Ever since I can remember, I’ve had more tasks to complete than I thought was possible. This is how we live right now — a world of endless opportunities with limited time and energy, especially for product managers.
As a result, you need to look for ways to accomplish more, or at least get the most out of the time you have available. Of the many techniques, timeboxing always appeared the most elegant and natural to me. It allows you to focus when you find yourself overwhelmed.
How can you achieve this? What steps to take to timebox successfully? In this article you will learn what time boxing is and how to use it within your product team.
Just to avoid any confusion, timeboxing is a time management technique that involves assigning a fixed amount of time to a specific task or activity and then completing it within that time frame. The idea is to avoid spending too much time on tasks that are not essential or that can be done later, and to focus on the most important and urgent ones.
Timeboxing can also help divide your time between different responsibilities, as well let you explore the complexity of the time-boxed item. This process can help you increase your productivity, reduce procrastination, and achieve your goals more efficiently. You can apply time boxing to your personal, one-person task or as a way to give structure to meetings, where you dedicate a fixed amount of time to specific topics.
Time boxing has four main benefits for product management:
Timeboxing can help you avoid distractions and stay on track with your product development goals. By setting a clear deadline and a goal for each task, you can concentrate on achieving the set goal. If you wish to timebox successfully, you need to really dedicate your time — no calls, chats, and other work being done at the same time.
Just pure focus work in a dedicated time window.
Time boxing can help you cope with the complexity and ambiguity of product management tasks. I found myself overworked and overstressed multiple times in my career and found that “I am working until I finish it” weighs much more than “I work on this until this hour.” It helped me dodge the guilt of leaving a task because I was too tired and helped me save my energy to function way better the following day.
Timeboxing can help you stimulate your creativity and innovation by creating a sense of urgency and challenge. By forcing yourself to work within a limited time frame, you can push yourself to think outside the box and come up with novel solutions.
If you don’t overuse it, it can help your deliverability rate, as you will push to close your task in the limited time window.
If you time box rigorously, it will make your day clear and ordered, and you will be able to prioritize your tasks easily. This will also result in a known, estimated output after each day and might increase your delivery rate for documents you need to produce.
However, be careful to also leave some wiggle room in case things go south and you need to jump in.
Now that I hopefully sold you on the idea of timeboxing your tasks, here are a few best practices that will help you achieve success with this technique:
Plan what you want to timebox: whether it’s writing user stories, research, or a section of a meeting. For activities you need to conduct alone, make sure you block time in your calendar. This way no pesky meeting should spoil your plan and you can conduct your plan successfully.
When timeboxing during meetings, make the agenda visible and moderate your meeting so that planned timebox slots are respected.
Timeboxing is not about dedicating time to a task; it should be about achieving a goal in a set period. It’s meant to help you concentrate on a result in a finite amount of time, or at least control the time investment dedicated to specific tasks. In any case, you need to decide on the ultimate output of your timeboxing session and have it in mind throughout your “box.”
This obviously only applies to focus time tasks, not meetings. Basically, you don’t want people to know you book time in your calendar on “actual work.” This will encourage people to send you meeting invites in those slots, such as “I know it is your focus time, but my meeting is really important.”
You don’t want that. It’s up to you to prioritize and decide on how you spend your time and keeping your timeboxed focused time confidential will help that.
That’s right! Timeboxing won’t be done right if you do stuff on your phone, reply to emails, and engage in Slack/Teams discussion on the side. In that case, you will be too distracted to achieve anything!
I did find myself putting my phone and laptop into airplane mode a couple of times when for whatever reason my communicator devices just wouldn’t shut up. I also found myself absurdly focused on a Mac computer, where in a full-screen mode I couldn’t see the time. While my productivity skyrocketed with that, I was also late to a couple of meetings.
With this article, you may think you should timebox your whole workload. I wouldn’t say that is the case. You should leave yourself some flexibility for some creative, moment-inspired tasks, or simply to be able to go with your team to the kitchen for a fresh coffee. Breaks are important too!
The benefits of timeboxing are clear: you regain the focus that is so hard to find these days. You can provide your undivided attention to achieve your goal. I assure you that you will be surprised how easy it is when the distractions are taken out of the equation.
However, give yourself time to learn this focus. You may find your thoughts wandering off or your eyes looking for your smartphone and it’s OK! As long as you don’t take your eye off the ball, which is the goal you have set for yourself for the given timebox session. Good luck in hitting those goals!
Featured image source: IconScout
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