What is Time Blocking? The complete free guide to mastering your daily schedule
Have you heard about time blocking, but don’t really know what it is? Or you’re somewhat familiar with the method but not sure how to put it into practice? Either way, you’ve come to the right place!
If you’re struggling to manage your time, you’re not alone. We’ve all been there. The good news is there are ways to deal with it, and one of them is time blocking!
In this blog, we’ll look into time blocking and everything there is to know about it, from the basic concept to the main benefits, and everything in between. Ready? Let’s dive in!
This guide includes
- What is time blocking?
- How does time blocking work?
- Time blocking methods
- Benefits of time blocking
- Why is time blocking so effective?
- Who can benefit from time blocking?
- Is time blocking for everyone?
- How to start time blocking in 3 steps
- Common time blocking mistakes
- The best time blocking apps
What is time blocking?
Time blocking is based on a simple time management strategy: you schedule periods where you work on specific tasks. It’s like breaking your daily to-do list into chunks of time, or what we’d call timed slots, to work on tasks or projects.
It’s crucial that you know what you’ll be working on every week so you can make a draft of your time slots for each workday. This will also help you adjust your schedule if you finish tasks early and can take on new ones.
That said, time blocking doesn’t mean working in a single-minded way all day long. It simply means setting aside specific periods for certain tasks and sticking to them until they’re complete or until the next time block.
This way, you won’t get distracted, lose focus, or try to do something for too long. By using time blocks, you’ll get more done with less effort.
How does time blocking work?
The idea behind time blocking is that we can get more done if we focus on individual tasks rather than trying to work on multiple things at once.
We do a lot of stuff throughout the day that isn’t the most important thing we could be doing – although we think it is at the time. How often have you stopped working on an important task because a colleague’s email popped up on your screen?
With time blocking, you can avoid that. Time blocking can help you reduce the clutter of tasks in your calendar and increase your productivity and effectiveness by getting you to focus on what really matters.
Time blocking methods
I know what you’re thinking, ‘Who has time to focus on one task at a time in today’s hectic world?’
Well, here’s how: time blocking can help you better manage your time by blocking out distractions so you can concentrate on the task at hand.
In fact, Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work, estimates that a 40 hour time-blocked work week ‘produces the same amount of output as a 60+ hour work week pursued without structure.’
But perhaps you may have tried some time blocking methods before and found that they didn’t work for you. However, there are several different time blocking techniques, so one particular method may work better for you than another.
Let’s check some of the most popular time blocking methods that you can try.
Task batching is about working on similar tasks and scheduling a specific time slot to get them done so that they take up less mental energy.
That way, you can focus on similar tasks instead of having different things going on at once. When done right, task batching will help you finish more tasks in a shorter amount of time.
For example, you can schedule 30-minute blocks to answer emails throughout the day instead of checking your inbox every 10 minutes.
Day theming is going a step beyond task batching. For managers who have lots of different responsibilities in several business areas and feel that they are all competing for their undivided attention, day theming can be a great solution.
One famous fan of this time blocking method is Elon Musk. It is said that the billionaire founder and CEO of Tesla and SpaceX works at SpaceX on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays and at Tesla on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
When you dedicate each day of the week to a specific theme, you end up creating a very reliable structure that allows you to remain focused on specific tasks instead of going back and forth between different little things.
Time blocking and time boxing are often used as synonyms, and although they’re related, they’re not the same thing.
Time blocking is a method of organizing your tasks and projects by blocking out chunks of time to focus on them. For example, you can say that you will ‘work on that marketing campaign from 2 pm to 5 pm tomorrow.’
Time boxing is when you allow yourself only a limited amount of time to work on a specific task. In this case, you could say ‘I’ll answer emails between 2 pm and 4 pm tomorrow.’
And even if you didn’t answer all emails within that time frame, you’d still stop working on it and move on to the next task.
Some people may feel time boxing is just a way to add more pressure to an already demanding job. But if you try seeing it as a challenge, you can be surprised at how well you do and how more productive you can be.
The Pomodoro technique
Basically, you work for 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break after every 4 tasks.
The Eisenhower matrix
This system splits tasks into four categories, urgent vs not urgent and important vs unimportant.
Urgent but not important tasks should be put on hold or assigned to someone else, while not critical but essential tasks should be scheduled first thing in the morning or last thing at night so they’re less likely to get pushed aside by other things.
The 2-Minute time blocking rule
If a task takes you less than 2 minutes, you can create a time blocking rule, so you do it right away instead of putting it off until later when it’ll probably take longer than 2 minutes.
What are the benefits of time blocking?
It’s easy to lose track of what we are working on when we’re constantly being interrupted by non-stop notifications and juggling multiple tasks simultaneously.
You know that if you start checking your emails every 15 minutes, you’ll just work longer hours or have a series of incomplete tasks at the end of the day. And no matter how many to-dos lists you make, you’re still falling behind schedule.
This is where time blocking can make a difference in your work life. It’s not about needing more time; it’s about learning how to use the time you have wisely and stay on track.
In the end, you’ll find that saving time will increase your productivity.
Want to know more about the benefits of time blocking and what they can do for you? Let’s go!
Prioritize your tasks
As human beings, we tend to only remember the things we’ve left undone instead of the ones we’ve completed – it’s called the Zeigarnik effect. Unfortunately, if left unchecked, it can cause severe anxiety and stress.
But if you learn to prioritize your tasks and schedule time slots to focus on each one at a time, you’ll gain a greater sense of control over your schedule and work life.
Despite what you may have heard, multitasking is not a good time management strategy.
Our brains are not hardwired to keep up with the constant switching between tasks. In fact, research shows that employees can be 40% less productive when they multitask. That’s saying a lot!
When you’re replying to emails or Slack messages, creating Ad campaigns, and attending team meetings, you’re using different skills that take up a lot of mental space.
If you don’t give yourself the appropriate amount of time to work on each of these tasks, you’ll just switch between them all day without getting much done. Don’t mistake being busy as being productive.
Stop work interruptions
We know, We know. Avoiding work interruptions is easier said than done. But there’s a difference between interruptions happening ever so often or being an issue that you have to deal with daily.
Sure, you have other responsibilities and commitments, and they’re not going away just because you’re trying to stay focused on one thing. That’s why it’s so important that when you start time blocking, you commit to it.
You’ll eventually find a method that works for you, and when you’re interrupted by an urgent request, you’ll be in a much better place to deal with it because you’ll feel in complete control of your schedule.
Why is time blocking so effective?
You may not think much of it at first, but time blocking can profoundly impact your ability to stay focused and achieve your goals.
If you really want to make it work, you need to pick and choose the most important tasks for each day. Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work, spends 20 minutes every night scheduling tasks and goals for the next day:
‘Sometimes people ask why I bother with such a detailed level of planning. My answer is simple: it generates a massive amount of productivity.’
It enables ‘deep work’
Time blocking is also an effective method because it enables ‘deep work’. Instead of bouncing from one task to another, you can focus on one task for a more extended period.
And when you give yourself a time block to focus on one project, problem, or task, you can harness all your mental resources to achieve your goal.
Time blocking vs Perfectionism
When you deliver a big project, there’s always something you wish you had changed, tweaked, and reviewed for the thousandth time.
It can be pretty challenging to let go of these projects, especially if the only thought going around in your head is ‘perfection’. But you will need to say I’m done and move on to the next project at one point or another.
Time blocking, especially the time boxing technique, can be a great asset for managing these sorts of situations by allowing you to set specific time limits for each task.
If you find yourself extending the time you had previously set for a task, review your time blocking method and use an even stricter time box for finishing the job.
It makes it easier to say ‘No.’
Saying ‘No’ to others, especially managers and team members, can be tricky. In fact, it’s one of the most valuable skills you can learn, but it’s also one of the most challenging ones.
With time blocking, saying ‘No’ doesn’t have to be awkward, whether you’re managing your work time or personal time.
If you start saying ‘Yes’ to everything that comes your way, you’ll be switching from one task to the other without getting much done. Eventually, you’ll just start to feel overwhelmed.
But if your team members can see that your time is blocked, they’re less likely to interrupt your day with requests or questions that you can deal with later on.
Who can benefit from time blocking?
At one point or another in your career, you’ve probably said to yourself, ‘There’s no way I can manage my time any better, or ‘I’ll think about this new time management thing when my life isn’t so crazy-busy.’
And hey, we don’t blame you. Managing time is hard. But that’s precisely why we need productivity and time management strategies like time blocking. And if you’re not using it, you’re probably not being as productive as you think.
Time blocking is an incredible tool to increase your team’s productivity. But occasionally, teams can find it hard to balance long-term projects with short-term demands.
If you’re a project manager, time blocking can be a great way to schedule your team’s tasks, so they’re more efficient and productive.
And although time blocking is not about micromanaging, it can help reduce distractions and prioritize tasks, so your team can focus on what’s really important and meet every deadline.
The same applies to other professionals, like freelancers, remote workers, or even students. If you’re struggling with time management and find it is stopping you from reaching your goals, time blocking can be just the thing for you.
People with ADHD
People with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) have a difficult time dealing with time management, including planning, prioritizing, meeting deadlines, estimating the length of tasks, and punctuality, among others.
If that’s your case, time blocking can be a great way to manage your to-do list. It won’t fix all of your issues with time, but it can make managing them much easier.
So take a look at your calendar, and block time slots for tasks and projects that you may miss otherwise. The key is to commit to it and find a balance that works for you.
Is time blocking for everyone?
No. Time blocking doesn’t work for everyone. There are certain kinds of jobs with too many reactive tasks for time blocking to be effective.
If your main job consists of ‘putting out fires’, reacting to events, and prioritizing tasks every 15 minutes, then using a time blocking method may not be worth the trouble.
For example, an air traffic controller could find it very difficult to block time slots in their schedule so that they can focus on deep work.
That said, you can still try other time management strategies besides time blocking. Any time management method that can give you even the smallest amount of control over how you’re spending your time is worth the shot.
How to start time blocking in 3 steps
Once you’ve decided to give time blocking a try, what’s the best way to go about it? To make it work for you, here are some practical steps you can take.
1. Block one hour per task
Block off one hour per task at most. If you have too many things on your to-do list that you just keep rescheduling for the next day, then that sort of defeats the purpose of having a to-do list in the first place.
If possible, try breaking down larger tasks into smaller ones so that each one takes less than an hour to complete.
2. Estimate the time you’re spending on tasks
Start by estimating how much time each task will take to complete. Afterward, review your data and see if you’re over or underestimating the time needed for each one.
If you find that your time estimation and the time you actually spent on each task don’t match, work on your time blocks by tracking the time you spent on tasks.
3. Expect the unexpected
As the saying goes, better safe than sorry! Even the best plans can fall apart because of unexpected demands.
The best way to prepare is to block time for urgent tasks. If you find you don’t need it, you can simply use it for everyday tasks, such as planning next week’s time blocking schedule.
Common time blocking mistakes and how to avoid them
Time blocking is a pretty simple concept, but committing to it can be a real challenge. Here are some common mistakes people make when trying time blocking for the first time.
Underestimating your time
It’s a common issue to underestimate the time it takes to complete a task or a project. The truth is, we’re not very good at time predictions. So, usually, we end up underestimating our time. And on rare occasions, we can also overestimate it.
When getting started with time blocking, it’s better to allocate extra time to each task, so you don’t get frustrated and blame time blocking when you spend more time than what you were supposed to on a task.
Being too strict with your schedule
You can’t be too rigid with your schedule because chances are something will come up and change your plans.
Bear in mind that your calendar and the time blocks you added to it are simply a guide to help you stay focused on what really matters. But it can be changed throughout the day if necessary.
When dealing with these situations, decide if whatever is being asked of you is really that important to make you change your time blocks. If you find that it is, just go with it.
Forgetting to take breaks
Remember to take breaks between tasks. We’re not machines, so we need to take a few minutes to stretch our legs or take a deep breath before moving on to the next task.
If you think you can simply switch gears on the spot and jump from one task to the next, you’re just going to get frustrated and behind schedule. Take your time, block it on your calendar, and start working on whatever comes next when you’re ready.
The best time blocking apps
There are several time blocking apps that can help you get started. Here are a few examples:
- Time tracking apps – If you’re looking for ways to keep better track of your time on tasks, then a time tracking app is just the thing you need. It can help you manage your tasks more efficiently and help you find out where you may be wasting precious time.
- Calendar app – Use an online calendar app to create repeating events that remind you when to start and stop working on specific tasks. You can also use recurring events to remind yourself when to take breaks from working on one task and move on to another one (for example, every hour).
- Alarm clock apps or timers – You can use an alarm clock app to set up timers for each task that needs to be completed within a specific time frame (e.g., 30 minutes). If a task takes longer than expected, just reset the timer. When the alarm goes off, move on to the next task or turn off the timer entirely (e.g., when lunchtime rolls around).
- Time blocking templates – You can look online for free time block schedule templates to help you get started with time blocking. Just keep in mind that if you have to invest a lot of time managing this template, it’s probably best that you look for a solution that offers time-blocking automatic features. You don’t want to be spending more time managing your time blocking schedule template than actually working on your tasks and projects.
One last thing about time blocking: try it for yourself! If you’ve never time blocked before, give it a go and see if it’s something that you can use in your daily routine.
It may take a few weeks to adjust, but if you stick with it you’ll soon start enjoying the benefits of being more productive, less stressed, and generally more in tune with your schedule. And who knows, it might just change the way you approach your tasks forever!