There is a long standing saying that a task will expand into the amount of time you have. For example, if you have an hour, your task will take an hour. However, if you have 10 hours, the task will take 10 hours. This can be problematic if the task is only supposed to take an hour and you have other pressing deliverables on your to do list. Tasks that take longer than needed can especially be an issue in an industry like management consulting where it is critical to get deliverables done on time for clients, and when there are numerous competing priorities.
This is where timeboxing comes in. Timeboxing is one of the most well-known and popular terms in consulting. Being able to timebox your work appropriately can be one of the differences between a successful and a not successful consultant.
This article will share more around what timeboxing is, timeboxing techniques. This article will also provide a template to help you timebox more effectively.
What Is Timeboxing?
You may be asking yourself – what is the meaning of timeboxing. Well, the definition of timeboxing is similar to what each of the “words” mean. Specifically, you put a deliverable in a pre-defined “box of time.” When you are timeboxing, you’re creating a defined parameter to accomplish a given task within that defined time frame.
Putting this in a real life consulting context, imagine you are on a consulting engagement and you need to do market research on the client’s industry’s trends and also assess the client’s P&L. You may know that the market research is a less impactful deliverable and you only need to get a high-level understanding of the space, whereas you really need a detailed understanding of the P&L. As such, you may timebox the market research to ~2-3 hours to make sure you can spend the majority of your day on the more impactful work, and the market research does not become a time suck. This timeboxing is critical so you can signal to your team leadership that you are prioritizing effectively and are efficient at getting your work done.
Another example is timeboxing deliverables with interdependencies. For example, let’s say you are working in the US with a team in Asia. It may be critical to get your deliverables out by ~5pm PT, such that the team in Asia can review in their morning, and you are not serving as a bottleneck. Timeboxing can make sure you get your deliverable out the proverbial “door” on time.
You may be asking yourself how do I timebox? Well, here are some timeboxing techniques:
Make a list of all your deliverables and categorize them by:
For the most time sensitive and impactful activities, block off your calendar for specific activities:
- Estimate how long an activity will take
- Add a ~10-20% buffer to how long the activity will take
- Block the time in your calendar to complete the specific activity
- When you have ~15-30 minutes left, check your work
- When the time finishes, send out the deliverable
- Take a well deserved break!
Enable yourself to focus by reducing distractions, e.g., turn your phone on do not disturb.
Make sure you are in the right frame of mind by using the Pomodoro Technique, e.g., use 25-minutes to do focused work and take a 5-minute break.
- Assess how the timeboxing process worked
- Understand what worked well and where there were areas for improvement
- Where you had areas for improvement, modify your timeboxing technique accordingly – this can both be during the day and also after the day has finished
Click here for more timeboxing tips.
There are several timeboxing templates. The key to a good timeboxing template is to create a detailed calendar with specific time blocks. It is also helpful to create a timeboxing journal to track the difference between how long you thought something would take you and how long it actually takes you.
Time box templates and journals:
Therefore, timeboxing is a critical skill for consultants. In a job with several competing priorities, it is important to not only get your deliverables done but also sequence your activities such that you satisfy any interdependencies. To accomplish this and be a successful consultant, timeboxing is critical. For example, it can be helpful to block off your calendar to ensure you get dedicated time to finish your activities. Timeboxing also enables you to not let activities span beyond their dedicated timeslot.
There are several timeboxing techniques. One of the most critical timeboxing techniques is to block the time off on your calendar on when you should finish the task. Then, when the calendar time is up, you need to stop completing the task. This activity will teach you how to budget your time accordingly.
For help training your team with time management tools and techniques, check out our training offerings.
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