5 Steps to Supercharge Productivity With Timeboxing 

You know that you need to inject more focus into your day to get things done for your small business, but it doesn’t feel possible with so much to do at any given moment. You might think that there’s no way to do it all without multitasking, but as it turns out, switching back and forth between tasks all the time is bad for your brain.*

Timeboxing is a fantastic solution to overwhelming task lists because it requires you to banish distractions and concentrate on one thing at a time. That may seem radical when you’re running a small business, but it’s essential if you want to bring some peace back to your day and check more items off your to-do list.

Like any new approach to productivity, learning how to make timeboxing work for you can take some time. That’s why, in the spirit of easing stress for busy small business owners, we’ve broken it down into five simple steps.

*Cerebrum Medical Journal, 2019

What is timeboxing (and why is it useful)?

Timeboxing is a time management technique that involves setting aside a certain amount of time to focus entirely on a specific task or project until it’s done. It’s practical for small business owners who feel stressed every time they look at their ever-growing to-do list because it requires them to prioritize their work and accomplish more of it without distractions. 

The potential uses for timeboxing are infinite. You can implement it if you need to do more creative, strategic planning for your business, but it can also be handy for the smallest administrative tasks.

How is timeboxing different from time blocking?

Timeboxing is a technique that can change from day to day, whereas time blocking is an approach that encourages you to develop a daily routine and regularly assign specific chunks of time to certain kinds of work.

With time blocking, for example, you may create a morning work schedule that looks like this:

  • 8:00am – 9:00am —Eat the frog” and accomplish the most daunting or least enjoyable task first thing in the morning.
  • 9:00am – 9:30am — Administrative tasks like email, checking in with team members via Homebase messaging, and following up on scheduling issues.
  • 9:30am – 11:30am — Deep focus work.
  • 11:30am – 2:30pm — Free for meetings, calls, and interviews.

With time blocking, the time frames are a bit more rigid, but the tasks themselves are more flexible. You don’t have to lengthen a time block if you haven’t accomplished everything you set out to do.

With timeboxing, dedicate individual “boxes” to certain specific tasks. The time frames are more flexible and based on how long you think the task will take to complete. For example, you might timebox your to-do list like this:

  • 1:00pm – 2:00pm (1 hour) — Review and finalize employee timesheets.
  • 2:00pm – 2:30pm (30 minutes) — Process payroll.
  • 2:30pm — 4:30pm (2 hours) — Create Facebook and Instagram posts for next month’s sales promotion.
  • 4:30pm — 5:30pm (1 hour) — Prepare for tomorrow’s in-store event.

How is time boxing effective?

Without a technique like timeboxing, you may try to work through your to-do list from top to bottom, not paying attention to how long each task takes and thinking about a dozen other projects you need to accomplish before the day’s over. You’ll likely only get through the most urgent tasks and feel exhausted by the end of your workday.

Timeboxing empowers you to establish more realistic goals and set better boundaries with your schedule and energy, focusing solely on one item at a time and not giving a project more focus than it’s due. As you get more practice with timeboxing, you’ll also learn how long specific kinds of work take and feel less frantic when you’re faced with a long list of responsibilities.

How to start timeboxing in 5 steps

Timeboxing is a straightforward technique, but that doesn’t mean that it looks the same for everyone. Follow these best practices so the timeboxing technique becomes your secret weapon and not another source of frustration.

1. Get clear about your priorities

A screenshot of an interface within Homebase scheduling.

Prioritization can be one of the most challenging aspects of timeboxing because it’s not always immediately clear which tasks should come first. Remember, though, that the goal here is to organize your workload and not spend too much time worrying about getting things right.

Still, you can use a few methods to figure out which work to prioritize and which may require more time:

  • The Eisenhower Matrix — Organize tasks into four categories: Do first, schedule, delegate, and don’t do. 
  • The Pareto Principle (the 80/20 rule) — Identify the 20% of tasks that’ll yield 80% of the results. For example, your social media posts and marketing campaigns will drive more traffic to your store or restaurant, so you may want to work on those first and devote more time to them.
  • The ABCDE method: Each task gets a letter based on its order of importance and impact. For example, A tasks have significant consequences if they don’t get done, but you can delegate D tasks and even eliminate E tasks completely.
  • Eat the frogEach day, decide which tasks seem the least appealing or most complex so you can finish them first.
  • The 2-minute rule — If you can complete a task in two minutes or less, do it first. 

Don’t forget to lean on team management platforms like Homebase to help reduce the time many common small business admin tasks take. For example, Homebase scheduling can help tackle employee shift swaps within minutes. Team members simply sort out shift trades amongst themselves and submit them for managers to request or deny. 

Pro tip: Create a master list of tasks for your future reference. That way, you’ll keep your daily to-do list more manageable without worrying about forgetting anything later.

Grouping tasks by type or purpose is an essential step for making timeboxed schedules less hectic. This prevents you from too much context switching, which is our natural human tendency to move back and forth between unrelated jobs. While we need this ability to manage the unpredictable demands of our day, it taxes the brain and makes it harder to regain focus

To avoid putting your mind through the wringer, organize similar tasks close together so you can work on them one after the other. Here’s an example of how that might look:

  • Financial management 
    • Check yesterday’s sales and revenue 
    • Set next month’s revenue goals 
  • Marketing
    • Plan next month’s social media calendar
    • Reach out to two local influencers and enquire about a collaboration
  • Employee time management
    • Check today’s time tracking data
    • Respond to requests for shift trades
    • Work on next month’s schedule
  • Suppliers and vendors
    • Take inventory of what’s fully stocked and what needs to be ordered
    • Work on pitch for negotiating new prices for bulk orders

Pro tip: If a task feels so complicated or unpleasant that you’re hesitant to do it, you may need to break it down into smaller steps and treat each of those as separate tasks. 

3. Set time estimates

While there’s something to be said for dedicating an entire day to one or two tasks, it’s often just not doable. That’s why it’s crucial to set time estimates for each job so you can stay efficient and get more done. 

If that seems easier said than done, keep these tips in mind:

  • Come up with a best-case/worst-case scenario — For example, it may typically take you about two hours to check inventory at your wine shop, but you know it can take up to four hours if you encounter any issues or have to start searching high and low for missing products. Be generous and allocate three hours to account for any potential delays.
  • Anticipate interruptions  — There are going to be times throughout the day when team members and managers need your help or you have to be available for calls with customers or vendors. When times are hectic, give yourself more time to accomplish tasks that require extra focus.
  • Consider your energy levels — If you’re a morning person, you may prefer to frontload your day with more challenging jobs. But if you’re someone whose energy level peaks around noon, you may be better off assigning yourself the easiest tasks in the morning.

4. Map out your timeboxing plan based on your typical schedule

It’s likely that your work weeks follow predictable rhythms of meetings, phone calls, peak-hour rushes, or large shipments. You may also be a hands-on small business owner who prefers to spend time with customers and team members daily. Your timeboxing schedule shouldn’t conflict with those well-established routines, but complement them

For example, let’s say that you’re a restaurant owner who typically spends every Monday reviewing revenue and inventory spending from the previous week. It may be best to timebox all of your financial management tasks together on Mondays.  

Or, perhaps you just opened a small bookstore. You want to start marketing your business, but you’re not sure where marketing tasks fit in your schedule. You might consider grouping those tasks on the days you typically spend refreshing your in-store and window displays because both of those jobs have to do with your branding and company image.

Pro tip: Make both your weekly schedule and timeboxing available for team members to view so they know when it’s best to interrupt you and when you may need their help. You can also use Homebase team communication and the Homebase mobile app to send announcements and keep your team updated about your daily priorities.
A screenshot of how Homebase team communication might look on a mobile interface.

5. Assess your progress and make adjustments

Your timeboxing process doesn’t need to be set in stone. Commit to trying it for a week and seeing how it works. Keep track of the projects and goals you manage to accomplish, as well as tasks that feel overwhelming, so you can determine where you need to modify your approach.

You may find that you tend to underestimate your time limits for each item on your list. That’s not a problem. Now that you know how long the work really takes you, you’ll plan more accurately in the future.

Maybe it feels too overwhelming to have so many tasks filling up your schedule. In that case, you may prefer to be lenient with your time estimates or reduce your number of priorities. You might even want to time block your schedule instead to avoid so many start and stop times. 

Pro-tip: Use a time tracking tool or a simple timer on your phone to see how long you take to accomplish each task. Record your times so that you can plan correctly moving forward.

Common timeboxing mistakes to avoid

Timeboxing may not be for everyone, but it’s worth a try when you consider how much more efficiently it allows people to work and all the goals they’re able to accomplish as a result. To avoid getting discouraged at the beginning of your timeboxing journey, it’s best to be aware of some common blunders before you start.

Not making tasks simple enough

A long list of steps may be masquerading as one seemingly simple task. Thankfully, your brain often sends you panic signals when a particular job feels too daunting and needs to be broken down into smaller chunks.

If you’re dreading an item on your to-do list, identify the task within the greater project that’s intimidating you the most and focus on it exclusively. Once you get it out of the way, you may feel much better equipped to face the rest of the tasks on the list. You can also try plugging the whole project into an AI tool like ChatGPT and asking it to divide it into smaller steps for you.

Forgetting to cut out all distractions

You may have asked your team members not to interrupt you for a certain two-hour time period, but have you made sure those two hours will be completely distraction-free?

For the deepest focus, turn off your phone and get an analog timer. Close down any apps and shut off all notifications on your computer, too. If that’s not possible and you need to be accessible in case of an emergency, you can use apps like Freedom or RescueTime to block out specific websites or prevent you from using the internet during focus time.

Not taking enough breaks

If you don’t prioritize rest and recuperation, it’ll get harder for you to sustain your physical energy throughout the day. Sure, you might get a lot done in the morning, but you’ll likely be exhausted and less productive by the afternoon.

Make sure that you plan at least one fifteen-minute break and one thirty-minute break within a three or four-hour period of timeboxing. While you may worry that you’re interrupting your flow, recovery is essential to preserve your stamina throughout the day.

Team management can be one of your easy tasks with Homebase

As a small business owner, your time is extremely valuable, and you need to make sure that you safeguard it. Not only can a technique like timeboxing help you use your time more effectively to the benefit of your small business, but it can also keep you from burning out and conserve more of your energy for your life outside of work.

However, timeboxing alone isn’t the answer to running your small business more efficiently. You also need the right team and the right tools to make that happen.

Homebase is the team management platform that every thriving SMB needs. Our platform allows you to streamline the tasks that often feel daunting to small business owners, like hiring and onboarding, scheduling, and payroll. And with small business HR experts at the ready to answer your questions, you can feel reassured that you’re creating a safe yet productive work environment that employees will genuinely enjoy.

Frequently asked questions about timeboxing

What is the timeboxing technique?

Timeboxing is a technique that involves dedicating a specific amount of time to a task or activity. Rather than feeling scattered and distracted by working on multiple different kinds of work at the same time, timeboxing helps you set better boundaries around your time, prioritize tasks, and complete them one by one. 

To start time boxing, simply choose the task you want to complete, set a time limit, and finish it within that time frame (or reset your timer until it’s done). 

What is an example of timeboxing?

Let’s say you’re an organic food market owner who needs to respond to emails, send your supply lists to vendors, and run payroll before 2pm because you’ve got to prepare for an event happening at your store the next day. Your timeboxing schedule might look like this:

Morning schedule:

  • 8:00am – 8:30am (30 minutes) — Start the day by tackling email responses. 
  • 8:30am – 9:00am (30 minutes) — Create a supply list for vendors. 
  • 10-minute break 
  • 9:10am – 10:30am (80 minutes) — Process payroll.
  • 15-minute break

Late morning schedule:

  • 10:45am – 11:15am (30 minutes) — Follow up on emails and clear out inbox as much as possible.
  • 11:15am – 11:45am (30 minutes) — Finalize vendor supply list and send it to the relevant suppliers. 
  • 45-minute lunch break

Early afternoon schedule:

  • 1:00pm – 1:30pm (30 minutes) — Follow up with suppliers and administrative tasks.
  • 1:30pm – 2:00pm (30 minutes) — Create a timebox schedule for event preparation.

What is the best management style to increase productivity?

The best management style to increase productivity varies depending on your unique business and team. 

Democratic management styles tend to increase team motivation, which can boost performance. Affiliative management styles can create a positive work environment, which improves employee morale. However, some teams and workplaces respond well to more authoritative management styles that provide clear direction and concrete goals. 

Ultimately, an effective manager can adapt their management style to changing team and company needs. The best managers prioritize, streamline tasks, communicate well, and engage employees to improve productivity.

What is the purpose of timeboxing?

The purpose of timeboxing is to eliminate stress and burnout while increasing productivity. Timeboxing makes this possible by:

  • Enhancing focus and minimizing distractions.
  • It helps you better prioritize the tasks that matter most based on urgency, your energy levels, the time you have available, and how long each one takes to accomplish.
  • Avoiding overwork that often comes as a result of trying to multitask or do too much in a day.
  • Incorporating regular breaks to help maintain sanity and work-life balance throughout the day.

 

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