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The Secret to Every Consultant’s Productivity: TimeBoxing

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Published:
May 2, 2022
Reading Time:
11 minutes
Leo
Experienced copywriter who spends a lot of money at restaurants and regrets it later.

How many items do you have on your to-do list right now? And how many of those items can you attend to today? Also, how many tasks have been lying on that list for ages?

To-do lists are similar to wish lists in a way. You wish you could get some tasks done, you wish you had more time, you wish you were more productive. However, the reality is that only a finite number of tasks can be completed successfully in the finite number of hours we all have.

This is where timeboxing comes into play. It gives you a rational idea of what’s possible and what’s not on any given day. You could fit dozens of tasks into a to-do list, but timeboxing adds the element of time constraint into the mixture and helps you set viable goals.

In this article, we will examine the problems related to to-do lists and why timeboxing can be a far better alternative.

The Downsides of To-Do Lists

To-do lists are simple. You can type the name of a task and add it to the list. Then, you can add another thousand tasks to the list and probably manage to get only two or three tasks done correctly. You kind of know where this is heading, right?

To-do lists, even though very convenient, come with some shortcomings. Let’s discuss why they aren’t always the right option, especially for consultants, who should be aware of the importance of time management


1. Careless addition of tasks

How many tasks fit into a to-do list? Eight? Ten? Twelve? The answer is infinite. Professionals who are used to to-do lists might end up adding so many useless tasks to the list that they may lose sight of the important ones.


2. Stress that comes with too many choices

Imagine this: It’s 9 AM and you’re about to start your workday. You turn on your laptop and see a huge list of tasks—some of which you don’t even recall adding to the list. Now, is that a great way to start your morning? It’s not that only unnecessary tasks on the to-do list can cause stress, too many necessary tasks can also have the same effect. The key is to create a workload that’s easily manageable in an 8-hour day.


3. Ignoring important tasks that aren’t urgent

Just because you don’t need to accomplish a task on a given day or week doesn’t mean you should ignore them. For example, if you’re a freelance management consultant, then working on client projects is equally important to building a personal brand to attract newer high-paying clients. But if you’re always busy with the urgent client-related tasks. You probably won’t get the time to work on very crucial but non-urgent tasks, such as building and maintaining a personal brand through social media marketing and drawing attention of new clients. Because of this, you could end up with the same clients, charging the same rates, and working on similar projects.


4. No sense of time

There is no concept of setting a timer in to-do lists, and that’s why it’s hard to truly measure the time costs of carelessly adding too many tasks. You must be realistic when working on a to-do list and avoid biting more than you can chew.


5. Choosing easier tasks first

Humans have a proclivity towards choosing the path of least resistance. If there is an easy way to do something and a hard one, most of us tend to choose the easy way out. The same applies to to-do lists. When there are so many tasks on the list, professionals tend to go through the easier ones first, regardless of their importance and urgency. This, however, could be a problem, for obvious reasons.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • To-do lists limit your efficiency because you may end up adding too many tasks on the list and lose the sense of time.
  • A long to-do list can also cause stress as well as gravitate you towards choosing the easier tasks first instead of the important ones.
  • Timeboxing is a genius way to intelligently divide the finite 24 hours you get every day.
  • It is visual, so it can help you process your daily schedule 60,000 times faster (according to a study) as compared to plain text.
  • It helps your colleagues collaborate with you effectively by not bothering you during busy times and can also be of great help during retrospection.

Why Switch to Timeboxing

Timeboxing is simple—you open your calendar and choose blocks of time in which you intend to perform given tasks. They’re almost like a to-do list, but the list that focuses on the importance of time management. You see, we all have 24 hours in a day. Even though some of us, especially consultants, wished that we had more hours to get more done, the reality is that both the poor and the rich, children and adults, employees and employers, all have a limited number of hours.

Even though we all know how many hours there are in a day since we were toddlers. We quite often try to stuff more tasks on our daily to-do lists than we can realistically accomplish in a day. To break this habit, we must start using timeboxes.

Let’s understand why timeboxes are better than to-do lists.

1. The visual arrangement of time slots makes things easier

Assuming that you don’t use timeboxes, here’s a quick question: what are you planning to do at 2:00 PM next Wednesday? Do you see why you need a timebox now? Knowing what you’re going to do and when exactly you’re planning to do it is the first step to improving efficiency.

timeboxing, The Secret to Every Consultant’s Productivity: TimeBoxing

Now, you may be wondering: “Why do I need a timebox for this? I can simply write the names and time slots of tasks in my notes.” Well, according to studies, visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text. So, you should place your tasks in timeboxes, because, unlike text notes, they are a visual tool and make it easy for you to mentally process your daily or weekly schedule.


2. Less hard work, more smart work

Let’s consider an example to understand how timeboxes help with improving efficiency and ensuring that consultants don’t waste their valuable energy due to poor planning.

Here’s the to-do list of Sarah, a freelance consultant, for Monday, 28/03:

  • Data Collection for Project 1
  • Website maintenance
  • Invoicing
  • Data analysis for Project 2

Now, let’s add timeboxes to these tasks.

  • Data Collection for Project 1: 9:00 AM - 11:00 AM
  • Website maintenance: 11:00 AM - 12:00 PM
  • Lunch 12:00 PM - 1:00 PM
  • Invoicing: 1:00 PM - 2:00 PM
  • Data analysis for Project 2: 2:00 PM - 6:00 PM

After timeboxing, it can be seen that non-urgent tasks that are not relevant to consulting are taking up three hours between 11:00 AM - 2:00 AM. Sarah could choose to move website maintenance to another day and work on invoicing during her lunch hour (after having lunch, of course) and finish her day at 4:00 PM. That’s the power of timeboxing!


3. Finite work hours, more freedom

Most people who truly understand the importance of time management are aware of Parkinson’s law, which states: "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." This means that if you choose to conduct those focus group interviews or client meetings between 1:00 to 4:00 in the afternoon. Then, that’s exactly how long it will take you. And if you assign only two hours to prepare PowerPoint slides for your next presentation, then that’s how long it will take you to do so.

This means that if you allot a timeboxed period to all your daily tasks in such a way that the total period is 8 hours, you should be able to get all your work done in time and also have an interesting and joyful life outside work.


4. Effective collaboration

Some tech giants are already incorporating shared calendars into their operations. This means that your colleagues will be able to check whether you’re actually available or not before they try to approach you.

Setting a timer and working on one task without distraction means nothing if your coworkers keep contacting you every now and then. That’s why shared calendars with timeboxed periods play a huge role in improving the efficiency of individuals and their collaboration with others.


5. Improved retrospection

Consulting is a profession that involves long work hours and important projects that need a high level of focus. So, there’s no room for flying blind. To measure how efficient you were during a week or a month, timeboxing is a far more practical option as compared to to-do lists.

Through timeboxing, you can learn how long a task actually takes? Which tasks take longer (or shorter) to complete than expected? and what your major distractions are?

Great. That brings us to the end of this long article on timeboxing. Hope that now you understand why it is a better option than a basic to-do list. Share this article with someone who is keen to study new productivity methods and the importance of time management.

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