Okay. Come on. Admit it: You were on the verge of losing faith in Harvard Business Review (HBR), weren’t you? You just didn’t think, after all the blatantly obvious and trivial inanities it’s published, it could continue to maintain its stride, right?

 O, ye of little faith.

 Yes. I’m being facetious, of course. We all knew HBR wouldn’t let us down. It’s almost as if they started to sense our doubt and, in response, published this: How Timeboxing Works and Why It Will Make You More Productive”. At first, I thought timeboxing was something like sparring with your clock. Put on the gloves. Shadowbox with the hands on the clock. It seemed reasonable. And it seemed a hell of a lot less strenuous than jumping rope. But no. I was wrong. 

It turns out timeboxing has nothing to do with pugilism. Rather, it’s a term coined to denote the complex, painstaking, but miraculously results-producing  process of transitioning from a to-do list (bad) to a calendar (good). The author of the piece elucidated his transition thusly: 

I converted from my religiously observed to-do list (daily work plan) to this calendar system, also known as timeboxing …  

Whew! Maybe I sold it short. I’m actually a little winded from the exertion. And that was just Round One. Let’s see what happens next.

Round Two

When the bell sounded, the author leapt from his stool, bolted out of his corner, and shared this:   

Over the last few years, I have also discovered several additional benefits of timeboxing, which I would like to share.   

Well. It’s better than a right cross to the jaw. But even though we had our gloves up and our elbows down in a sound defensive posture, the author still managed to get in these five crisp punches:  

  1. “Timeboxing into a calendar enables the relative positioning of work.” In the old days, this used to be called prioritization. Like empiricism and common sense, prioritization is a dying art.
  2. “The practice enables you to communicate and collaborate more effectively. If all of your critical work … is in your calendar, colleagues can see it.” In the interest of full disclosure, I wear trifocals. But if I put something in my calendar so colleagues can see it, is any other communication required for my colleagues who have 20/20 vision?
  3. “It gives you a comprehensive record of what you’ve done.” This is particularly handy for people who experience TGA or live in permanent fugue states.
  4. “You will feel more in control … Constant interruptions make us less happy and less productive.” Depending on your perspective, this is either the magic of timeboxing or the secret sauce. As soon as you put something in your calendar — BANG! — nothing unforeseen happens and everyone leaves you alone.
  5. “You will be substantially more productive … timeboxing [imposes] a sensible, finite time for a task.” I may have to take my last comment back. This, in fact, may be the magic or the secret sauce because we all know that plans — especially timeboxed plans — never change. Neither do circumstances, focus, energy levels, or inclinations.

The Last and Final Round*

So, my first impression notwithstanding, it turns out timeboxing won’t be a new chapter in The Sweet Science after all. Nope. Timeboxing is just another word for discipline. I have a feeling A.J. Liebling and I aren’t the only ones who’ll be happy about that. And our expectations for HBR have been restored to their rightful nadir.

But don’t put it past HBR to try to get timeboxing qualified as on Olympic sport. 

*Richard Steele