All About Timeboxing

People have used the principles of timeboxing for hundreds of years.

Benjamin Franklin used timeboxing to organise his schedule before it even had a name!

What Is Timeboxing?

Timeboxing assigns specific tasks to predefined time slots – or timeboxes.

Doing this encourages focus by limiting the available time for each task.

By prioritizing tasks and setting boundaries, timeboxing promotes completion and stops procrastination!

Timeboxing In 7 Steps

To start timeboxing, follow these seven steps:

1. Review your tasks:

Make a to-do list of all the tasks that you need to complete.

If you plan and make “to do” lists weekly, this will show all the tasks you need to complete over the next week.

If you plan monthly, this will be your list of jobs for the month.

Adjust the timescale according to your planning cycle.

2. Choose one task:

From the long list, choose a task.

Usually, people start with the most important task on the list first.

3. Define your goals:

State the purpose of the task and define how you will know when it’s done. Make a shortlist of what you aim to achieve by completing the task.

4. Allocate limited time:

Remember that tasks expand to fill the time available.

Set a strict limit to the time you’ll be spending on that task, try to make it short but not ridiculously so.

Repeat steps 2-4 for each job on your to-do list until you have filled your day or week.

5. Carry out the tasks:

Adhere to the plan and work according to the timescales set.

6. Track time:

Make sure that you stay aware of the time to stay on plan. You also need to manage potential distractions aggressively to ensure that you are not interrupted.

And one extra step for beginners!

7. Assess your results:

When the allocated time is exhausted, measure your progress against the goals set to improve your time estimation in the future.

a man analysing date of appointments

Why Does It Work?

Timeboxing is the process of allocating specific timeframes to a task and focusing exclusively on that task for the allotted period.

It requires detailed planning and prioritisation, and it offers a number of benefits.

1. Better Planning

Many people do not plan their day’s properly, leading to poor performance.

This simple step alone offers a clear benefit to users of timeboxing before they even start their day.

2. Productivity

Your planning process should ensure that you focus on and allocate time to your most important tasks.

As a result, timeboxing will increase the proportion of your time you spend on your highest value tasks.

3. Efficiency

By imposing a strict and tight deadline on tasks, timeboxing ensures that you don’t spend more time than necessary on them.

4. Concentration

The time constraint of timeboxing means you have to concentrate 100% on the task at hand and drive it to a conclusion.

Because you know once the time is up you’ll be putting this task down and picking up another, you don’t have the option of “coming back to it later”, which often means never.

This avoids wasting time on tasks that will be left half-completed and of little benefit to anyone.

5. Task Estimation

Timeboxing is a great way to get better at estimating how long tasks will take.

Forcing you to stop when the time is up clarifies how long each task actually takes.

This creates a direct feedback loop for people new to this technique, meaning that you quickly get much better at estimating task length.

Experienced practitioners are very good at estimating how long tasks take to complete.

clock boxing gloves

How I Implement Timeboxing

The principles of timeboxing are set in stone, but the exact way you implement those principles is not. 

Everyone experiments to see how to make timeboxing work best for them as part of their time management process

This is how I do it.

1. Plan the day ahead:

The last thing I do each day is plan the following day.

I use a notepad and a calendar to do this.

  • On the notepad, I list out everything that needs to be done tomorrow and organise them in order of priority using an Pareto analysis.
  • Beside each task, I write an estimated time frame for completion.
  • I put these tasks into my calendar according to the priority set above.

Some people I know use a project management tool rather than a calendar. It makes no difference.

2. Breakdown tasks:

I use the Pomodoro technique to maintain focus.

So, I break each task into smaller subtasks that would be completed in a Pomodoro session (mine are 45 minutes each – see The Pomodoro Technique for more details)

3. Make time for flexibility:

I tend to overestimate my ability to complete tasks within a timeframe.

To avoid this, I allow a 15-minute window between significant tasks on my calendar to accommodate this and for breaks.

This window gives me a chance to catch up if I have underestimated the task length.

If I can’t complete the task in that window, I will leave it and plan to complete it at the end of the day.

4. Timebox your admin:

I have three timeboxed sessions of ‘admin’ per day.

I use these sessions to answer emails, discuss things with colleagues etc.

My colleagues know that I will come back to them promptly because of these sessions, so asking them to leave me in peace during my timeboxed tasks is not an issue as they know I will answer them promptly.

Final Words

Time is a finite resource and you should be miserly with it when allocating it to tasks. 

Research has shown that timeboxing reduces the average time spent completing a task. 

If you’ve not tried it yet, you should! 

Want a fun little brain teaser? See our Office Puzzle Challenge here!



About Ben Richardson

Ben is a director of Acuity Training which he has been running for over 10 years.

He is a Natural Sciences graduate from the University of Cambridge and a qualified accountant with the ICAEW.

He previously worked as a venture capitalist and banker and so had extensive experience with Excel from building financial models before moving to learn SQL, Microsoft Power BI and other technologies more recently.