase your productivity. The effect will be especially big if you haven’t monitored the time you need for certain tasks previously.
1. Making Use of the Parkinson’s Law
Parkinson’s Law says that time expands with a task at hand. This means that you’ll need as much time for a task as how much you give.
Did you ever have a super tight deadline and wondered how you even got that task done in such a short amount of time? On the other hand, did you ever have a full Saturday with no plans apart from vacuuming your hours ahead of you? Normally, that might take you an hour. But if you’ve got the whole day to only get that done, then you’ll likely need the whole day for it, right?
Now, with timeboxing, you can take advantage of that. Give yourself a deadline to get a task done. Even if you don’t hit it in the beginning, it will soon give you a good gauge as to how long you realistically need to get it done. If you’ve set a timer and work without interruption during that time, you’ll likely get it done once the timer goes off.
2. Helping to Stay Focused
I highly recommend setting a timer for timeboxing. While entering blocks into your calendar is great to give you a good overview, it won’t necessarily help you get more done in less time. Setting a timer and giving each box a deadline will help tremendously, though.
Another huge benefit of timeboxing with a timer is that it helps you stay focused. The easiest way to get started is to use short intervals. The 25 minutes of the Pomodoro Technique (we’ll get to that in a minute) are a great place to get started.
Choose a short time frame and then work without interruptions for this amount of time. Twenty-five minutes is nothing, and even if you feel a strong urge to do something distracting, just push through this short time frame. Even short chunks will help you stay focused. And you’ll be surprised about how much you can get done in 25 minutes if you don’t allow any distractions or interruptions to take away your attention.
3. Making the Amount of Time You Have Visible
Another great benefit of timeboxing is that it makes the amount of time you have each day visible. This is where calendar blocking comes in handy. If you add blocks for your breaks, time off, and your work, then you’ll quickly see that you only have a certain number of hours each day to work. This is especially helpful if you tend to overload your to-do list because you don’t really know how long you’ll need for a certain task.
4. You’re in Control of Your Time
The last main benefit of timeboxing is that you’re in control of your time. Instead of just working on any given task until it’s done, you proactively decide how much time you’ll give it.
You take full control over how much time you want to spend on a given task. This means that you’re in charge of your own work and life, not the other way around. Instead of not knowing what to expect on any given day, you craft it the way you need.
7 Tips to Master Timeboxing for Increased Productivity
Okay, now that you’ve understood the benefits of timeboxing, here are seven tips that will help you master time boxing for increased productivity.
1. Calendar Blocking Is Essential
As mentioned earlier, calendar blocking is essential for timeboxing. This is what allows you to actually “box” your time. Plus, it will make the amount of time you have each day more visible. Here’s how to do it
Use Google Calendar or another calendar app that you have access to on different devices. Then, add break blocks and blocks for time off. This will give your work a pre-determined limit in which you have to fit your tasks.
Once you’ve got that, add at least one block for high focus tasks. This block should take at least one hour, preferably more, and its purpose is to allow you to work on tasks that require a lot of focus.
Once you got that, add several blocks for low-focus tasks. These are tasks that need to get done but aren’t the most essential tasks that will truly move you forward in your job or business. The most common low-focus tasks are checking and answering emails and admin tasks.
2. Add Your To-Dos to Your Calendar Blocks
The next step is to add your to-dos to your calendar blocks. This gives you a great overview of what needs to get done that day. Plus, it’s a great way to store that information ahead of time. So, if you think of a task that needs to get done on a certain day, you can already add it to this block on that respective day.
Another great benefit of the calendar blocks is that you can make them recurring. So, have the general blocks set as recurring and then add the individual to-dos in each respective block.
3. Determine How Much Time You Need for a Task
Now, this is a very important tip: determine how much time you realistically need for a task.
In the beginning, this will just be a guess. Just determine something and then see how long it really took you. After a few repetitions, you’ll know how much time it will realistically take you to get that task done.
For instance, writing an article like this one takes me about two Pomodoros or 50 minutes. Preparing it takes me one Pomodoro or 25 minutes and editing it will take me between one and two Pomodoros.
Once you know how much time you need for a task, try to always go a little lower. For instance, let’s say an excel analysis takes you 2.5 hours. Once you know that, set your timer for two hours and 20 minutes next time. Always decrease it a little until you end up at a place where it’s virtually impossible to work even faster.
With this add-on to timeboxing, you’ll increase your productivity a whole lot!
4. Always Set a Timer
To track the time you really need for a task and to have a deadline, you obviously need a timer. I highly recommend always setting a timer, no matter what task you’re working on. Chances are that you’ll take longer if you don’t use a timer, simply because you don’t realize how fast time passes.
Plus, getting distracted is far easier if you don’t have a clock ticking that’s indicating how much time you’ve got left until your timebox is used up.
5. Don’t Allow Any Interruptions
As stated earlier, don’t allow any distractions or interruptions during a timebox.
To increase your productivity, you need blocks where you can work in a focused manner, and that only works if you get rid of all distractions. So, close your email inbox, get rid of all notifications, and put your phone on mute and in a different room when you’re working. Trust me, this will be an incredible booster for your productivity.
6. Get Started With the Pomodoro Technique
The best way to get started with timeboxing is to use the Pomodoro Technique. This is a very simple technique where you work for 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break. Twenty-five minutes might not seem like much, but if you work without any interruptions, you’ll be able to get a whole lot done.
Plus, this amount is just perfect to push through even if you’d much rather go on social media or surf the web. It’s far easier to push through 25 minutes instead of a straight 8-hour workday.
This is why it’s best to get started with this technique. Make sure to get up from your desk in between the Pomodoros, and allow yourself a longer break after about 4 Pomodoros. Once you have no issues working for 25 minutes straight, you can extend your timer if you’ve given yourself longer time for a task.
7. Get an Accountability Buddy
The last tip for increased productivity with timeboxing is getting an accountability buddy.
Timeboxing, calendar blocking, and the Pomodoro Technique are great techniques to increase your productivity. But an accountability buddy can help you make sure that you actually put your good intentions to work and follow through with what you said.
Team up with someone who will kick your butt if you don’t stick to your timeboxes.
Timeboxing is a super simple time management technique that will increase your productivity tremendously. The best way to use it is to add blocks to your calendar. Then, add your to-dos to your work blocks to get a good overview of what needs to get done on any given day.
Determine how long you’ll give yourself for each task. Once you’re ready to start working on a task, set a timer. Either use the Pomodoro Technique and determine how many Pomodoros you’ll need for that task. Or set the timer for the exact length you’ve given yourself ahead of time, for instance, one hour.
Don’t allow any interruptions during your timeboxes. If you stick to that, you’ll get your tasks done as quickly as never before.