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Do you often end up having one or two hours of productive time despite designing your to-do list for an 8-hour workday? Then it is high time you should consider amplifying your to-do list with the time blocking technique. This technique might be one that can help you schedule time effectively and be productive like Elon Musk or Bill Gates.
In this article, you will learn what exactly time blocking is? Why does it work effectively, and how can you apply it to optimize your schedule for focus and productivity?
What is time blocking?
Time blocking is a practice of planning your days by breaking 24 hours of a day into several time slots or blocks. In each block of time, you will assign a single task or a group of similar types of work. As a result, you remain focused while doing particular tasks.
It is an effective time management method because you can schedule every part of a day and include every type of task. It is from checking email to deep work, even setting aside time for rest and self-care.
There are two fundamentals of this method –
- create a time block, and
- set a task or group of works in that block.
For example, if you create a one-hour (8 am to 10 am) time block for writing a report, you can allot the following block (10:30 am to 11:30 am) for answering emails.
However, the length of time for each block is up to you and the type of task. The point of time blocking is that it allows you to focus on what truly matters. Also, you can work without interruptions and reduce context-switching.
Why is time blocking effective?
Time blocking is effective because it allows us to accommodate deep work and shallow work in our schedule. The practice of this technique offers more advantages, and they are:
- Ideal for deep work: The time-blocking system works so well because it facilitates deep work. When you set a certain length of time as a time block for a particular task, you are prone to dedicate all your attention to it. You will deliver quality work in less time by focusing solely on the task at hand.
- Have time for shallow work: This method accommodates superficial work. Since attending meetings, making phone calls, replying to emails, and other similar tasks are necessary for your daily jobs, you cannot leave them. But, you can set aside a block of time for these tasks and do them by batching similar tasks.
- Feel less stressed: You will feel more relaxed when you do task batching and have a particular block to tackle small tasks. You won’t be busy doing low-value work throughout the day and feel stressed more. You will save time and energy from context switching and be stress-free for assigning a block for shallow work.
- Proper use of time: Another advantage is that the time blocking system will help you spend time intentionally. You will get a better sense of where your time is going. Consequently, you will be more aware of time and use time in the right way. Instead of spending hours in a cycle of back-and-forth emails, you will schedule just 10 minutes for it.
- Drives you toward goal: As you have to make a plan for a day or week, you’ll schedule only essential tasks focusing on your professional and personal objectives. By working on that schedule, you’ll get more accomplished. In addition, a concrete plan will help you to fight against procrastination and perfection.
How to start time blocking
The process is simple. Prioritize tasks from your to-do list and fit them in the right block of time. It involves five steps to start time blocking. Here are the steps to follow to get started.
- Select a tool for planning: There have many tools for time blocking. You can use your favorite calendar app or a paper planner. Whatever the medium you use, stick to single tool. You have options to select a tool from a list of time-blocking apps, planners, and templates. You can choose anyone from the list.
a. Time blocking app: b. Paper planners from Etsy:
- Identify your goal: It is essential to know your aim – why you want to use this system. Is it because you need time for focused work? Or, do you want to spend less time on emails or in meetings? Or, want to get things done faster to spend time with family? The clarity of this question will let you choose the right task and set it in the right block of time.
- Prioritize tasks from the to-do list: Create a to-do list that includes personal, family, social, and work-related duties and responsibilities. Then prioritize them according to their importance and urgency. Write down the tasks for the day and put them in the right block of time – deep or shallow.
- Create time blocks: Time blocking is, in fact, an advanced representation of our daily routine. When you create a template for a typical day, you get a clear idea about your daily schedule. Instead of doing tasks randomly, you get a direction about which tasks to schedule and when.
For instance, you can set a particular block of time for emails and messages instead of checking and replying to them several times a day.
- Schedule time for both deep and shallow tasks: The time-blocking system enables you to plan your day based on your level of productivity. You can allot a block for deep work when you feel more focused and energetic (Biological peak time). Critical projects, meaningful work, and high-value tasks are some instances you can do during this time. Also, set aside time for shallow tasks and do them when you are less energetic. In this slot of time, you can do mundane tasks like email, Twitter, meetings, and so on.
Time blocking tips to power up its functions
To increase the efficiency of the time block method, you can follow the following things.
1. Consider other subtypes: There are some variations of time blocking — task batching, day theming, and time boxing.
- Task batching: Completing several related and smaller tasks at a specific time slot. Checking and answering emails, scheduling social media posts, and checking notifications are some instances you can do all at once.
- Day theming: Dedicating your entire day to a specific task. For example, reserving Monday for marketing, Tuesday for content creation, and Wednesday for designing.
- Timeboxing: Setting a time limit to complete a particular task. For example, on Tuesday, you plan to write between 3 pm to 5 pm and complete 1000 words in these 2 hours.
2. Combine other time management strategies: To work without distractions, combine the time block approach with other time management techniques. Here are some of them to consider:
- Eisenhower Matrix: Categorize and prioritize tasks based on importance and urgency.
- Pomodoro Technique: To be focused on the tasks at hand for 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break.
- 2-Minute Rule: Do work instantly if it takes less than 2 minutes to accomplish.
3. Include breaks: Since we are humans, we need to take breaks to function at our best. Therefore, it is necessary to include break time in the schedule, such as time off, lunchtime, leisure time, and buffers. Also, have a plan for ad hoc tasks that may appear unexpectedly.
4. Find your ‘best’ time: Creating a space for deep work is one of the reasons for using the time block technique. The system works more effectively when aligned with “Biological Prime (peak) Time.” It is the productive hours of the day when a person remains more alert, energetic, and focused. For some people, the prime time is in the early morning, while others function better in the afternoon. Find your prime time to schedule deep work in that block of time.
5. Allow apps: Apps make your plan visually appealing. Several free tools and apps are available online to make the time block process easier. Some of them are Google Calendar, Be Focused, and Rescue Time. These apps will help you allocate time more intelligently, remain focused, and get insights into the time you spend every day.
6. Adjust as needed: Time blocking is not a one-size-fits-all solution. You need to adjust your time blocks until you establish the right style that works for you. Give it time. Experiment, change, and make adjustments as you go. In addition, try to be realistic when you set a schedule and be flexible for the day if a crisis arises. Your system shouldn’t be rigid but realistic.
Time blocking example
Here is an example of time blocking method including day theming, task batching, deep work and shallow work blocks.
Time blocking mistakes and how to avoid them
Although time blocking is an effective time management technique for weekly and daily plans, many people fail to reap its benefits because of missteps. Here are some of the mistakes and their solutions included.
- Poor estimation of time: In the beginning, time estimation for each task may go wrong. Many people underestimate or overestimate the time for blocks to do work. As a result, this method seems to be an ineffective use of time.
Solution: Take time to improve your sense of time. You can get the help of a time tracking app – RescueTime or Toggl. In addition, you’ll develop a better understanding of time with practice when you do tasks and measure time for completion. And later, you’ll be able to plan blocks accordingly.
- Being too rigid: Another mistake is expecting a productive day every day or passing days as planned. But the truth is that unforeseen responsibilities may pop up during the day, and we are bound to deal with them. Expecting to stick to an exact schedule and failing to implement the plan often leads to frustration.
Solution: Take time blocking as a guide instead of a rigid schedule. Be flexible in making changes in the plan if anything is essential enough. Also, be prepared to tackle unexpected tasks. Time block works as a guide to staying focused on what matters, and it can be changed whenever necessary.
- Not scheduling blocks properly: Often people set blocks only for critical and large tasks. They ignore having blocks for shallow work, errands, and administrative tasks. As a result, they forget about these tasks and fall into backlogs. Also, they get distracted by these tasks while doing deep work.
Solution: The time-blocking method works well when you plan blocks for the entire day. Schedule shallow work in the calendar when you are in a less productive spirit. Batch smaller and administrative tasks and have particular blocks for them. Even allot time for social media checks to avoid getting distracted by notifications while doing important things.
- Overscheduling blocks: Some highly productive people like Elon Musk and Bill Gates schedule their days in five minutes increments. Although they are comfortable working this way, this approach may not work for you. In addition, you have little idea about their leisure time and activities. Therefore, overscheduling your leisure time can be a counter-productive approach for you. It can also cause stress, health problems, and distraction.
Solution: Schedule breaks between the blocks. Have blocks for leisure activities, unwind and relax instead of sacrificing your leisure time. Keep your free time free to spend time with family and for the things you love to do.
Time Blocking Books
Time Blocking Planners
Like other time management strategies, the time blocking system works effectively when you have a clear sense of your goal. This system enables you to be more productive for deep work while also efficiently completing shallow work. With a time blocking system, you’ll have more control of time, focus, and productivity.