Productivity techniques may be 10 a penny, but according to educational technology company Filtered.com, which has published a list of ‘The Definitive 100 Most Useful Productivity Tips’, the best of them all is ‘timeboxing’. Put simply, the aim is to allocate a set number of minutes or hours to a task, then schedule it into the calendar and use that time – and only that time – to complete it.
There are a number of reasons this approach could be more effective than just writing out to-do lists. Perhaps the most important is that a simple list doesn’t give you much information about how long a task is expected to take, what resources it requires or what priority it holds for you or your organisation.
The temptation, therefore, is to focus first on the tasks that can be completed quickly and easily, simply to reduce the number of outstanding items. This isn’t always the best outcome or most efficient use of time.
Using timeboxing within your calendar means it’s clear from the outset when one task will be completed relative to another, and it takes into account other people’s requirements when you set your priorities. As Filtered.com CEO Marc Zao Sanders wrote in the Harvard Business Review: “If you know that a promotional video has to go live on a Tuesday and that the production team needs 72 hours to work on your copy edits, then you know when to place the timebox. In fact, you know where to place the timebox: it’s visual, intuitive, obvious.”
Timeboxing is a common practice in project management, particularly within the ‘agile’ methodology. Here, it is used particularly as a way to define and place a time constraint on a process or development stage that might otherwise be open-ended. Whether you’re using it for a team or yourself, it therefore requires making decisions in advance about potential trade-offs in the quality or scope of what can be achieved.
You’ll need to think carefully about whether it’s the right approach for the kinds of tasks you’re working on. It’s perhaps most useful when it’s more important to achieve any level of progress than to fully complete or perfect a project. And, of course, it has to be worth investing the time in planning how to timebox your tasks in the first place.