055: The Power of Time Blocking
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I wanted to put together an episode about time blocking. I’ve shared in the past how time blocking has helped me to be more productive. I had planned on covering this topic in the last episode, but unfortunately, life got in the way and I did not have the time to pull it together. So finally this week I’ve been able to get this episode on time blocking done.
You may be wondering, though, what time blocking really is. Well, it’s just what the name implies…blocking off segments of time to work on like tasks or a project. Just like you would make an appointment with the doctor, blocking off time to work on a project or like tasks allows you to make room in your schedule to get important things done.
In fact, time blocking renders a traditional to-do list unnecessary. When we normally make to-do lists we usually write out everything we can think of that needs to be done. Then typically we look at the list and have no idea where we should start.
When we see all of our to-dos in one place, they all seem to have equal weight. As I’ll share more about when I go through the steps of time blocking, being able to prioritize our to-dos is highly important if we want to be productive. When we prioritize everything and give each task or project a place in our schedule, then we are more likely to get those tasks and projects done.
Now, that does not mean you’ll never have some sort of to-do list. As I’ve already said, time blocking allows you to prioritize what’s important and helps you to designate a definite time in your schedule to get those important tasks done.
Benefits of Time Blocking
Time blocking helps you to see how you are using your time.
When you block out the time needed for your work, travel, appointments, tasks, projects, and family activities, you are better able to see where your time is going. You can also see where you may be wasting time when you could be doing something more productive.
When I started time blocking, I quickly realized I had more than enough time to do what was most important as well as many of the things I just wanted to do. However, as I mentioned a minute ago, I was not taking the time to schedule everything in. I was just relying on the fact I knew I had some open time available each day. But instead of choosing to fill that time with important tasks and projects, I just let it go to waste by the distraction of social media and other fun things that really weren’t important or necessary.
Time blocking helps you to prioritize your work.
As I mentioned earlier, when you can prioritize your to-do list and get your important tasks and projects scheduled, then you will see more productivity in the areas that matter.
Time blocking also helps you to prioritize your work by helping you to figure out what you may need to give up if there is something you want to do but don’t seem to have the time to fit it in your schedule.
For instance, let’s say you want to start going to the gym. But right now, it just looks like there is no place in your schedule for a consistent time to go. Once you get your schedule filled out, you may notice that you consistently have an hour or say a few days a week that is free. You could use that time to go to the gym. Or possibly, you may see that you are devoting time to a group that no longer meets your needs. Maybe you could replace this group with time at the gym.
Time blocking helps you to focus your attention on one task or project at a time.
When you block off time in 30 minute to hour-long or more segments, you are better able to focus on the task at hand. Knowing that you only have to focus for the allotted amount of time will usually kick your motivation into high gear. So even if the task or project is not something you are looking forward to doing, you know you can give it your best effort for the time you’ve scheduled.
I do this with housework. Physically cleaning, not just picking up, is my least favorite chore. So I find if I can set aside 30 minutes to an hour to clean, I can power through it and make significant progress. On the other hand, if I had just written down “clean house” as one task on my to-do list, and had planned on fitting that in wherever I could on my own, it would never happen. In fact, that has been my life for so long. However, now that I do schedule that in, the house gets cleaned more often.
Time blocking helps you to utilize time with your energy levels.
We all have times of the day where we are more energetic than others. Some of you may work best in the mornings. Others find that evenings are more productive for you. Personally, I am most productive between the hours of 10 am and 2 pm.
When you realize what time of day you are most energetic and motivated to do work, you can begin to schedule in tasks or projects that are time-consuming, need focused concentration, or are more difficult. You can save tasks that require less brainpower like reading and responding to email, filing, and planning for times when your energy is low.
Steps for effective time blocking
Create a list of tasks to be done in the upcoming week. Yes, I said you don’t need a traditional to-do list, but you do need some idea of what needs to be done. You can’t trust your brain to remember everything. So you need to write down everything.
Once you have your list look over each task or project and see if any of them can be deleted, delegated, or deferred. By that I mean are there any tasks on your list that really don’t need to be done. Or are there tasks you could delegate to someone else to help free up your time. Or are there any tasks that can be deferred to a future time. Completing this step should be able to remove at least a few tasks from your list.
Now it’s time to prioritize the tasks and projects that are left. Go through your list and put the letter “A” or the number “1” by the most important tasks. Now, these are the tasks that will move you closer to achieving your goals. These are not tasks like going to the grocery store or cleaning your house. Even though these tasks really need to get done, they are not the most important things to do. I’ll explain more about this in a bit.
Then put the letter “B” or the number “2” by the tasks you think should be done this week. These are tasks like going to the grocery store or cleaning your house.
And finally, put the letter “C” or the number “3” by the tasks you’d like to do this week. These could be things like lunch with a friend or reading a book or just any other task you’d like to get to this week that’s not necessarily important or should be done this week.
You may find that you have other tasks you can delete, delegate or defer once you’ve gone through this process. And that’s great! The fewer things you need to do the better.
It’s time now to fill out our calendars.
First, put in any known appointments or commitments that have a time associated with them.
Second, remember to mark off time to get ready for the day, exercising, eating, etc.
Next, mark off time for the “A” or “1” tasks. These tasks must get done this week. They don’t have to be done first before the other tasks, they just need to be scheduled first so you’ll know they get done.
Then add in the “B” or “2” tasks.
And finally, if there’s room, add in the “C” or “3” tasks.
Don’t forget to build in some buffer time for schedule interruptions or a task/project taking longer than you thought. It’s usually a good idea to block off an extra 30 minutes around the big chunks of time you’ve set for tasks. This way your schedule doesn’t get thrown off if something runs longer than you had planned. And if you’re interrupted, you’ve built in some time to stay on track with your schedule.
It’s up to you if you want to color-code your time blocks or not. It’s not necessary but it could help you see what type of tasks you spend the most time on. I personally like to color code because it does help me to see better where my time is going. But again it’s not necessary.
I’ve got to throw in a disclaimer here. Just because you start the week with your time all blocked out doesn’t mean everything will go according to plan. Sometimes things happen you have no control over and your plan goes right out the window. However, even if you can’t follow your plan exactly, you at least know what’s important and can work to get those most important tasks done. Even if they don’t get done the day or time you’ve allotted for them.
Watch the video below to see my time blocking process in action.
Want to get started time blocking? Fill out the form below to receive a copy of a blank time grid. Use this time grid to get the hang of time blocking. Once you’ve figured it out, then you can start using your calendar, whether digital or paper, for time blocking.