What is time blocking?
Updated: Dec 31, 2020
Time blocking is a productivity “hack” that helps you be more productive. You assign specific tasks (or groups of similar tasks) to specific blocks of time. It’s loosely based on Parkinson’s Law, which is the idea that work will expand to fill the time available for its completion. You can read more about Parkinson’s Law here.
If you’ve got a long to do list or a deadline to meet, time blocking can help keep you on track while keeping distractions, procrastination and unproductive multi-tasking at bay! Best practice is to spend around 10 minutes at the end of each day planning your ‘time blocks’ for the following day.
If you’re tempted to try it, the first thing to do is spend a little bit of time setting out what needs to be done. I have a free tool that can help you do this – it’s a five step process to organise your to do list, dump the overwhelm and organise your time. You can download a copy here.
If you work an eight hour day, split those eight hours into different-sized chunks, with each chunk dedicated to a specific task (or set of similar tasks) from your “do” list. Google Calendar is a perfect tool for this, but a paper diary will work as well.
Here's an example of my time blocking:
Schedule your hardest work at your most efficient time
Schedule your reactive work (emails, phone calls etc)
Schedule in your breaks
Don’t try to squeeze too much into one day. It’s easy to under-estimate how long tasks will take. If you’re someone who’s never tracked time before, this will take time to learn.
You need to figure out the average amount of productive time you spend in your inbox. You need to know exactly how long you can focus on deep, difficult work. If you set aside four hours for deep work, but can only concentrate for two, that’s two hours wasted. You'd be better spending two hours on less demanding tasks. As you learn more about how you work, and how long each task takes, your time-block estimations will become more and more accurate, and you’ll become more productive.
Even if a lot of your work is reactive, you can still use this method. For example, if a large portion of your work is in your inbox, schedule 30 minutes every two hours for responding to emails. If you have to take calls throughout the day, instead of answering the phone every time it rings, let it go to voicemail and schedule a couple of periods during the day where you respond to your messages. This allows your other blocks of time to be far less interrupted, which allows you to get your best work done.
Blocking out time is all well and good, but if you’re settling in for a couple of hours of deep work with a Facebook tab open and your phone sitting right beside you, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Turn the phone off, sign out of social media, close all unnecessary tabs, and concentrate on the task at hand for the period assigned to it. You might be surprised how much you get done.
Don’t Be Too Specific
If we’re too specific with our time blocking (eg: “30 minutes to book a venue for the party”), then when we don’t find a venue within 30 minutes, we’ll feel like we've already failed. Try to keep your blocks of time somewhat vague, but still working toward a very specific goal. So it could say “30 minutes organising the party” instead. The 30-minute block may result in a shortlist of venues — so at least you’ve made progress. These quick wins are what keep you motivated!
Understand your body clock
You know your body best - learn how to tell which hours each day are your most productive, and schedule your time blocks accordingly. If you know you focus better in the morning, organise your time blocks to make the most of this time and your top priorities for the week.
Use Reminders That Work
Whether you use your calendar, an email reminder or a timer on your phone, you need to set up reminders that you’re confident you’ll stick to. If you’re willing to work an extra 10 minutes on each task, you’ll soon fall behind on other projects. Is it really worth it? Ensure you know when your time block is coming to an end, so you can get into the right frame of mind to move to the next task.
Time blocking is a simple exercise in segregating your day into various chunks of time that, if adhered to, helps you achieve everything you need to, and in turn reduces your stress levels. By using this method you can cut procrastination, making for more efficient work days and also giving you back some personal time.