Tired of having too much to do and not enough time? Get control over your schedule and maintain a better work/life balance through the power of time blocking. Some of the most successful people in the world, such as Bill Gates and Elon Musk, swear by time blocking and have even given up to-do lists completely. Think of it as your secret productivity tool.
What is Time Blocking?
With a to-do list, you just have a list of things to do. You might have a general idea of when you’re doing them, but that list doesn’t give you any structure. Time blocking literally divides your day into blocks of time. For instance, you might set aside 8 AM to 8:30 AM for checking and responding to email. At 8:30 AM, you switch to project research for the next hour.
It’s all about keeping you focused. Your to-do list is laid out block by block. Since you have everything scheduled, you don’t have to try to remember what’s next or decide which task to tackle after this one. This leaves you more focused on the present and less distracted over the future.
Time blocking isn’t just for work, though. Schedule everything, including hobbies, family time, doctor appointments, and more. You can even set aside a block of free time to do whatever you want.
Time blocking comes in various forms too, including:
- Time boxing – Complete a set amount of work during specific hours
- Day theming – Dedicate each day to a different type of task, such as researching for a project
- Task batching – Complete a group of tasks together, such as checking emails
Why is Time Blocking Effective?
Even when you write down your to-do list, your mind is still racing trying to decide what to do next. Or, you make the tragic mistake of trying to multi-task, which rarely works.
Time blocking forces you to only focus on the task at hand. Everything else is scheduled. All you have to do is pay attention to the time.
It also lets you group together simple, yet time consuming tasks into single blocks. For instance, instead of stopping tasks to answer every single email as they arrive, you stay focused on your current task. Then, when your scheduled email time arrives, you handle all your email.
Every distraction, such as an email, makes it harder to get back on track. In fact, it can take up to 23 minutes to refocus and reach optimal productivity again after a distraction.
Another reason time blocking works so well is it gives you a deadline. If you have eight hours to finish a few tasks on your to-do list, that’s probably all you’ll get done. If you use time blocking and give three tasks their own hour, you’ll be more likely to complete them within three hours, leaving you five more hours in your work day.
Mastering Time Blocking
Obviously, time blocking takes a little time to master. For instance, it’s easy to underestimate and overestimate the time needed to complete a task. If you’re used to having no control over your schedule, you might estimate a task to take twice as long as you actually need.
When you first start with time blocking, it’s better to slightly overestimate. Make a note of common tasks and how long they take you. This will help you get better at blocking off the right amount of time.
Consider More Reactive Jobs
If you work a job where you can’t block out tasks, don’t worry. Time blocking can still work for you. Block off what you can and leave other areas open. For instance, if you’re a doctor or nurse, you can’t tell a patient that you blocked off time to organize supplies or review charts and can’t help them right now.
Instead, create “if I’m free” blocks. For example, a nurse might set aside time in the mornings to organize supplies, use the middle of the day to do quick clean-ups of rooms, and then the afternoon to enter chart notes in the computer system. It’s a more general time blocking, but this shows it can work for most any job.
Prioritize Your Tasks
Do you have more tasks than you have blocks on your schedule? Start with a to-do list and then prioritize and group tasks. Block out time for your most important and non-negotiable tasks first. Then, fill in the gaps with everything else.
Adjust As Needed
Your schedule isn’t set in stone. Edit as needed throughout the day. Ideally, you’ll refine your schedule the night before. Then, if something unexpected comes up or you underestimated how long a task will take, adjust the rest of your schedule accordingly. Whatever is left over can go on the next day.
Color Code Tasks
Choose colors for different types of tasks to quickly see upcoming tasks at a glance. You can do this with both digital and print calendars. This also prevents you from overlooking a task when everything’s the same color.
Time Block for Productivity
Everyone has their own productive time. Some people are best first thing in the morning, while others might work best at night. Pay attention to when you feel the most focused. Use this time to schedule your most important or difficult tasks. This makes it easier to stay productive without feeling drained.
Leave Some Openings
Life’s unpredictable. So, leave some openings in your schedule. For example, you don’t have to have a block for “drink coffee” followed by “shower.” Instead, you might just set aside 1-2 hours in the morning for “get ready for work.” If your work tasks are random in the mornings, simply schedule “work tasks” for 2-3 hours.
Customize time blocking as much as you want to best meet your needs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need to schedule all my free time?
No. Schedule time for free time and hobbies, but you don’t need to list exactly what you’re doing. During your “free time” or “personal time,” do whatever you want. This is just to ensure work and other responsibilities don’t take over.
Are there any other ways to boost my productivity?
Image credit: Unsplash
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