Product Design Lessons

Creative Direction  |   Lesson #98

Boxin’ Up That Time: Timeboxing for the Big Win

Let's learn the ins and outs of timeboxing!

Sometimes we look at what seems to be an insurmountable task, and we ask ourselves, “How am I going to get through this?” The short answer is timeboxing, but how should we approach it? In this lesson, we’ll explore a couple tips and tricks to timebox more effectively and give some more definition to this oft mentioned strategy.


Getting Into the Box.

Timeboxing is breaking down a large challenge into smaller, manageable goals. It’s time management, but more importantly we are laying out each individual step to ship the end deliverable. Having a mapped out project with goals, like we did at ZURB Wired 2015, allows us to focus on the work that moves the project forward instead of working on figuring out what work we need to finish. Sometimes the time isn’t as relevant, but it’s a great way to understand how efficient we are at certain tasks such as sketching, wireframing, visuals or coding for example.

Flexibility Please!

What if something actually needs more time? What if we underestimated how long something took? Well, that’s why we need to account for these things by having some allotted “flex” time. No one is perfect and sometimes we overestimate our abilities to get a certain amount of work done. To account for this we can make 30 minutes the minimum amount of time assignable to a task. This way, if we get ahead of schedule, we’re able to use the extra time gained and assign it to areas where it’s needed. Timeboxing shouldn’t be stressful! It's supposed to help you keep on task by staying aware of time spent on tasks, and avoiding unrealistic timelines.

Timeboxing is a Designer's Best Friend

What does timeboxing typically look like? Well, luckily I was able to catch Jenn, one of our designers at ZURB, before she tossed her timeboxed schedule from last week. Here’s what the first part of her day looked like:

  • 10:00 - 10:30 : Client kickoff call
  • 10:30 - 11:00 : Client Audit
  • 11:00 - 11:45 : Client Competitive Review
  • 11:45 - 12:00 : Client Summary of findings Email
  • 12:00 - 1:00 : Lunch
  • 1:00 - 2:00 : Client call to review summary of findings

This was a particularly trying day since it involved two calls with the client and deliverables due in between them. Timeboxing allowed her to visualize a definite path to success by giving a precise timeline to follow from point A to B, which was a double dose of client call. Even though it’s not ideal, lunch could also be “flex”, but Jenn is pretty on top of things, so she obviously didn’t need it!


  • Break up the problem: larger deliverables are really a sum of smaller components that add up to the final deliverable.
  • Be realistic: 10 minutes isn’t enough time to create a set of 100 wireframes.
  • Be honest: If you don’t finish within the timebox, step away to reassess the situation and allot more time if possible. If not, sometimes you need to make the hard call and extend the deadline.

Next Steps

Notable is another great tool to keep in mind for timeboxing when you’re scaffolding out your projects like we did for ZURB Wired 2015 for Downtown Streets Team. Using Notable, we were able to keep track of all the moving parts within our 30 person team for 24 hours straight and it was all wrapped up into a nice, neat little package complete with the history of every single one of our deliverables. Check out our work here and if you’re interested in using it out for your own projects, sign up for the private release!

About the instructor


Nic oversees all aspects of Notable and helps make it awesome for ZURBians and Designers alike. He worked as a chef and cooked up a storm in the kitchen before becoming our Customer Advocate for Notable.