Timeboxing is the new #1 productivity hack

To-do lists are not beneficial, argues productivity expert and Filtered.com CEO Marc Zao-Sanders in the Harvard Business Review. They tend to grow long and unwieldy, and people tend to cross the easiest items off them first.

Timeboxing has been proven to be the most useful productivity tool. Timeboxing is a calendar-based time management system that came out #1 in a study Sanders conducted of 100 productivity hacks.

It’s a simple concept: for every task you have, pick out a date and time on your calendar and box off an amount of time for that task. For that time period, you will be working on – and hopefully completing – only that task.

Timeboxing often fits right into your workflow. As Sanders puts it, “If you know that a promotional video has to go live on a Tuesday and that the production team needs 72 hours to work on your copy edits, then you know where to place the timebox.”

Timeboxing is visual.  Not only can you see it right in front of you, but so can your colleagues, if you use a shared calendar.

You can play with time. Use the scheduled periods to cut a larger problem into chunks. Spread a project over a long period of time – or compress it into a short one. Recapture periods of goof-off time that would normally be lost by scheduling a timebox where you’d normally be scrolling mindlessly. Schedule super-short timeboxes for increased focus. Timebox your email.

It keeps a record. It looks forward but is also backward-facing if need be – you can review what you’ve done the week or month prior if it’s all been a blur. “Or a performance review looms – what were the highs and lows of the last six months? It’s in your calendar.”

Productivity! In a world when work fills the time available for it, constraining the time available to get that work done will force you to finish up faster. So don’t give yourself too much time to complete something, although it will be difficult to estimate how much time you need at first.

Most importantly, it’s almost as easy and uncomplicated as a to-do list. So toss those sad Post-Its and give it a try.