Why timeboxing is so amazing and how you can harness its power

Out of the top 100 techniques for getting things done, timeboxing is often rated the best method of all. It works for clutter clearing and for everything else too!


Clutter clearing works best when you break it down into small manageable chunks and schedule time on your calendar to do it.

How to use timeboxing when clutter clearing

There are tidying gurus who will tell you that the way to clear your clutter is to pile it all in the centre of the room before you begin. If you live in a tiny apartment and have very few possessions to start with this may work. But for most people it creates an overwhelming heap that may take days, weeks or even months to sort through, leaving your room looking like a garbage dump in the meantime.

The method I have taught very successfully to people since 1998 is to break each area you need to declutter into small, manageable chunks that will take about 20 minutes each. Then set your timer and begin. It’s called timeboxing.

Just about everyone can clutter clear for 20 minutes. And no matter how busy you are, just about everyone can find 20 minutes a day to do it. Tackle the easiest areas first to get some small successes and gain confidence, then move on to more challenging areas, breaking them down into individual bite-sized sections. You really can declutter your entire home in 20-minute chunks.

Multiple timeboxing

Of course, you don’t have to limit yourself to 20 minutes per day. If that’s all you feel like doing, fine. But you will probably find, as many people do, that after completing the first 20-minute timebox you feel energized to do more.

This is when clutter clearing changes from being a chore to a delight. By splitting the areas into clearly defined timeboxes, you’ll get a lovely dopamine surge each time you complete one. This creates a momentum you can ride on to accomplish far more than you ever thought possible.

Be careful not to overdo it, though. Take a short break of a few minutes after each chunk of time and assess how you feel before deciding whether to continue or not. Ignoring the timer when it goes off or pushing yourself to do too many timeboxes in a row to the point of exhaustion can leave you feeling reluctant to do more the next day. If you know you’re prone to being an over-achiever, you have been warned!

Smart timeboxing

You can randomly tackle your clutter in 20-minute timeboxes and get good results. But if you want to maximize the technique, the smartest way to use it is to schedule it on your calendar too. Here’s how:

  1. Decide which area of your home you want to tackle
  2. Decide when you want to do it
  3. Make an appointment with yourself on your calendar
  4. Show up and do it

This method is much more effective than simply listing clutter clearing on your To Do list. By putting it on your calendar too you have to make a decision about exactly when you will do it instead of leaving it until “someday”. This also helps you to commit to it more seriously and prioritize it.

How to thwart Parkinson’s Law

A little book called Parkinson’s Law, published in 1958 by C. Northcote Parkinson, explained succinctly why tasks take so long if you don’t use timeboxing: because work expands to fill the time available for its completion. The author gave the example of how a busy man will spend three minutes composing a letter whereas an elderly lady of leisure might devote an entire day to the task.

And so it is with clutter clearing. If you decide to declutter your home but don’t schedule a completion date or allocate time on your calendar to do it, it can take way longer than it needs to. Forever, perhaps.

And you don’t have to take my word for how effective timeboxing is. A 2018 study published in the Harvard Business Review ranked it highest out of The Definitive 100 Most Useful Productivity Tips currently known. It doesn’t just work for clutter clearing. It works for everything else too!

Copyright © Clear Space Living Ltd 2019 updated 2023

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About Karen Kingston

Karen Kingston is a leading expert in clutter clearing, space clearing, feng shui, and healthy homes. Her two international bestselling books have combined sales of over three million copies in 26 languages and have established themselves as "must-read" classics in their fields. Her best-known title, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, is now in its fifth edition. She is best known for her perspective-changing insights and practical solutions that enable more conscious navigation of 21st-century living.
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3 Responses to Why timeboxing is so amazing and how you can harness its power

  1. Thanks, 20 minutes is a great amount of time to get something accomplished!!

    I recently heard about Mel Robbins who wrote a book called the 5 second rule. I listened to her Ted Talk last night, I was really inspired. The rule of the thumb is that when you have an idea to do a task or anything, really, it could be walk over to someone at a networking event, or get on the dance floor, clear out a draw, do you tax, your brain will give you 5 seconds before it starts to talk you out of acting on the idea. So you HAVE to start acting within 5 seconds. That might be to start walking towards that person, pick up that thing off the floor, walk to your diary/phone and enter a diary note or a To Do. I’ve found it really interesting to play with. If you find you don’t act on it, then it’s not something you really want to do after all.

  2. “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” It is me! Putter! Putter! Putter! then PANIC!

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