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Timeboxing: completing tasks on time



Every entrepreneur knows deadlines - and also the pressure when they are approaching but there is no completion of the project in sight. With timeboxing, you can get the work done on time and in a relaxed manner. But the method also has its pitfalls.



CONTENT

  • What is timeboxing?

  • How timeboxing works: 5 steps

  • Advantages and disadvantages of timeboxing

  • Apps for timeboxing

  • When and for whom is timeboxing suitable?


WHAT IS TIMEBOXING?


Timeboxing originates from Scrum, a framework for project management. Timeboxing ensures that strict time schedules are adhered to during a sprint. Thanks to its high efficiency, the method is also used by individuals as well as teams, even when it is decoupled from Scrum. Timeboxing elevates time as the most important factor for project success. All other questions arise later with this method.


Much more important in timeboxing are the working hours, each task is allocated a fixed block of time. The task must then be completed within this time block. Here, it is also defined exactly what is to be achieved.


Of course, resources such as sufficient working time must be available. An effective allocation of resources helps here; this can be done with the ABC analysis.



HOW TIMEBOXING WORKS: 5 STEPS


The exact procedure of timeboxing looks like this:


1. Create a to-do list

The to-do list provides an overview of the upcoming tasks. This is important in order to find clarity about what needs to be done.


To-do lists can be created quickly and easily with task management apps like Todoist. To-dos can also be easily recorded in an Excel spreadsheet or even more quickly in the form of bullet points in a document.


Example:

  • Call top customers

  • Conduct an appraisal interview

  • Finalise offer

  • Check and answer mails


2. Prioritise tasks

Many timeboxing articles do not mention this aspect, but prioritising tasks correctly will significantly reduce the subsequent timeboxing effort.


To prioritise tasks correctly, you can use different methods like the Getting-Things-Done method or the ABC method. You can find out which method is right for your task management by trying each one for a fortnight at a time.


Back to timeboxing: Decide which of your tasks are important and urgent. These have the highest priority. Use the Eisenhower principle for this. After each task, the appropriate priority is added in gradation:

  • Call top customers (priority 1)

  • Conduct appraisal interview (priority 1)

  • Finalise offer (priority 2)

  • Check and answer emails (priority 3)


3. Estimating task duration

The correct estimation of the task duration is the pivotal point for setting each timebox. Use the following parameters:


Experience

Has this task already been done in the past, such as the annually recurring tax return? How long did this take? The answer gives a reliable time frame for the new timebox.


Similar tasks

If it took 10 minutes to write a bill each time, it will be similar for the next one. The closer the new task is to the related one, the more accurately the corresponding time needed can be derived. Conversely, it is not possible to predict how long a customer meeting will take based on the creation of a graphic, for example.


Ask experts

If you have no idea how long a task will take, ask people who know it well. They can tell you in detail how long it took them to complete a task and with what level of knowledge.


Plan for buffers

No project runs perfectly, which is why perfect conditions should not be assumed. If you allow time for disruptions and even an extra correction loop, you will equalise the process until the task is completed and reduce stress for yourself as well as for the team.


4. Set a timebox for the task

Based on the defined task duration, a timebox can now be set, whereby a distinction is made here between hard and soft timeboxes.


Hard timebox

After the time has expired, you throw the proverbial pen out of your hand and finish the work - regardless of whether the task is completed or not. A particularly radical and popular method for implementing hard timeboxes is the Pomodoro technique. And what happens if the task has not been completed within the hard timebox? Then it automatically moves to the next available timeslot, depending on priority. This is another reason why it is so important to plan buffers when timeboxing.


Suitable for: Tasks where consistent regulation is necessary, for example in focused meetings such as daily scrums.


Soft timebox

The soft timebox serves as an orientation framework that you can use to determine whether your estimates of the duration of tasks correspond to the actual times. Soft timeboxes, therefore, help to expose time wasters. But unlike the hard timebox, the task does not have to be finished when the time is up - instead, you are allowed to stretch the time a bit to finish.


Suitable for: Tasks that should not get out of hand, but may also take a little longer for important impulses, e.g. brainstorming.


When do I use which timebox?

Hard and soft timeboxes can be mixed. When it makes sense to use which timebox depends on the goals. For each task, the entrepreneur should ask himself: does it need more discipline or more time?


The more discipline is needed, for example, to complete an important customer project on time, the more the hard timebox is a good choice. If, on the other hand, the goal is to better assess one's own workload and to get to grips with procrastination, soft time boxes are the better choice.


5. Write down concrete times

In both cases, however, it is important to write down concrete time periods, using our examples as follows:

  • Calling top clients (Prio 1 | 30 minutes)

  • Conduct staff appraisal (Prio 1 | 1 hour)

  • Finalise offer (Prio 2 | 45 minutes)

  • Check and answer emails (Prio 3 | 20 minutes)

Go one step further and always write down after completing the task how long it actually took, i.e:

  • Call top customers (Prio 1 | 30 minutes | Actual: 48 minutes)

  • Conduct appraisal interview (Prio 1 | 1 hour | Actual: 1 hour 30 minutes)

  • Finalise offer (Prio 2 | 45 minutes | Actual: 25 minutes)

  • Checking and answering emails (Priority 3 | 20 minutes | Actual: 10 minutes)

This way you can identify time wasters and record them in black and white. If tasks are completed even faster than expected, the next timebox for the task can be tightened, which increases productivity. But please also remember the buffers. The ALPEN method can help you plan your day efficiently.



ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF TIMEBOXING


Advantages of timeboxing

Timeboxing saves time:

  • Clear structure: with timeboxing, you will no longer get into a situation where tasks are over your head.

  • Focus on the essentials: Timeboxing leaves no room for meandering - the time of the day is limited and timeboxing helps to use this time with maximum effectiveness.

  • Measurable effort: The hard timeboxes in particular set immovable deadlines. This makes the effort assessable and calculable.

  • Keeping tasks in check: Timeboxing works with Parkinson's law, according to which the more time we have to complete a task, the longer it takes. With a fixed time frame, the task is completed on time without taking longer than necessary.

Disadvantages of timeboxing:

  • Creativity killer: Graphic designers and copywriters also have to finish their work on time. But too much pressure through too tight timeboxing can cause the creative mind to block. You can get inspiration independently of timeboxing with these creativity techniques.

  • The main thing is to get it done: Functioning timeboxing says nothing about the quality of the results. What's the point of having a concept ready in time if it's no good in terms of content?

  • Our own rhythm doesn't count: depending on our daily form and biorhythm, tasks may suit us more or less. Timeboxing does not take this into account; work is done according to a fixed plan. This means that the individual performance peaks of the day are not ideally utilised.


APPS FOR TIMEBOXING


Timeboxing apps make it easier to use in everyday life. We briefly introduce three popular ones.


1. TickTick

In 2013, US developers released the first version of TickTick. Even then, it included a sync function, and new practical features were added, including a Pomodoro timer and a calendar. The developers' motto: stable & smooth, which is being worked on continuously.

  • Advantages: very easy to use, modern and chic design, reliable synchronisation between smartphone and laptop or PC, not too many features.

  • Disadvantages: only available in English, users complain about too slim support and the limited task feature.

  • Prices: basic version free, premium subscription: $2.79 (monthly), $27.99 (yearly).


2. Any.do

Any.do was and is developed in San Francisco. The tool has been on the market for 10 years, with a focus on mobility, productivity and thus effective life management. The Any.do editorial team also deals with important productivity topics such as the morning routine in the blog.

  • Advantages: tidy, clear design, simple and structured sorting through folders.

  • Disadvantages: Few options for customisation in the basic version (colour, layout, font), users are critical online about late feedback from support, strong checklist character, and no in-house calendar.

  • Prices: basic version free, premium $5.99 (per month with annual billing), teams version on request.


3. Focus Booster

Focus Booster combines the Pomodoro technique with to-do lists. A timer ensures that the actual time spent completing tasks is recorded and evaluated. The Australian company developed Focus Booster in 2009. At the time, founder Scott was looking for a way to increase the productivity of his own team, came across Pomodoro and developed a corresponding software.

  • Advantages: easy integration of Pomodoro technology into everyday business life, real-time progress can be seen, well thought-out task system with labels

  • Disadvantages: only available in English, no app for smartphones and tablets (desktop-only application).

  • Prices: basic version free, professional ($54.89 with annual payment / $4.99 with monthly payment).


WHEN AND FOR WHOM IS TIMEBOXING SUITABLE?


Timeboxing is suitable when:

  • The completion of important tasks is constantly postponed,

  • There is a lack of clarity about the priorities of the tasks (lack of focus),

  • At the end of the week, you realise again and again that the weekly goals have not been achieved,

  • Deadlines alone are not enough to complete tasks,

  • Distractions often cause tasks to be interrupted,

  • Excessive perfectionism slows down the completion of tasks.

Timeboxing is therefore a method that can be used for self-management as well as for project management. However, timeboxing can also cause damage if tasks are prioritised incorrectly or the time needed to complete them is misjudged. It is therefore recommended to first approach the method with soft and hard timeboxes in order to find a feeling for the ideal mix and gradually become a permanent daily companion.

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