Lose the “To-do” List!
14 February 2019

Effective working practices – timeboxing - productivity

Part of HR’s role is helping employees become more productive and more effective. One of the common complaints from employers is poor productivity. We are all busy these days and many employees struggle to manage their workload. Their “to do” lists seem to throb balefully and never gets any shorter, however hard they try.  They feel utterly exhausted.

I once heard the to do list described as a tyrant, which in some ways is right. It might be a good servant but if your list has become the master there’s something wrong. Of course, you must capture all those fragments floating round your mind or you’ll never remember them and they’ll never get done. That’s just the starting point. If you leave it at that you’ll find you may be prey to several common problems.

  • There are too many things on the list so you feel overwhelmed.
  • We all tend to gravitate naturally to the simpler, easier tasks and the tougher items are just left.
  • Most people never manage to make time for important-but-not-urgent tasks, like setting aside time for learning.
  • They lack a commitment device.

Very often we take longer to carry out a task than we should. This is influenced by the time available (circumstantial) rather than how long the work should really take (objective).
Enter a different time management hero - “living in your calendar” or “timeboxing”. Timeboxing gives you a production plan for your work and will help you be substantially more productive. To timebox your work estimate how much time each of your tasks will take and log them to your calendar. Allocate time to process your email. Leave some otherwise unallocated time — one to two hours — each day to deal with the inevitable crises that will crop up.

If you’re under pressure you absolutely have got to plan your time and your work realistically. And that means adding it to your calendar. I can see by looking at my calendar when I can schedule urgent and non-urgent work. My clients get fast responses to operational problems and queries, Equally, they know that less urgent problems and paperwork are done in the mid to longer term and we will agree the timescale.

When you plan your time and focus on the task in hand for that period you are considerably more productive than if you just say/ think: “I’ll just do this job” but don’t add a time limit. About 45-50 minutes is the optimum time. If you have a long, complicated task, break it down into several 50-minute chunks and return to it. Plan it in in time boxes.
You will find that you communicate and collaborate more effectively when you timebox. If you share your calendar your critical work is visible to colleagues. So not only are you more likely to plan your work to accommodate others’ diaries, others are able to check that your work plan works for them.

Do you ever get to the end of an insanely busy week and wonder what happened? Or a performance review looms — what went well and what less well over the last six months? Or you want to use an hour to plan the following week and need to know what’s on the horizon? With timeboxing, it’s all there in your calendar.

If your employees are struggling, introduce them to timeboxing. A disciplined approach imposes a sensible, finite time for a task. If you stick to that. It will help you feel more in control and this is particularly important because that sense of being in control may be the biggest driver of happiness at work. Interruptions make us less happy and less productive. Timeboxing. Means you decide what to do and when to do it, block out all distractions for that timeboxed period, and get it done.

There are many benefits of timeboxing your calendar. It improves how we feel (control),how much we achieve as individuals (personal productivity),and how much we achieve in the teams we work in (enhanced collaboration).

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Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this blog, nothing herein should be construed as giving advice and no responsibility will be taken for inaccuracies or errors.

Copyright © 2021 all rights reserved. You may copy or distribute this blog as long as this copyright notice and full information about contacting the author are attached. The author is Kate Russell of Russell HR Consulting Ltd.