Timeboxing: How to Block Out Distractions & Focus on the One Thing

Timeboxing: How to Block Out Distractions & Focus on the One Thing

If there is one thing we know for sure, it is that everyone is distracted all of the time. Whether it is the “ping” of notifications on your smartphone, your teammates sending funny gifs over Slack, or the stream of never ending emails being thrust into your inbox, there are a countless number of little things endlessly vying for your attention.

No matter what the distraction, if you are running a business or are freelancing as a side hustle, they can stealthily chip away a large part of your day. However, you cannot let this happen because you have more important things to do!

You do not want to skimp on marketing because you have been mindlessly scrolling through Twitter after someone mentioned you. Nor do you want to forfeit prospecting new potential clients because you have been replying to every single email the minute it arrives.

Task-switching, which happens when you let something distract you and take over your attention, has been known to result in a 40% overall loss in productivity. One way to solve this ubiquitous issue is to use a time management technique known as timeboxing.

Timeboxing is a simple way to manage not only potential distractions but also the myriad of tasks that need to be completed each day. It’s effectiveness relies on its simplicity: box out a certain length of time for each task and dedicate yourself to just that one task for each box.

While it may seem easy enough at first, you will soon realize its power by being able to enter a focused state more quickly. There are ways to maximize timeboxing’s potential to transform your schedule. Let’s take a look:

Plan Your Day In Advance

One reason why timeboxing is so useful is that it forces you to be proactive with your calendar instead of reactive. You may have meetings scheduled in your day, but now, because you have decided to box out time for other things, you need to plan what those activities are in advance.

Many people box out time in the morning to work on their most valuable items. The first part of their day is dedicated to “eating the frog.” This is the most important, and likely the most difficult task of the day. Often these activities are strategic planning, content writing, or project management activities.

Others know their productive cycles and will box time out according to when they know they will feel the best for each style of work. If you have to manage multiple parts of your business then being aware of when you can do deep work and when you can do more mundane, routine work can help you box your time accordingly.

Move All Your Projects Along

Another easy way to procrastinate is to work on the things that you find easy, while consistently putting off the work that may be less enticing or more challenging. You are not doing yourself a favor if you get caught up with creating great content because researching and writing come naturally but then go on to neglect other important aspects of your business.

More than likely, you have many different projects going on in your business simultaneously. You have a marketing plan, a product development plan, a networking plan, proposals that need to be crafted, content that needs to be written, and so much more. By timeboxing, you can make sure that you are moving each project along at a steady pace.

Box out time to work on all your projects and don’t worry so much about finishing as much as moving things forward. Ideally, you would be able to advance each project along in a meaningful way so that you can be maximally productive in each aspect of your business.

Set a Time for Email and Social

Timeboxing is about getting the best bang for your buck out of your schedule. Unfortunately, managing email is a necessary evil of how we work today. Without having a plan, or dedicating a chunk of time for it, your inbox can steal away the hours in your day. You may want to box out a few times of your day to knocking out emails.

The same can be said about social media. If you are producing content for Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc., make sure you are using your time well. While interacting with other users is why social media exists in the first place, don’t let it trap you. These sites were created for you to spend as much time as possible. Box out time for participating in relevant platforms but otherwise defend yourself from the dopamine rush of endless social feeds.

Pair with Pomodoro

Some of us are restless people. Getting in the zone and having laser sharp focus for hours at a time may not be in the cards. This is especially true for tasks or projects that don’t come naturally or one’s that require a long haul over time.

The Pomodoro technique is a trick for these situations, and it is a staple of the productivity community. Just like timeboxing, Pomodoro is very easy to implement and can drastically improve your effectiveness at work.

Mainly, you dedicate a 25-minute block to doing the hard stuff and then give yourself 5 minutes to relax or scratch a distraction itch. If you thought about a book you wanted to look up while writing a blog post, save it for the 5-minute block after you’re done the 25 minutes of writing. Did someone mention you on Twitter? Don’t check your phone until the work block is up.

Adding Pomodoro's to your timeboxed schedule can really “up” your productivity. You will be crushing all sorts of projects while feeling like you are still giving yourself time to breathe. For a lot of us, those 5-minute blocks can provide us with enough space to get our restless mind to relax.

Track How You Spend Your Time

At the end of the day, your schedule reflects what you value most. If you craft a well thought out, timeboxed, and maybe even Pomodoro’d calendar, you can begin to understand the direct correlation between what you spent time doing and the health of your business.

Maintaining a schedule and being proactive in sticking to it is like performing a time audit in reverse. You know where your energy is going. You dedicate time to each project that you know will give you the best ROI. You manage distractions effectively. You can look forward and see if you need to adjust your priorities.

It may not be for everyone, and it may not fit into every day, but for those that use it, timeboxing is a genuinely transformative practice. If you feel like you are always distracted or can’t quite get to all the pieces of your work - or business - that demand your attention, box out time for it.

Shawn Parrotte
Shawn Parrotte is the marketing manager of Designli, a mobile development firm specializing in bringing certainty to the world of custom software development. Designli guarantees fixed price points, fixed scope of work 'deliverables,' and fixed timeframes for its clients as they build iPhone, Android, and web apps for startups and businesses wanting to scale.