Zonebox – Timeboxing For Your Tasks

Productivity plays an important role in our daily lives and, therefore anything that can enhance it is of interest and deserves closer inspection. For that very reason, we recently reviewed two productivity apps based on The Pomodoro Technique.

Today I decided to take a look at Zonebox, an app aimed at timeboxing tasks. Timeboxing is another popular time management technique, which essentially consists of assigning time limits for the duration of a task. Although initially used by teams in software development, it’s gaining more and more traction among individuals as a means of boosting their productivity. Read on to see how Zonebox can help.

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UI And Usage

Zoneboxs initial window.

Zoneboxs initial window.

When launching Zonebox for the first, time you’ll be greeted with a simple yet functional window, comprised of a viewport for your tasks and a status bar with dynamic content depending on the apps current state.

Working With Tasks

There are two ways in which you can add tasks to Zonebox:

  1. Either click ‘+’ in the status bar or type ctrl+N. Give the task a name and time limit and you’re set.
  2. Copy a list of tasks from a text file and paste them in Zonebox. Each task will be given the default time (defined in preferences). This is a great feature for those who prefer plain text task managers such as TaskPaper.

Zonebox will show you the total amount of time allotted to all your tasks at the end of the list.

When you’re ready to start working on a specific task, click the Zone in or type ⌘↩ and Zonebox will start counting down. Type ⌘P to pause a task, ⌘. to stop it or ⌘/ to mark it as done. All these options are accessible from the apps menu too.

Once you mark a task done, it gets a strikethrough and the status bar changes to show a “trash bin”. When clicking on the bin all done tasks are deleted permanently. Take care though because there is no way of undoing a task if you mistakenly mark it done.

Click the bin button to remove done tasks and clear the clutter out.

Click the bin button to remove done tasks and clear the clutter out.

Visual Feedback

Most apps of this genre provide some form of visual feedback showing just how much time is left on the clock and Zonebox is no exception. However, it tackles this in an interesting and unique way. Besides the usual menubar timer we’ve become accustomed to and a timer in the status bar, Zonebox also shows a progress bar running along both the bottom of the screen as well as it’s window.

Progress bar along the bottom of the screen and window.

Progress bar along the bottom of the screen and window. 

The only drawback of this progress bar is that it covers the dock’s indicator lights. Fortunately, you can disable this in the preferences or simply run Zonebox on a second monitor (providing you have one of course).

The two buttons next to the status bar timer allow you to add or subtract time in 1 minute increments.

Another interesting feature of the app is study mode. This is intended for tasks that don’t require you work on your Mac yet want to timebox. Simply start the task and enter full screen mode. Zonebox will dim your screen and display the task with a time counting down.

Zonebox integrates well with OS X's notification center.

Zonebox integrates well with OS X’s notification center.

Zonebox has support for Mountain Lion’s notification centre and will display a banner when a tasks time runs out. Clicking the banner will bring the app forward allowing you to quickly start a new task or restart the current one.

Where It Excels

Given the simple and minimal nature of Zonebox, I wouldn’t recommend it for any big or long term projects. However, it is extremely useful for organising the day ahead of you. It’s great to sit down with your morning coffee and start creating the tasks you’d like to accomplish. The total time allows you to see how your day stacks up and quickly prioritise your tasks based on how much time you have already allotted for the day.

I recently came across a very insightful tweet by Aaron Mahnke that sums this up very well.

We have three limited resources: money, time and energy. So why do we usually only budget our money?

A pre-planned day is budgeted time.

Where It Falls Short

I came across a few quirks that could easily be attributed to an oversight or a lack of attention to detail… I’ll let you decide.

  1. The ability to pause a task is only available via menu or keyboard shortcut, no button or context menu which would’ve made sense. However, when you hide the app from the Dock this is only available via keyboard shortcut and unless you know what it is, you’ll miss it altogether (I almost did);
  2. The menubar icon has an option to start a task but this only shows the first task in the list, regardless of the task selected, rendering this of little use;
  3. If you hit the down arrow past your last task and then hit enter, you’re able to create a task on the same line as the total time;
  4. Some keyboard shortcuts function in a seemingly random manner. If no tasks is active then hitting ⌘↩ once starts a task. If however there is a running task, ⌘↩ will edit the tasks name (as dose simply hitting ). On the other hand, if no task is selected and nothing is running, hitting ⌘↩ will start the first task in the list.
  5. You can only mark a task done if it’s running. This makes means that if a tasks timer runs out, you’ll have to start it again just to mark the task done.
A bug that allows text on the same line as the total. Restart app to fix.

A bug that allows text on the same line as the total. Restart app to fix.

On a Portuguese keyboard, the shortcut for marking a task done also toggles the help menu.

Final Thoughts

Zonebox is a relatively new app and that does show in a few areas that clearly need more work and thought. It does, however, have a few interesting things going for it and if you’re into timeboxing or would like to give it a try then this app could be a good companion. It’s fairly inexpensive and I’m sure we’ll see it progress in a more positive direction once the few quirks are ironed out.


A simple app for timeboxing tasks.