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Time blocking

Time Blocking: Control Your Schedule So It Doesn’t Control You

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There is nothing scarier than when there comes a day when you realize you have too much to do, but too little time to do it. That typically coincides with the epiphany that if you don’t take control of your schedule, then you may as well let it control you. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ when it comes to choosing a productivity method that works for you and your schedule. But amongst all of the different methods out there, time blocking has gained increasing traction and popularity—and for good reason.

Telltale signs that time blocking may be the perfect solution for you if you:

  • Find yourself in “reactive” mode too often — you’re on your phone responding to Slack messages and emails far too often to get into deep work (more on that later)
  • Wear multiple hats — you juggle multiple projects and responsibilities, such as running client acquisition, marketing all the way through to accounting and finances
  • Look at your weekly calendar and all you see are meetings
  • Battle constant interruptions throughout the day
  • Struggle to find time and mental space for big-picture, strategic thinking

Sounds like you? If so, learn more about how you can leverage time blocking today.

Time blocking

What is time blocking?

What is time blocking?

You may have heard of time blocking before. A time management tool, time blocking offers a framework to divide working hours into blocks of time. Within each block, you determine how the time is used to accomplish a specific task, or a group of related tasks. The caveat is to do it ahead of time — ideally planned out the week, or at a minimum, the evening prior.

It’s an efficient way to tackle your laundry list of tasks instead of reviewing a to-do list of un-related items or responding to emails or Slack messages every few minutes. By following pre-set “time blocks”, you get to start each day with a concrete schedule that you can trust and follow.

What makes time blocking work extremely well is prioritization. This method requires you to get in the habit of reviewing and prioritizing your task list in advance. For example, at the end of Friday, you can block off time for a dedicated weekly review. This is when you review what’s upcoming next week and make rough estimates of time blocks for each day of the week.

At the end of every workday, review any tasks you didn’t finish — as well as any new tasks that have come in — and adjust your time blocks for the rest of the week accordingly.

The effectiveness of ‘time blocking’

At first glance, time blocking may sound super simple. However, its impact is truly profound. From reaching “flow state” and fighting perfectionism to raising awareness of how you spend your time, the positive effects are significant.

Helps you tackle shallow work more efficiently

Shallow work is the busy work that’s urgent but not important to achieving your long-term goals — think paperwork or responding to emails. By time boxing or time blocking email processing, for example, you context switch less and can leave more room for activities that help you achieve flow state.

Effectiveness of time blocking

Helps you fight perfectionism

Perfectionism is often seen as a positive trait that increases your chances of success, but it can also lead to self-defeating thoughts or behaviours that make it harder to achieve goals. In the context of work schedules, perfectionists can’t stand fuzzy timelines. Any given task can always feel like improvements and tweaks can be made. As a perfectionist, you’ll use all the time (and more) to make it perfect — but that’s less than efficient. Time boxing, for example, can help impose time limits on certain tasks (e.g. finishing an article or brand guideline). Once the time is up and the task is done, your time box reminds you to move on to the next task!

Helps you stay aware of time spent

An increase in awareness of how your time is spent is one of the key benefits of time blocking. Many people are awful at estimating how much time certain tasks take. We tend to overcommit without much thought as to how finite time really is. Time blocking and other variations of it forces you to get intentional with your time, priorities and commitment. The next step you are about to add a new commitment to your schedule, review your existing schedule full of time blocks and it’ll become crystal clear how often you can say yes, versus how often you should absolutely say no.

Variations of time blocking

Time blocking can come in many forms and it’s entirely up to you to choose one that best fits your working style and schedule.

Examples of these methods in action include:

Variations of time blocking

Time blocking explained

You only have so many hours in a day; it’s important that you maximize every hour. And you do so by time blocking!

Time blocking is the practice of planning out every moment of your day in advance by dedicating specific “time blocks” for certain tasks and responsibilities.

An easy way to get started is to categorize your work and personal life into multiple “buckets” or “categories”. If you’re a freelance writer, chunk your work buckets into areas like:

  • Research (content ideas, analysis and outlines)
  • Writing (deep work)
  • Editing and Finalizing (proofreading and final touches)
  • Bookkeeping & Finances (invoicing and expenses)
  • Marketing & Outreach (if you’re actively seeking new clients)
  • Strategy (long term planning)

Similarly, if you’re a designer, those general items that all business owners need to accomplish on a rolling basis applies. The only difference is the key areas of work, like writing vs. design.

Once you have your buckets in place, you can begin to set aside certain chunks of time to focus on a given task or activity within each bucket!

Task batching explained

Task batching works great when you group similar tasks together and work on them all together within a specific time block. You do it all at once because it’s a heck of a lot easier to tackle highly similar tasks together, like checking emails/Slack messages/responding to the team, for example!

By doing so, you’re limiting context-switching: jumping between tasks, tools, or projects, which severely impacts productivity, focus and overall happiness. In fact, it’s extremely rare to get even more than 20 minutes of interrupted focus within a work day.

That’s where task batching comes in. By grouping similar tasks, you reduce the burden of sacrificing mental energy and save a lot of time doing so. A great way to start is to schedule two 20-minute time blocks throughout the day to reach Slack and Inbox zero. It’s way more efficient than checking both inboxes every ten minutes or when someone pings you.

examples of task batching

Day theming explained

A much more extreme version of task batching is day theming. It’s a fantastic method for entrepreneurs and small business owners who have multiple areas of work that demand for attention. From marketing and sales to customer support, HR and accounting, founders, entrepreneurs and freelancers have a lot to keep track of.

Day theming makes it easier to get into deep work by dedicating a full day each week to each type of responsibility.

If we compare the areas of task batching above, you can see a week would look like as a freelance designer:

Day theming

Time boxing explained

Time blocking and time boxing can easily be confused with one another, but there’s a vital difference. While time blocking forces you to set a chunk of time to focus on a task or activity, time boxing puts a limit to how much time you have to work on a specific task. It’s a fun way to challenge yourself to work faster within an allotted time.

For example, “I will work on my first draft of the launch plan for the next feature release from 1 to 3 pm tomorrow” (time block) is very different than “I will finish the first draft of the launch plan for the next feature release between 1 to 3 pm tomorrow”.

By time boxing, you set the expectation to:

  • Finish a certain task or activity, rather than “work on it”
  • Complete the task or activity within a certain time period

At first, making the effort to schedule your days and weeks in advance could seem like an incredible waste of time. But when you don’t time block, you’re actually letting your schedule control you, rather than vice versa. When you do control your schedule by means of time blocking, task batching, or day theming, you carefully craft what your days look like and make ample room for “deep work”. Distractions will be less often and less easy to infiltrate your time blocks. Try out time blocking or a variation of it today for a week or two to see how much control you can bring back to your busy entrepreneurial schedule!

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