What is Time Blocking?
Time blocking is a technique that involves scheduling blocks of time designated for specific actions or tasks throughout the day, week, month or year. These tasks should be associated with your short-term and long-term goals, and must be blocked out in accordance with the realistic number of hours available each day. Time blocking is a productivity technique that can help to keep your life in balance and less stressful.
At first, the idea of rigidly scheduling tasks in such a way may seem counter-intuitive. But for those of you with a build-up of assignments to get through or a tight deadline to meet, time blocking can keep you focused on your top priorities while keeping interruptions, procrastination and fruitless multitasking at a minimum.
Benefits of Blocking Time
Scheduling a task for the future allows you to be mentally prepared for it. If the task at hand is a complex one, you can prepare for each step in advance. By taking the time to plan out the task in advance, you may think of ways to complete the task that are quicker and easier.
Greater Focus on Each Task
Time blocking allows you to focus on one task at a time. You have probably already noticed a difference in your work when you focus on one thing at a time rather than trying to do multiple things at the same time. Focusing on a single task produces better results in less time.
When you work in a focused manner, you improve your productivity. You will begin to mark tasks off your To-Do list in quick succession, which will make everyone happy.
Once you realize that your tasks are getting done, you will feel less overwhelmed and stressed, even in situations with tight deadlines.
Time Blocking Process
Start by writing out 3-5 of your most important and urgent tasks along with any other necessary (though not always important) tasks that must be accomplished. Then, split those tasks into the amount of hours you will have each day (8 for most working days). Make sure to allot different-sized chunks for each task depending on how long you need to dedicate to it. Each chunk of time should be dedicated to a specific task (or set of tasks) that are important and necessary.
Google Calendar is a perfect tool for this, but a piece of paper will work just as well.
- Define the block of time
- Define the date & time
- Define the location
- Be descriptive
- Set reminders
The basic example below shows a single blocked out day and a week. You should make yours as detailed as necessary to understand the task at hand and what each step is. Try dividing your tasks throughout the week in a way that will help you accomplish all of your goals without pushing yourself too hard.
Extended Time Blocking
Now that you know what time blocking is and how to use it on a daily basis, let’s expand the concept to plan out a year in advance.
- Identify your top priority
Just as you should with your daily and weekly time blocking, when looking at the year, make sure you identify the most important tasks for the year first. What projects hinge on the results of other projects? If, for example, you’re developing a new product, research will need to be done before product development starts, which will then be followed by prototype production.
- Block in planning time
Set aside a day at the beginning of each year for annual planning, just as you would for daily planning.
- Block time off
At the beginning of the year, block out long weekends and vacations. Time blocking and long-term planning can play a huge role in creating work-life balance.
Time Blocking Efficiency Tips
Don’t try to pack too many tasks into one day. Most people tend to underestimate how long tasks actually take. If you’ve never tracked your time before, it may take a while to get an accurate understanding of how long it actually takes to accomplish your tasks.
Schedule reactive work
Make sure to assign blocks of time for reactive work in order to avoid the usual distractions of answering phone calls and responding to emails.
If you must take calls throughout the day, rather than answering the phone each time it rings, turn voice mail on and schedule a few blocks during the day when you can respond to your messages. This will allow your other blocks of time to be interrupted far less, allowing you to focus on each task to the best of your ability.
While blocking out time is a good method in theory, if you don’t stick to it in practice, then you are destined to fail. Sitting down for a couple of hours of deep focused work with a Twitter tab open, your phone notifications on, and your co-workers thinking that they can interrupt you at any time, is setting yourself up for failure.
Don’t be too specific
This tip is based on our natural inability to realistically predict how long tasks will actually take. Keep your time blocks relatively vague, but in line with a very specific goal. For example, use “40 minutes to organize the annual event” as opposed to “40 minutes to find and book the florist for the annual event”.
Keep Detailed Notes
When your day routinely involves switching from one task to another, getting back into the mindset of the next task takes a tremendous toll on productivity. This is called Context Switching and the effects can be extremely costly in terms of time wasted.
To avoid this drain on productivity, maintain detailed notes (either on paper, or in Google Calendar) regarding where you left off, the problems you were facing, any breakthroughs that were made, and what the next steps will be. Spend the last few minutes of each time block making these notes so you can switch to the next time block with a cleared mind.
Perform a review of all the projects you have been working at the end of each week in order to check that your time blocking approach is working for you. This review will also help you determine which projects you need to assign more time to. This is the only accurate way to know how effectively you have assigned your time. During each review, ask yourself the following questions:
- What have I accomplished since the last review?
- What tasks need to be complete before the next review?
- What is the current status of each project?
This overview will put you in a much better position to make decisions for the future.
Work with your Natural Clock
Take a look at this article on understanding your body clock, and use it to determine which hours each day you are most productive for each type of task, and schedule your time blocks accordingly. Many writers find they are most creative and therefore productive during the early hours of the day. If you know that you are best able to focus during the early afternoon, then it is in your best interests to organize your time blocks such that they make the most of this time.
Don’t Forget Personal Time
Remember to schedule some personal time into each of your days. Block out time to spend with your loved ones and time to spend on your own. Don’t let these times fall by the wayside or you’ll wind up completely on schedule when it comes to work, but entirely behind in your personal life.