Friday, 17 February 2017

Timebox Rules For Better Time Management

For many years I studied techniques and practices of time management. Partially for my own sanity, and partially in an effort to help my team or the organisation I was consulting or coaching become quicker and nimbler (aka "agile"). I picked up lots of cool one-liners like "survival of the fittest" is incorrect in modern management philosophy - these days it is about "survival of the ones who learn only the right things the fastest".

So on my journey I realised I also had to study prioritisation theory and practices. Surprising to me at the time, time management and prioritisation are 2 sides of the same coin effectively - especially in light of what it takes to survive (let alone thrive)!

Although there is a good Timeboxing writeup on wikipedia, I found it was too theoretical and not usable for people who had not tried many different options, nor did they want to read all the references to understand how to implement!

The below rules I came up with for my experiential training modules are really simple. I have yet to see any better that really help a group or team of people to focus on the most important thing(s) for the most amount of time available.


I think I was inspired by deep reflections on how the agile Scrum framework and how we learn from our errors to come up with these rules that have helped me and many others who have followed them over the years.

Sometimes I vary the ordering by placing #3 nearer the end but for this timeboxing writeup it seems clearer where it is now:
1. Set the end time
2. Everyone watches the remaining time
3. Break large timeboxes into smaller timeboxes
4. Breadth or overview 1st
5. Depth or detail 2nd
6. Stop when time's run out
7. Don't worry - trust the process and stay with it

By following this guideline, the most important thing(s) have been covered, and you can always iterate or run another timebox again if you need to. (ie, use common sense, always!)

The main thing this framework helps with, is moving individuals and people forward. The brain is a muscle, so the more you and your team practice my timebox rules, the more you will get out of this, and achieve.

For example, a 30 minute meeting to make 2 decisions starting at 10am.

1. Welcome everyone and set the visible timer on the table/wall so that everyone knows that the end time is the end time. This is meeting is serious. (30 seconds)
2. Ask everyone to focus on the remaining time and to remain "in the meeting/room" and help everyone stay on focus of the timebox. (30 seconds)

There are now 29 minutes remaining.

3. Start a 3 minute overview timebox to ensure everyone's initial thoughts are heard before going into details. Agree the order of importance of the 2 decisions ("there can be only 1 priority 1")

There are now 26 minutes remaining.

4. Start a 5 minute timebox on the first decision that needs to be made
(assume the group is unable to decide)

There are now 21 minutes remaining.

5. Start a 2nd 5 minute timebox on the second decision that needs to be made
(assume the group is unable to decide)

There are now 16 minutes remaining.

6. Ask everyone to silently reflect on what they have learned or know about decision 1 for 1 minute
7. Ask everyone to silently reflect on what they have learned or know about decision 2 for 1 minute

There are now 14 minutes remaining.

8. Start a 5 minute timebox on decision 1 again
(assume still no decision)

There are now 9 minutes remaining.

9. Start a 2 minute timebox on decision 1
(assume a decision)

There are now 7 minutes remaining.

10. Start a 5 minute timebox on decision 2
(sometimes magic happens, and you don't need the whole timebox!)
(assume people all unanimously agree within 2 minutes)

There are now 5 minutes remaining.

11. Thank all and end the meeting early. DO NOT DRIFT INTO "any other business" or "miscellaneous agenda items". End the meeting. If people want to social then social, but it's no longer a meeting and make that clear!

For further motivation to help you and your team learn this best time management system, check my earlier post on No Time To Improve. Timeboxing gives you the time for doing the right things right.

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