Time Boxing, a simple Time Management Technique

Christophe Berg
Mar 8 · 4 min read

This article is related to “How to manage your time to Kanban”. I focus here on “TIME BOX” also known as SPRINT, CYCLE or ITERATION. In a second article, I will look into Time Blocking, Tasks Grouping and Communication Batching.

Time Boxing, anyone?

A Time Box is a set duration to complete a small project. By fixing the time allocated to get things done, you create an incentive to start as soon as possible. Before starting a time box, set an achievable goal for this sub-milestone. Don’t over-thinking about potential issues and get going, remove opportunities for procrastination and free your mind from the stress of a big goal.

Time Boxing, What?

From one big project, create 3 to 4 cycles of shorter duration from 1 to 6 weeks and challenge yourself to complete each of these cycles in time. The Time Box is also referred as a « Sprint » in Agile or SCRUM Project Management methods. During one Cycle, you go from an idea, a plan to experiment and deliver a prototype. Finally you conclude the cycle by the review of the results, so that you can adjust your plans and how you work for upcoming cycles.

Time Box, Cycle or Iteration

For example, to write a book of 12 chapters, I would define the time box or set duration to complete one chapter. I will have to commit to deliver each chapter in time. From one big deadline, I will have to respect 12 sub-milestones (one per chapter to write). Hoping to learn from each iteration and get better. Time Boxing can be part of a KAIZEN approach by helping you to work less but better.

Time Boxing, How-to?

Time Boxing, How-to?

1. Do not change plans within a cycle! You have to define a SMART sub goal for each cycle and stick to it during one iteration. It is only after completion and the review that you will evaluate the results and adjust your next iteration based on the lessons learned and the insights from the previous cycles.

SMART Goal

2. Set the right duration for a cycle: I tend to prefer 5-day cycles (work week) for short sprint and 4-week (average month) cycles for longer one.

3. Write down the backlog of tasks for the upcoming cycle. Clarify, simplify and stick to it. Once you realized that you didn’t plan it realistically, wait for the review to edit and adjust the goal and backlog of your next cycle.

4. Use Time Blocks (see Time Blocking) to make time for deep work, stay focus and give your full attention to make real progress on your project. It’s hard to stay focus and manage a deep work session for more than 90 minutes. Don’t fight against your nature, and set realistic time blocks for your project.

5. At the end of each cycle, review your work, share it to get some external feedbacks. Evaluate what can be done better, verify that you managed to keep your quality standards. Fine-tune so that what’s done, doesn’t need further work.

Time Boxing, Why?

Time Boxing, Why?

Truth being told, if you get one month, two months or 3 weeks to manage a project, you will take the given time to complete it. If you have one big deadline (remember university memoirs) and no sub-milestones, very likely you will procrastinate and enjoy your time before crushing hours, nights and stressing out while hitting the last week.

Time Boxes are a practical way to avoid stress, reduce procrastination and keep a good momentum. One deadline becomes a series of milestones. You learn from each cycle completed. You solve minor problems along the way and avoid thinking of non-existing issues. “Don’t cross your bridges before you come to them.”

Time Boxing is an efficient time management technique to solve a problem, experiment or prototype a solution, develop a recipe or a workshop, produce a short movie, develop a casual game, write a book… Any time creativity is required, your full attention and a limited duration are preferred.

This article is directly connected to Time Blocking, Tasks Grouping & Communication Batching as well as work less but better with personal KAIZEN and how to manage your time with KANBAN. I also talk about these topics in the Blue Lotus Café Podcast.

Christophe Berg

Written by

Consultant, Project Coach — simplifier, planner & fixer. Plant-based 🌱since 2005

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