Raise a hand if you’ve ever found yourself in one of these situations:
You're working on a task that is spiraling out of control. There is no defined end to the task and you haven’t boxed a specific amount of time to work on it. You could iterate on it forever, so you continue to refine it to make it perfect.
Or you're procrastinating on a task because it's just one of those things you dread doing.
If your hand is up, know you’re not alone—we’ve all been in there.
These are two examples of self-imposed barriers that take a toll on your productivity. The good news is you can eliminate these hurdles to set yourself up for ultimate productivity.
How can you do it? The answer is timeboxing.
Timeboxing is a goal-oriented time management strategy that fosters productivity. It's a foolproof way to keep yourself focused and cruising through your task list.
We're taking a closer look at timeboxing and how you can use it to optimize your productivity. Let's dive in.
What is timeboxing?
Timeboxing is a time management technique organized around specific goals. It's a strategy to boost productivity.
Here's the gist: You block out time in your calendar to focus on a specific task and nothing else. This is your “timebox.” The amount of time you set aside is the estimated time needed to complete the entire task. Once the timebox is over, so is the task. You mark it complete and move on.
The idea is to focus on one important task rather than spend time on many smaller tasks. Timeboxing gives you peace of mind knowing that you’ve set aside enough time to fully complete the task. You can more easily relax knowing you’ll get done what you need to do.
Say you dedicate one hour to building five new landing pages. Before you start your timeboxed hour of work, you've gathered any visuals, templates, downloadables, or anything else you'd need to build the landing pages. You're not wasting time looking for resources or asking your peers questions. You're focused entirely on producing the pages. After that allocated time is up, you’ve built the pages and the task is done.
Here's where else timeboxing comes in handy:
- Meetings. Timebox your meetings to discuss specific topics. This strategy ensures you cover everything without going over the scheduled meeting time. This way, you respect everyone's time.
- Individuals with ADHD. Timeboxing tools and techniques support neurodiverse individuals to focus and get their work done.
- Busy leadership who have to set aside time for their work; otherwise, they'd never get anything done
- Tasks that don't necessarily have a defined end to signal their completion
- Prevents multitasking and context switching
There are two kinds of timeboxing: "hard" and "soft."
Hard timeboxing vs. soft timeboxing
A hard timebox includes a whole task that will start and finish within the timebox. You've estimated how long it will take to complete the task and set aside that amount of time. By the end of your hard timeboxed deep working session, the task is ready to ship.
The opposite of this is a soft timebox. You focus on completing one part of a larger project during a soft timebox. It moves you one step closer to completing the project. You set aside an amount of time you deem reasonable, not necessarily how long you think it will take to fully complete the task.
Let's look at examples of both.
Hard timeboxing: You block out time on your calendar to assign next month's blog posts to your team of freelancers. You estimate this task will take you two hours, so you block that amount of time off on your calendar. You will start and finish this task within the blocked time.
Soft timeboxing: Let's say you set aside time to research a new client. You could drill down further to focus specifically on researching this client's competitors. Your research is part of a larger task of onboarding the client. You could conceivably research client competitors for an unlimited amount of time, but you know that realistically, one hour will be enough. That’s how much time you block off on your calendar. A task that is softboxed into your schedule is one that’s part of a larger project. Completing it will get you a step closer to the end goal.
Both methods of timeboxing are valuable. You should understand which one your task falls into when you schedule your focus time, as it will inform how much time you set aside.
Here’s a quick recap: A hard timebox period is the amount of time you think a task will take to complete. A soft timebox period is how much time you realistically have to dedicate to the task.
Time blocking vs. timeboxing
Time blocking and timeboxing sound similar, so it's no surprise they are often used interchangeably. In truth, they are actually quite different.
Timeboxing refers to a time management technique where one task is the sole focus for the allotted period of time. The benefits of timeboxing include boosting productivity and decreased procrastination.
Time blocking, on the other hand, has a looser definition. Here, you're blocking out time to work on part of a task without intending to complete it. It could be a larger task or chore that you need to chip away at instead of completing all at once. You’re setting aside an amount of time to get as much work on the task done as possible.
Timeboxing is the preferred strategy for productivity. You can expect to complete the task within the time set aside. Time blocking can work better for procrastination because you can make slow progress toward completing big tasks.
Why does timeboxing work?
Timeboxing works because it sets you up for deep work.
You've removed distractions, gathered the necessary materials, and know exactly what tasks you're working on. There is no context switching for the duration of the timebox, so you’ve also removed multitasking.
Timeboxing maximizes your productivity by honing in on one task without anything else going on. This kind of deep work is precious for creativity, solving problems, and completing great work.
For example, the Pomodoro Technique describes a timeboxing strategy. Pomodoro splits your day into deep work sections when you focus on one task with short breaks between. It's an efficient time-management tool designed to boost productivity.
How does timeboxing affect your productivity?
Timeboxing impacts productivity on multiple fronts.
- Work more effectively: That is to say, you only spend the necessary time working on completing a task. This trait is what makes timeboxing such a great tool for perfectionists. We've all had tasks that spiral into a seemingly unending series of little alternations that make marking it off a thing of the distant future. It's a trap perfectionists fall into often. Timeboxing ensures you only spend the time needed on a task so you stay on track.
- Ditch procrastination: When we procrastinate, we find other work to fill our time rather than the work we need to do. There's a name for this experience: Parkinson's Law. The law states that work will expand to fill the time allotted to it. You can remedy this by only allotting a certain amount of time to working on a task.
- Guaranteed focus: You have one task to work on during your timebox and nothing else. It keeps you focused. We often come up with our most innovative ideas during these dedicated periods of deep work.
Daily and weekly timeboxing templates (for manual timeboxing)
If you want to try timeboxing on your own before investing in tools, try these. Here are timeboxing templates to schedule your day manually.
Pro tip: Print out these daily timeboxing templates and laminate them. Use a whiteboard marker to plan your day on the laminated templates. When the day is over, you can erase and use the same one every day or week.
1-Day Hourly Timeboxed Planner Template
5-Day Weekly Timeboxed Planner Template
How to timebox your day with Sunsama
The easiest way to practice timeboxing is with a timeboxing app. Sunsama ensures timeboxing a realistic day is a breeze.
This is partly because Sunsama goes above and beyond to prioritize healthy productivity. If you schedule a day that has more than 5 hours of deep work, Sunsama will let you know. It encourages a realistic amount of work that bodes well for long-term productivity.
The intuitive interface and smart integrations make it simple to organize your day and set yourself up for success. To create time boxes, users can easily schedule drag and drop tasks onto their calendar. Longer tasks will wrap around existing events on the calendar, ensuring that users have enough time to complete bigger tasks. Additionally, the tool includes a focus mode that postpones notifications so users can achieve deep work without distractions.
The tool also includes a built-in opportunity to reflect on what was accomplished every day and week, providing users with a sense of accomplishment and progress.
With the help of timeboxing strategies and tools like Sunsama, you can focus on the task at hand without distractions like context switching. Setting boundaries in your work schedule creates balance that increases long-term productivity.
Try Sunsama for free to enjoy the benefits of healthy and sustainable productivity.