Timeboxing: The Ultimate Time Management Technique

Macgill Davis

These days, we're all busy. There are many things to do and never enough time to do them. So you try to maximize your time by planning and organizing it as best you can.

But even with the best intentions, distractions and interruptions get in the way. And before you know it, your carefully planned schedule has gone off the rails.

What if there were a way to stay on track no matter what life throws your way? 

Timeboxing is a time management technique centered around allocating a fixed amount of time and focus to a specific task.

The beauty of a time box is that it forces you to focus on the task at hand and ignore all distractions. If you struggle with procrastination, reaching a flow state, or simply staying on track, timeboxing can help.

In this article, we'll take a closer look at how timeboxing works, how it can improve your time management, and how to use it to achieve your goals.

What Is Timeboxing?

Timeboxing: entrepreneur using a tablet

You've probably heard of the time boxing technique before, but there's much more to it than a trendy productivity hack or a brightly colored box on a to-do list. Timeboxing is a time management technique that can transform how you work.

The time box concept originated with the software development methodology, Agile. In Agile, time boxes are used for project management to break down projects into manageable chunks and ensure steady progress. The idea quickly caught on in the productivity world, and the time boxing technique is now used by everyone from entrepreneurs to students.

How does timeboxing work? Simply put, timeboxing is a time management technique that involves working on one particular task only for a fixed amount of time.

This might sound simple, but it's a powerful tool for increasing productivity, focus, and motivation. When you use the time boxing technique, you're not just setting a timer and working until it goes off. You're also committing to focus solely on a particular task during that set time.

Time Blocking vs. Timeboxing

Time blocking and timeboxing are sometimes confused because they sound similar, but a critical difference sets them apart.

Time blocking is primarily concerned with creating allocated time for your tasks. Blocking a period of time for each activity can help you stay organized, but it doesn't guarantee that everything gets done. For example, you might block out a time frame to work on a project, but how you work on it during that allocated time is up to you, and it's okay if you don't finish it.

On the other hand, timeboxing focuses more on the amount of time you spend on a task. When you're working within a time box, you work on one particular task nonstop during the scheduled time frame. There are no breaks (unless you've built them into another time box on your schedule), no distractions, and no extra time. At the end of the time box, you're done.

The difference in methodologies may seem small, but it can significantly impact your workday. The looser structure of time blocking can open the door to procrastination and distraction, while timeboxing requires total focus on a single task. As a result, the timeboxing technique is a much more effective tool for increasing productivity.

Benefits of Timeboxing

Timeboxing: entrepreneur using a laptop

Timeboxing techniques have become popular productivity hacks because they promote increased focus. With the time boxing technique, you're less likely to get distracted because you've committed to working on only one particular task.

This enhanced focus can help you achieve a state of flow, where everything else fades away as you focus on what you're doing. Working in the flow state results in higher quality work in less time — in fact, it can increase productivity by 500% — so it's no surprise that timeboxing works.

In addition to increasing productivity, timeboxing is also beneficial in many other ways. The time box technique:

  • Reduces decision fatigue: Time boxes reduce the number of choices you have to make in your workday. This can combat decision fatigue, the state of being tired or bogged down from making too many decisions.
  • Helps manage anxiety and stress: When you're constantly juggling tasks, you may feel stressed and overwhelmed. Timeboxing techniques can reduce stress levels by allowing you to focus on one thing at a time.
  • Improves time management skills: Timeboxing can help improve your time management skills by teaching you how to estimate the amount of time you need in your workflow — and how to stick to it.
  • Discourages perfectionism and procrastination: There's often a connection between procrastination and perfectionist tendencies. When you're trying to be perfect, it's easy to put off starting a task for fear of failing. Timeboxing forces you to get to work and get it done, imperfections and all.

The benefits of timeboxing are clear, but it may not work for everyone. Some people feel increased pressure from time constraints. There are also some challenges to overcome, such as learning to estimate the amount of time you need or staying focused for enough time.

However, if you put in the effort and keep trying, the time boxing technique can improve focus, productivity, and motivation.

The 5 Steps of the Time Boxing Technique

Timeboxing: entrepreneur writing on a notebook

The beauty of the time boxing technique is that it's simple. Although timeboxing tools and apps are fun, you only need a timer and a task. Getting started is easy with these five steps.

1. Set Your Goals

Begin by setting some intentions for timeboxing. What are you trying to accomplish with this time management technique? Are you aiming to become more productive and focused, or are you trying to avoid missed deadlines?

Whatever your goals, be specific and write them down. This brief but crucial first step will help you decide which tasks to focus on, how to organize your schedule, and how to measure your progress.

2. Choose Your Tasks

The next step is to choose the tasks you will work on during your time box sessions. If you already have a prioritized to-do list, this step is already complete! If not, now is the time to sit down and identify the most important tasks on your plate.

Several approaches can help you manage your tasks — if you're just beginning, check out our comprehensive task management guide. The ultimate goal is to identify the most important tasks to help you achieve your goals. Once you have a prioritized to-do list, you can prepare to schedule your tasks.

Timeboxing works best if you can see the time boxes with their particular tasks and amount of time. This can help you visualize your workday.

Some people like drawing color-coded boxes on a calendar or planner, while others prefer to use digital time management tools. Many task management tools offer multiple layouts, including Kanban boards, which provide an excellent way to visualize your time boxes.

3. Set a Time Limit

The final step before creating your time box is to set a time limit. A good rule of thumb is to start with 50% more time than you think you need. So, if you estimate a task will take one hour, block out 90 minutes.

It also helps to decide whether you want to create a hard or soft time box. In a soft time box, the end is just a suggestion that you end your work, not a hard stop. If you need to continue for a short period of time, you can. This approach is helpful for complex tasks because it allows you to end your work session naturally rather than interrupting it. 

In contrast, a hard time box is a firm deadline. You must stop working when the time box expires, even if you haven't completed your task. A hard time box is useful when a critical deadline has serious consequences, such as submitting an article to the printer on time. Those who struggle with perfectionism and get caught up in details may also find hard timeboxing techniques helpful for daily tasks.

Once you've determined your approach, choose an appropriate amount of time and schedule your time block.

4. Do the Work

Now the fun part — set your timer and get to work.

Remember, the goal with all timeboxing techniques is to focus on a single task, so make sure you disconnect from distractions. Turn off your email notifications, put your phone on silent mode, and close any tabs or applications that aren't related to your task. If you struggle with the temptation of social media, try using a focus app — many have browser integrations to block distractions.

If you're new to focused work, it may be challenging to concentrate at first. Be persistent — adjusting to this new way of working may take time. A time tracker like Rize can help you identify when you're distracted or focusing well, so you can become familiar with your workflow patterns.

It can also help to start with shorter time frames, like 20-30 minutes, to help you adapt to single-tasking. The Pomodoro technique can provide excellent support. After a bit of practice, you can gradually increase your time limit on each task.

When the timer sounds, you've reached the end of the time box. If it's a soft time box, you can take a few minutes to finish up, but if it's a hard time box, that's it. No more working.

5. Take a Break, Evaluate, and Adjust

Entrepreneur holding a cup of coffee

After each session, taking a short break is essential. Stepping away from your work — even if just for a 5-minute break, is crucial for maintaining focus and preventing mental exhaustion, so don't skip this step! Move your body, drink water, or step outside for a boost — anything that will help you recharge.

Once you've recovered, take a moment to assess how your session went. Did you maintain focus and complete your task within the assigned amount of time? If not, that's okay. It's common to underestimate the time you need to accomplish a task, especially when beginning this technique. Just adjust your time limits accordingly as you complete more sessions.

Time Box Your Way to Success With Rize

Timeboxing is a simple but effective time management technique that can help improve your focus. Setting time limits and committing to working on a single task allows you to eliminate distractions, maximize your efficiency, and get more done.

Rize is an excellent tool for applying timeboxing techniques to your tasks. Rize automatically tracks your workday in real-time, identifying periods of focus and distraction. Customizable reports make it easy to see how you're spending your time so you can make adjustments as needed to optimize your productivity. With our focus timer and Pomodoro features, you can optimize your work sessions to match your preferences and get more done in less time.

Sign up for a free trial of Rize today to start timeboxing your way to success!