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Joy Wilson

Spectrum Training services

Learning and Development Consultant

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The TimeBoxing Technique for Learning Designers


Designers of learning and development solutions frequently build learning solutions that have a prescribed time period and most designers, including myself, sub consciously chew over possible solutions and approaches to the blend of methodologies for days lost in the flow of artistic creation and exhaustive consideration of endless possibilities -  it could go on for weeks on end if allowed to.

There is often a misconception that structure gets in the way of generating new ideas. However the creative process thrives under constraints and this discipline actually encourages more ideas to make it to the table. Deadlines tend to focus the mind and on any project resources are usually fixed, so there are three issues that must be managed:  

Schedule: The time when the training product must be delivered to the client

Scope: The range covered by the topics and methodologies utilized

Quality: The absence of errors in the product – errors could be textual or broken links in the case of a blended learning solution


I call these three factors “The Three Legged Stool” because they have a fixed relationship. For example:

·     If we increase the scope, the schedule must grow to accommodate the increase, or the quality must decline.

·      If we shorten the schedule, we must decrease the scope or deliver with risk of more defects.

Boxing Clever

Time boxing was originally created as a method for software engineers and developers to manage tasks and deadlines. Time boxing is simply allocating time to work on a task and then working as hard as we can within that time frame and rather than working on something until it is completed in one sitting, we only work on it for a specified period of time in 30-45 minute chunks Just enough time for you to feel the pressure to fill the time with your effort,. At the end of this time the task is either ticked as complete or we commit to another chunk of time to it at another time.

The time boxing technique puts parameters and boundaries around cogitation the practice of ranking outstanding tasks, makes us consciously aware of how much time we have available to focus our energies towards things that matter most and therefore we get those things done first.  


Time Boxing Applied

Have you ever attended a training event that ran over time? Those who design and deliver training and development events start with an overall duration time box, and break that down into smaller time boxes to fit with breaks and lunches availability of I.T. suites and, carefully select materials and activities that meet development needs. Those who deliver training events know that people won’t remember why they were late finishing they will only remember that they were late, so time boxing is the technique that will provide the structure both during the design and delivery of the event. 

Ready to Box - Here goes:

  • Set deadlines for each task you need to do, – 30-45 minutes chunks is probably optimal. If you think a task will take longer, break it down further and set smaller deadlines.
  • Divide the day up into these chunks and you can see at a glance what you hope to achieve by the end of the day.
  •  Leave an hour unallocated for finishing tasks off - or if you are using the technique to plan the delivery of training add 15-20% to each scheduled activity use this time to accommodate group discussion – you’ll probably need it.

The benefit of the time box approach is:

It enables you to cut the content or functionality to fit the scheduled delivery time, rather than extending and re-extending the time so that all the requirements can be built. Delivering a certain amount in the Time Boxed period enables constant progress and achieving the time boxed delivery forces us to stop agonizing over a perfect decision, and make a usable decision.

2 Responses

  1. TKO


    I like the idea of time boxing, however I dont think it can be used when designing training and learning events. My reason is that when you start designing a session you might come up with a nice intro or icebreaker, that then leads on nicely to something else, and so on.

    As part of the creative process though you constantly sculpt and mould all of the different areas of the training to fit with one another. I sometimes come up with something in the middle of a training event that will mean I need to go back and tweak the start so that it all fits together.

    I think these tweaks would get lost of I only gave myself 45 minute chunks to work in.

    just my thoughts but please come back with a good left hook to knock me out!

  2. Time Boxing and Creativity

    Hi, thanks for commenting, it’s always good to know when a blog prompts a little thought and I appreciate your interaction.

    Like you, I enjoy the spontaneity of coming up with just what the group needs at a particular time the creativity that comes from experience is a gift . I also recognise that process where first ideas are stepping stones to better ones. Indeed, creative processes usually rely on quantity of ideas that gradually influence each other and let’s face it there must be nothing worse than a person with only one idea that to me would represent being stuck. 


    Here it comes…..HOWEVER, when designing or quoting for a syllabus based approach – 60 hours of learning utilising multiple methods, the only way to avoid being overwhelmed by too much content and complexity is to have a clearly defined roadmap/plan (time boxes) — with the sense of direction anchored by goals, methodologies, learning chunks and process-based evaluations that describe why particular content was selected.


    I find time boxing an asset here and particularly as the client will inevitably question the time that is required for each element of the design.


    Once you start to create a blended learning solution and start to make media or blend decisions you are effectively managing a portfolio of methods and media. The challenge for a designer is to create solutions that are both effective in developing skills and knowledge and practical, given the inevitable resource and cost limitations that we all work under.


Author Profile Picture
Joy Wilson

Learning and Development Consultant

Read more from Joy Wilson

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