Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness
Time boxing is a way to chunk up time and get results. If you continously miss windows of opportunity or spend all of your time in one area of your life at the expense of others, time boxing can be one of your best tools. A time box is simply a limited set of time to accomplish a result. Think of it as how much work can you get done in a given block of time. I use it to organize my day, drive project results, make incremental progress on problems and spend time on the right buckets in my life.
Why Use Time BoxingUsing time as a constraint and forcing function for results is extremely effective:
Summary of StepsHere's some prescriptive guidance for creating and using time boxes effectively:
Step 1. Identify candidate areas for time boxing.Identify candidates for time boxing. This could be anything from work projects to personal projects. Personally, I've found it the most effective to start with something small, such as starting a new exercise program. I've also found it effective to use it to tackle my worst time bandits (any area where I lose a bunch of time, with either little ROI or at the expense of another area.)
Step 2. Identify your objectives.In this step, ask yourself what you need to accomplish with time boxing. Examples include:
Step 3. Identify the appropriate time box.In this step, figure out what a right-sized time box would be. For example, you might have a project due in three weeks. Within that three week time box, you might decide that if you allocate 2 hours a day, you'll produce effective results.
The right-sized time box largely depends on what you determined in Step 1. You might need to grow or shrink your time box depending on whether you're trying to build momentum, show results or just make progress on a problem. Step 4. Execute results within your time box.Execute within your timebox and stop when you run out of time. This can be tough at first because you might be on a roll. This can be really tough if you are used to doing things until they are done. What you're learning at this step is how to stay completely focused, how to treat time as a limited resource, and how to tune your results. You're also learning how to make time boxes effective for you.
Start with your time box as a baseline so you can evaluate your results. The worst mistake is to give yourself an hour for results, spend two hours, and then say what a great job you did in your one hour timebox. Instead, do the hour, then figure out whether you need longer time boxes or if your approach needs to change. Step 5. Evaluate and adapt.If it's not working, change your approach. Using time boxing is one of the most effective ways to experiment with different techniques to find the most efficient.
Examples of Effective TimeboxingHere's some examples of putting timeboxes into practice:
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Nice article! The two primary keys to timeboxes for me are strictly limiting the amount of time that a tasks takes to prevent analysis paralysis, and forcing yourself to evaluate, improve, and act upon your work and improve next time. The forced retrospective that a timebox provides (as long as you actually do the retrospective) encourages continuous improvement.
Many agile techniques are all about timeboxing. Instead of buffering with time and pushing out the deadline when you fall behind, agile techniques often buffer with scope, i.e. let's keep the delivery date constant and continually adjust how much we are going to build to fit within that time.
I like the phrasing "buffer with scope"
Book building is art and science. I've built a few books over the years at patterns & practices.
What is your life frame?  What are the key buckets in your life that you need to balance across?
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