Tame Time with Timeboxing

Jan. 21, 2024

Have a lot to do but don't know how to get it done? Check this out.

You Can Do This Plan.  A timeboxing tool.

Need a new strategy for managing your time?  One of the most tested strategies is one called timeboxing, and it works because it fulfills three needs:  1.) it helps you manage your time, 2.) plan out your tasks, 3.) and create a running list of what you need to do.

Timeboxing is a method referenced in "How to Become a Straight-A Student," by Cal Newport. He met with a number of top students at top colleges to see how they were able to not only succeed academically but also live full lives outside of class.  One of the methods he references is timeboxing, wherein students follow the steps below to plan out their tasks and allocate their time.

Here's a template you can use to follow along:  You Can Do This Plan

Step 1: Make a List

Start by making a list of all the things you need to do.  This list might be more than just what you need to do today, and that's fine.  Part of the strength of this method is just getting the list out of your head to free up space for action.  You can use the right side of the sheet to make the list and dump the items from your brain to the page.

Step 2: Estimate

Next to each item, make your best guess for how much time you'll need to do each task.  This should be a reasonable estimate.  If you go long and estimate too much time, you'll likely hit your mark.  If you go short, you might not be able to get everything done--which is not always bad.  Just an opportunity to learn.

Step 3: Figure Out What Must Be Done First

Productivity expert Brian Tracy calls this "eating the frog," or taking on the ugliest/most boring/most important task first.  You can list this at the top of the page where it says "Do this first." 

Step 4: Set Your Schedule

This is the real work.  Use the left side of the page to first "box" out all the meetings on your schedule for the day.  This should include any time you have already planned like class time, work, appointments or other meetings.  Then make a box for time to do the task you said you would "do first" (your frog).  Then go down your list, prioritizing the most important things by boxing time for them first.  Not everything may make it to your schedule today--this is fine.  You can carry that to the next day's list and work to find time there.

Step 5: Do the Work

The final step is to do what you said you would do when you said you would do it.  This might be the hardest task, as sometimes work takes longer than you planned, or you just don't feel like doing it.  The important thing is to try, and adjust the next day.  Most of the trouble here is often developing the discipline to follow the plan.  Things come up, and distractions (aka TikTok, Instagram, text messages, etc.) abound.

More Reading

This was a condensed version of a much more comprehensive description of timeboxing found in multiple sources.  As mentioned, I highly recommend checking out "How to be a Straight-A Student" by Cal Newport.  If you'd like a much shorter read (but longer than this post), check out this short read about timeboxing from Jamie at NeuYear.net (psst--they also have great time management tools).

More Tools

You can download our page-sized action planners, but we also have smaller pad you can pick up at Thrive Center.  You can ask for them at the front desk, or in the classroom when you go to your group meeting.

You Can Do This Plan