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Time blocking supercharges the way you knock out the important tasks in your day, focusing on completing one job a time with limited distractions.
What is time blocking?
Time blocking is daily work management that focuses on completing one job a time, lets you say no to other people’s demands on your time, limits distractions, and can be applied to all the important things in your life.
Do you start each day with a to-do list that’s a mile long?
And every intention of completing every single thing on it?
Here’s the thing. A to-do list is an accumulation of tasks. The important things are mixed up with the unimportant. It’s just a big long mess that seems to get longer as the day goes by.
If by some miracle, you manage to complete everything on your list, you’re left happy but shell-shocked!
Time blocking is different because you create set times to focus exclusively on one priority task at a time. You essentially organize your day into a series of time slots. Instead of writing out a long list of things you need and/or would like to do, you prioritize things to each time slot. If you still have a long list of things left after that, it’s a clear indication that you’re not being realistic about the time you need to get things done.
Organizing your day through time blocks instead of to-dos makes sense because your work is disciplined, prioritized, focused and accountable.
forces you to work through procrastination
You can cherry pick tasks on a to-do list but you can’t duck the time block you set aside to get it done. Buh Bye, procrastination!
makes sure that priority tasks get done before anything else
By taking the time to decide what most needs to be done that day, you are going to stay on top of the important things in your life.
lets you be 100% focused on your tasks.
Distractions and interruptions are the biggest productivity killers. It’s so much more difficult to complete a task when someone interrupts your thoughts with questions, sounds or to ask you to do something for them. A huge part of time blocking is to shut out and not allow those distractions to interrupt the concentrated period you’re devoting to an important task.
Incorporates all priorities
– health, personal relationships, interests, daily routines, etc., not just work
Helps you say no to non-priorities or other people’s priorities
When you fill up your available blocks (and have buffer blocks in case you need more time), it’s impossible for someone to claim your time. It’s already allocated to priority tasks. So it’s far easier to say no to a request that is neither a priority or something you really want to do. If it is something that you want, or are willing to do, it can be scheduled into a time block for another day.
Styles of time blocking
Scheduling into a paper planner
Pinterest has tons of pins showing beautiful images of colored-in task blocks. The bullet journal fans often add in intricate designs to their pages. If you are an artistic person, a bullet journal might be a good choice.
Regular planners lend themselves to time blocking too since they usually come with pre-set half-hour marks. Really, any planner you’d like to use will be fine. It’s not about how fancy your planner is, it’s about applying the time blocking principles.
Scheduling into a digital planner or calendar
Google Calendar makes it easy to time block (here’s one I did for this article).
A digital calendar has a couple of added bonuses.
It’s easy to transport across your devices and is always being available.
Because the blocks are digital, they can easily be moved and reshuffled if important events take you away from your regular schedule.
You’ll note that I have what I call “cushion time” in at least 3 days of this week. Should the work I’m going take longer than I expected, or if I have an immediate family situation, I have a few hours that let me move my time blocking around and create the space where I need it.
I don’t actually use Google Calendar. I’m a paper planner kind of girl (check out the Rescue Time planner!) but I like playing around with my blocking on a digital calendar until I have all my appointments and priorities sorted out. I have a basic work plan that I just adapt every week depending on upcoming appointments or commitments.. Then I can put them in my planner without having to worry that I’m going to have to mess it all up because I didn’t take everyone’s schedule, etc.
Tools for time blocking
Whichever type of planner you use, there are some great time blocking tools that will make the system easier for you. You can buy various apps but most of what you need is available for free. I’m only covering a tiny fraction of what’s available out there, so search for the best fit for you.
- Pomodoro timers – these let you set your work block and will ping you when you’re done. Yes, you can totally use a kitchen timer. Just get one of the bright red tomato ones and you’ll never know (or see) the difference.
- PLAN is a free sophisticated planning app that integrates with calendar, email, JIRA, Zendesk, Salesforce, and Github.
- Pomodone is a Pomodoro based system that is made for time blocking. It also integrates with many office systems and it’s free.
- StayFocusd increases your productivity by limiting the amount of time that you can spend on time-wasting websites. Use it to turn off your social media so you can focus on your work.
How to time block
1. Know your priorities
Use an Eisenhower matrix to separate the important from the non-important. Don’t waste your focused time blocks on things you can delegate or eliminate from your schedule entirely.
2. List all your routine tasks
This is the basics. Your morning routine, picking up your kids on the way home, and any appointments that are scheduled, like the dentist or a client meeting. Make sure you schedule enough time for these.
3. Start to block out time on your schedule for the daily activities
Literally, draw lines between starting and ending times for a task and color it in if you like.
Now add in the priority items for the day. If there are priority tasks that are done every day, or several days a week, schedule these for the same time every day if you can.
4. Schedule the hardest tasks for when you’re most productive.
Are you on fire in the morning and burnt up ashes after lunch? Do the tasks that require a lot of concentration in the morning.
5. Handle the least important tasks at the end of the day.
Think of things like answering emails and returning phone calls as part of wrapping up your day and cleaning your office for tomorrow. Tell people that you have set aside office hours and that you’ll be free to focus on them during that time.
6. Don’t just block out tasks.
Block out time for weekly planning and scheduling too. Review your week on Friday to see what went well, what didn’t, and how you might change things the following week.
7. Block out personal time too, for yourself and your family.
It’s easy to think of time management as something you only do at work. But by being intentional in blocking out time with the people in your life (and for yourself too), you are making your relationships a priority. Even if all you do is pile on the sofa with popcorn to watch The Great British Baking Show.
8. Make sure you allow yourself enough time for each task.
Don’t assume that you’ll whip through something in an hour that usually takes you two. You might be able to do it in less time but underestimating the time you need could impact your whole day.
9. Leave yourself with some time padding.
I call it Cushion Time but feel free to name your own. Create empty time blocks that can be used when your scheduled task takes longer than you thought it would or when you want to see if you can squeeze in some personal time or errands. In which case, I’d call it SuperProject Time in case anyone looks at your calendar over your shoulder.
10. Use a planner or calendar app to keep track of your time blocks. Color code them if you can.
Yes, you could make yourself a time block system in a notebook or a piece of paper, but the continuity of doing it in a planner or online calendar not only keeps everything nice and neat, it’s also a personal commitment to your time management.
11. Don’t allow any distractions when working on a time block.
Use an app like StayFocused or off social media, put away your phone and close your office door if you can. Wear earphones to cancel out surrounding noise and to alert coworkers that you’re concentrating. No one wants to be the person that makes you take off your earphones and look away from work.
12. Let co-workers and family know you are using a time-blocking schedule and make sure your schedule doesn’t cause a problem with theirs.
Yes, people might be a little put off at first if you’ve always been available at any time of the day to answer a question. Don’t worry. Once everyone gets used to your time blocking approach, they will respect your need not to be interrupted when you work and they might take it up themselves when they can see how much more productive you are.
13. Move the blocks around as needed.
Like everything else in time management, flexibility will work better for you than feeling straitjacketed into an immovable schedule. If you arrive at work and find your boss has scheduled a meeting when you were planning to work on a project, shift your blocks around and offload the least important priority.
14. Make your schedule work for you, not the other way around.
These steps will get you up and running with time blocking but remember that this is your schedule and your life. You don’t need to be a slave to any system. The best time management system is the one that you’ll use every day. So if you like time blocking at work but want to leave your schedule more fluid at home, go right ahead. Or maybe you need to keep afternoons at work less structured because other people need you, or you have to cover the front desk or whatever. Time block the activities where uninterrupted focus will have the most impact and do what serves you best the rest of the day.
Ready to throw your to-do list out? Once you see your productivity increase with time blocking, you’ll never want it back!
Why not start by joining the Plotting A New Course community and downloading our free 10 Goal Setting Hacks