Time Blocking: A Step by Step Guide to Manage your Time
A question that has always been around us is – How can we get more done in less time? Time seems to be constantly slipping out of our hands no matter how well we plan our day. Something or the other keeps popping up that breaks our focus and causes us to lose track of time. This is why time blocking is essential.
Some people manage to complete their tasks on time while others keep searching for time but never seem to finish anything. The reason is simple. They use their time efficiently by following some good time management practices.
It is pretty common to lose concentration due to external distractions and personal work, especially when apps are tuned in to send notifications throughout the day. This is where Time Blocking comes into the picture. This guide to time blocking will give you an overview of everything you should know about it.
What is Time Blocking?
Time blocking is a time management technique that helps you plan out time in advance by dedicating a specific amount of time for a particular task. It is also referred to as “monotasking” or “time chunking.” You need to block your time and dedicatedly work towards those tasks you have assigned that time to. Each time block can be dedicated to completing a particular task or a set of tasks. The technique is simple, and it is harder for others to steal your time when you fill the calendar with specific tasks.
Time blocking keeps you task-aimed, and it allows you to begin each day with a plan of specific tasks to complete. It not only helps you finish your tasks on time but also assures that you are getting time for other daily life activities like resting, exercising, etc. For example, you can start by blocking time between 8 AM and 9 AM for your breakfast. Then, you can dedicate the time period between 9 AM to 11 AM to work on priority tasks. At 11 AM, you can take a 30-minute break for tea/coffee, etc., and so on. By time-blocking your calendar this way, you will be able to assign time for less critical projects, like checking your emails. In addition, you can reserve some amount of time for personal work.
Work-life balance is critical for every individual, and it can only be attained when you can plan how you are spending your day. You need to consider all the time that you are currently spending on different activities, meetings, and tasks throughout the day, including any personal work that you may have. Once you have details around the time spent, you can plan your next day by blocking time for each task, as per the priority.
Types of Time Blocking
As our daily lives tend to revolve around personal activities like cooking, doing laundry, social media, and so on, the shifting of perspectives causes us to lose sight of the work and tasks at hand. This kind of focus shifting not only results in delays in deliverables but also reduces our opportunity to take out time to rest. However, with the help of task batching, you can reduce context switching.
Task batching lets us club connected and smaller tasks like multiple administrative tasks that take a short amount of time to complete, so that you can finish them together. With time batching, you can limit the variability and number of tasks. This will not only help you save time, but also make you more productive and increase your efficiency. For example, instead of checking your social media feed every 10 minutes, you can block a 20-minute slot dedicated to it, in a day.
As a business leader, you have to pay attention to several areas like sales, marketing efforts, development of products, company growth, HR, administration, etc. But imagine, instead of spending time on all areas daily, you can focus on one area each day, e.g., focusing on administrative work on Thursday or brainstorming on marketing ideas on Monday. This means instead of blocking time for each task every day, you can leverage the concept of day theming to dedicate an entire day to a similar type of work. Day-themed time blocking is suitable for people who have a lot of responsibilities that need their time and attention.
Timeboxing is another type of time blocking technique that helps you define a limit to how much time you will spend on a particular task. These timeboxes compel you to work productively and efficiently as you only have a restricted amount of time to complete each of your tasks.
Even though timeboxing and time blocking may seem alike, they are not. The primary difference is that while time blocking allows you to reserve the amount of time you’ll spend on a task on a particular day, timeboxing means defining the duration of time you will need to complete a specific task.
Importance of Time Blocking
“To learn hard things quickly, you must focus intensely without distraction. To learn, in other words, is an act of deep work.” – Cal Newport, Associate Professor of computer science at Georgetown University.
Newport is also the author of the widely popular book “Deep Work.” In his book, he shows how important it is to stay away from distractions to enter a state of deep focus to work on a demanding task. And no other time management technique provides deep work focus than time blocking. When you know you have only a set period of time to work on a particular task – you will dedicatedly work towards it rather than spending your time on multiple tasks.
Even the secret behind Elon Musk’s success is the “5-minute rule.” Musk divides his entire day into 5-minute time blocks for each task. With this technique, it is already decided what task will be performed in a particular 5-minute time block.
Time blocking keeps you on top of your tasks- by allowing you to dedicate parts of your day to a particular type of work. You can easily overcome a heavy workload and finish work faster with time blocking, since you’re able to put your complete focus on one task at a time, in comparison to scattering your focus across multiple tasks. In addition, it makes you more organized as you already know the amount of work completed in a day and what needs to be pushed to the next day.
Not just this, time blocking will also help you:
- Eliminate procrastination as you have a predefined time to start and finish a task.
- Focus on your priority work first so that you can meet stringent deadlines with ease.
- Get a better understanding of how much time you are taking to complete a task and schedule future work more efficiently.
- Efficiently complete “shallow work.” It is the work that is urgent but not critical – like replying to an email. However, when you block time for such work, you need to set a clear limit on the amount of time within which you will complete the same.
Common Mistakes Related to Time Blocking That You Should Avoid
In theory, time blocking is a straightforward process, but it can be hard to implement initially. Therefore, here are some tips to help you avoid the common mistakes while blocking time in your calendar:
- Under or Overestimating Your Time: It is essential to understand your tasks and how long each task may take to complete. This is a recursive process, and your estimation prowess will increase with each iteration.
- Making it a Binding Contract: There will always be tasks that will keep coming up every now and then. You need to choose the tasks based on the priorities and address them accordingly. Your time blocking plan should act as a guide to help you focus your attention on your pending tasks, but should not forbid you from spending time on something that came up recently and needs your immediate attention.
- Overbooking Your Relaxation Time: You sometimes lose track of time while relaxing or undertaking any leisure activities. In addition, having too many breaks between your work time may cause you to lose concentration, due to which you may have to start over every time. Therefore, while blocking your time for such activities, you must stick to the existing schedule to maintain productivity and avoid task pile-up.
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How to do Time Blocking Effectively?
Let’s work on how to block time in your calendar for different tasks through a simple step-by-step process:
Step 1: Create a To-do List
To plan your day or week, you should be aware of your professional and personal work tasks well in advance. The next step is to write these tasks in a to-do list and prioritize them as per the deadlines. This list will give you a clear sense of the tasks you should complete on a given day and the ones that you can postpone until the next day. Making a list will ensure you have enough time for everything that needs to be completed or needs your attention on a given day.
Step 2: Differentiate Between Your High-priority and Shallow Tasks
This is simply the most significant aspect as it can help you make more accurate and informed time-blocking decisions. It is up to you to decide where you want to spend your time, so ask yourself a few questions first:
- What are the priorities and deadlines of the tasks assigned to you?
- How much time do you want to spend with your family?
- Do you like to skip all the unnecessary or insignificant meetings that keep you busy for hours?
Your answer to all these essential questions will decide what goes on your calendar. More importantly, it will reflect the relative weight or importance of all the scheduled tasks so that you can devote time towards work that adds more meaning, value, and impact. Once you know your priorities, you can strategize and block time in your calendar accordingly. However, you must not forget to have free windows for all the shallow work that you may encounter on any given day. One of the most promising aspects of time blocking is that it can be scheduled, or you can schedule it the way you want it to suit your best choice and interest.
Step 3: Do Task Batching
As mentioned in the earlier sections, task batching is all about grouping similar tasks together and focusing on all of them simultaneously. You can pick up these related tasks in one go once you have grouped them correctly.
This should be a common approach when you are expected to work on multiple projects with a specific team. Instead of connecting with the same team multiple times to do different tasks, you can simply create a list of tasks and work items that you need to undertake and discuss them simultaneously.
In this manner, you can complete repetitive actions concurrently, which can indeed help you save a significant duration of time.
Step 4: Know When are You More Productive
You must focus on critical work when you feel that you are most productive. It is no surprise that our biorhythms determine our ability to focus on any task. It is essential to understand this in order to deliver to the best of our capabilities.
If you believe that you are more motivated or at your productive best during a particular period of the day, then it makes sense to block that time for the work that is of utmost importance. Usually, people devote this time towards mission-critical tasks or work driven by the senior management.
Once you have identified your most productive hours in a day, start focusing on mission-critical projects during those hours. However, this must not impact how you respond to the rest of the tasks on any given day. There always comes a time in a day when you may not feel as energetic as you would during the rest of the day. You must devote this time to tasks that are more mundane and require less creativity and focus.
Step 5: Plan Your Time Blocks in Your Calendar
Once you have identified the time during which you feel most motivated, you must start scheduling your time blocks accordingly. You need to plan and set the rest of the time on your calendar, keeping in mind the priorities of all the tasks that you need to take care of on a particular day.
One more thing that you should understand is to schedule the most critical actions during the time blocks when you feel most motivated. However, this should not prevent you from working on non-critical items; otherwise, your task backlog will continue to pile up.
Step 6: Add Blocks for Breaks in Your Calendar
Humans need breaks to work more efficiently! Your break time and buffers allow you to revitalize and get back to work with more energy, especially when you have critical tasks in the pipeline.
Having regular breaks keeps your mind fresh and helps you accomplish your tasks and goals more effectively. On the other hand, failing to schedule your breaks and buffers in a timely manner may result in fatigue and loss of productivity and efficiency. It is quite important for your mental health that you dedicate some time entirely to yourself to cater to your personal needs. Therefore, scheduling breaks and leave buffers becomes an essential aspect of blocking time effectively so that you can work with a higher level of commitment and dedication.
Step 7: Maintain a Flexible Time Blocking Calendar
Another important aspect of time blocking is to leave time for the ad-hoc work that can come up anytime. Ad-hoc work may include an urgent task or meeting due to which you may need to adjust your pending work. In addition, the time duration kept to complete a task should be realistic with sufficient buffer so that you don’t burn yourself due to lack of time.
Step 8: Review and Improve – Try Day Theming and Timeboxing
A critical last step in creating a time-blocking schedule is to revisit your work history and understand what works best for you and how you can plan your day even better.
As per your workload and responsibilities, you can try both day-theming and timeboxing to see what best works for you. Doing this will help you plan your work better. Day-theming will also allow you to focus on larger areas of your business. Let your time blocking process develop with the varying needs or different tasks that you need to work on.
To take control of your day, it is crucial to use time blocking effectively. With time blocking, you can put your attention on tasks that need your focus and remove procrastination.
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