Do you ever feel that at the end of the workday you have more tasks left on your "to do" list than you started? You feel that your day was busy, but you didn’t really make a dent in those projects that mattered most. If that’s the case, you might want to try a simple and effective time management strategies called “timeboxing.”
The concept of time boxing may sound restrictive, but it’s not. It’s where you allocate a set amount of time or “time blocks” to do a task. The term comes from the programming world where a software project was assigned a fixed release schedule. The goal was to commit to getting as many features into that release as possible. If a feature didn’t make that release, it was slated for the next one instead of delaying the release.
I know when I mention programming; some people will think this requires discipline and procedures that track your time. It doesn’t and the process is as simple or complex as you want. You’re your own time architect. As example, you might have a list that includes:
- 15 minutes - Twitter
- 60 minutes - article draft
- 90 minutes - strategy planning
- 30 minutes - exercise
- 45 minutes - staff meeting
In each example above, I’ve made a commitment with myself to set aside time to accomplish the task. In theory, I could spend all day on a number of them, but I want to allocate time based on what is important to me for that day. I also like to strike a balance between different areas. In this regard, it’s almost like budgeting.
While most of us aren’t programmers, many can use this time management technique effectively on a personal level. One exception might be perfectionists, as they tend to take things beyond the point of a normal completion point. As someone who has these tendencies, I can also tell you it will help break perfectionist habits if you let it. For example, in the past, I might rewrite an article a number of times just trying to get the right words. Realistically, that extra effort could be better spent doing something else that would have a better return. Instead of working on an article draft until completion, I stop after a set period.
Benefits of Timeboxing
I think there are many benefits to time boxing. The primary one for me is balance. Each evening, I like to plan for the upcoming day. If I were to put all the things I wanted to get done on a simple task list, I would miss the time element. With timeboxing, I can see what I planned in terms of minutes or hours. This ensures that I don’t over commit and use my time in an efficient manner.
The process also helps me plan for logical breaks. As example, I don’t commit to more than 90 minutes for any task, as I know that’s my upper limit before I lose attention. If I have a big task, I will either break it into smaller chunks or add another time block later. Typically, after 90 minutes, I need to take a break.
Another benefit is it gives you some wiggle or push back room if you’re realistic with your time estimates. For example, your boss calls up and tells you that you need to work on an urgent task today. If you’ve done timeboxing, you can easily see if the task can be done because you know what’s been allocated. I’ve been able to tell my boss at times that I can do the task, but it means task XYZ won’t get done today. (He now realizes my workday doesn’t grow just because he’s given me unscheduled work.)
I’ve also found that the more I use timeboxing, the better I get at estimating the time it takes for a task. At first, you’re guessing but you soon learn how to better define tasks. You also start to realize there are things you do that you probably didn’t account for in the past like meeting prep time. I never fully book for 8 hours as I allow some time for breaks or the “unknown.” This has the side benefit of making me prioritize. It’s similar to how you get more work done on the last day before your vacation.
A related benefit is this system makes me think that I need to allocate time to larger goals and projects instead of concentrating on the urgent items. I like to think of my day as a “time bento box” and I drop tasks into compartments of varying times. Within that bento box, I try to have one time box relating to a long-term goal.
How To Do Timeboxing
There are many ways that you can employ timeboxing. Some people do a simple 2-column list on paper where one column represents the time allocation and the assigned task. Others do the same thing using Microsoft Excel. The benefit with a spreadsheet is that you can tally your time.
Another way is to use a calendaring program like Microsoft Outlook or Google Calendar although this means you're also committing to "when" during the day. Some programmers I know use something similar called the Pomodoro Technique and have egg timers. There are also online timers that use the same strategy. Web Worker Daily provided a nice article and list.
I’m partial to a web-based time boxing software program called “Action Enforcer.” In fact, I licensed the software for online use. You can use it free when you sign up for our mailing list. (See signup box on right.) The nice thing about this software is that it’s web-based and your info stays on your PC. This means your info doesn’t reside on our server and you can use it with just about any browser that handles flash.
Last Updated (Monday, 07 May 2012 07:37)