How to Use Time Blocking to Manage Your Time

Time blocking is the process of breaking your day into chunks  and working only on a specific activity in one block.

Do your days seem to keep getting away from you? Does it feel like you're at work all day yet only getting 1-2 hours of productive time? Yes, me too, I’ve been there and it’s the worst!

A to-do list is not the only way, nor is it the most effective way to organize your daily schedule.  A to-do list tells you WHAT’s pending, while a block schedule tells you WHEN to do it. Some of the most productive people from Elon Musk to Bill Gates swear by time blocking. 

WHAT is time blocking?

Time blocking is dividing your day into chunks of time and dedicating a specific task or set of related responsibilities to this block. I know this sounds like more work and restricting. But, stick with me. I promise the work up front will pay off. Take control of your calendar and stop letting “things” take over you.

By scheduling your day you not only prevent distraction but you also maximize your focus. Remember, how we talked about single-tasking? Focusing on one task at a time, can make you 80% more productive vs dividing your attention across multiple tasks. Also, you’re less likely to fall into the trap of FOMO because you know exactly when you will be doing what matters to you vs letting life haphazardly take over.

Time blocking will maximize your efficiency. Instead of dividing your attention between 20 different tasks, you’re devoting 100% of your focus to the task at hand. You’re less likely to get derailed on monotonous tasks as you’re not constantly switching gears and trying to get in the groove.

HOW to start time blocking in 6 steps.

At first, blocking may seem overwhelming. Remember, that you’re not scheduling every little detail of every day. You’re dividing your day into blocks, to enable you to focus on one thing at a time. 

Step 1: Start with high-level priorities and long term goals.

Ask yourself; WHY do you want to use time blocking? Identify what are your goals and responsibilities in your life that matter and you want to ensure you have time for? The more specific you are the better you can focus on them. 

Step 2: Find out how much time you have.

This may sound like a silly step but if you don’t know how much time you have available then you won’t be able to segregate it effectively. When I worked full time in an office others dictated much of my work tasks,  it was easier to manage my time because I had less time to manage. Now that I am self-employed there is much more time to manage as well as the potential to waste time. 

When you are calculating how much time you have in your day, make sure to factor in everything. Work, email, chores, social media, texting, shallow work etc. It all sucks your time. If you’ve never done an audit of your time then now would be a good time. Just as you may track what food you eat, track how much time you spend doing every little thing. You’ll be surprised how much time is “wasted” during the day that can be better capitalized. Start with just one day, and track your activities and time spent. Build awareness of your time.

Step 3: Identify larger areas of focus and goals in your life.

Such as family, work, school, kids, training, hobbies, etc. You’ll need to identify what matters to you and where you want to spend your time.

Now block out 2-3 hour chunks of time in your schedule. Think of it as themes in your day, such as a work block, a family block, eating blocks, free time and self-care blocks. Now put those blocks in your calendar. Block time for the hardest tasks when you’re the most productive. For some that is early morning while for others that is mid-day. You do you! 

Give each block a color in your calendar. I even give each person in my family a color so it’s easier to view their activities, games etc. For example, 

  • Work Block: Orange
  • Family Block: Red
  • Training Block: Light Green
  • Plan/Prep Block: Maroon
  • Me Tasks: Purple
  • Kid 1 Tasks: Blue
  • Kid 2 Tasks: Green 

Step 4: Assign your tasks to a specific block.

Break these larger blocks down into tasks, and smaller action steps. These blocks should go in order of priority and when you have the most energy. You will feel better and more motivated as you do the hard stuff first and are moving closer to your larger goals.

A good question to ask yourself to determine if a task needs a specific block in your schedule or not is:

“ Will the task help me achieve my long term goal?”

If the answer is yes, then assign a specific block for it. If not, then complete these tasks during open blocks. Don’t forget to block out time for free time and self-care!

I segregate my blocks into areas of focus / tasks, that will move the needle closer to my longer term goals. To begin, schedule 30-50 minutes a day on one activity of your long term goal. It is often difficult to estimate the time to complete a task and we struggle to break a task down into simpler actionable steps. 

What often happens is we underestimate the time to complete a task and let one task overflow in our schedule causing everything to be thrown off, ultimately this is where the days get away from us when we just let it flow.  Here’s a few pointers to avoid this trap.

  1. Set a timer, when your block is done you need to move on. Take account of how much you accomplished in that block and then,
  2. Make your action steps simpler. The more you can make small progress the more likely you’ll be to complete a bigger task or goal. The more you are able to make progress, even if it is small, the more likely you are to stay motivated to keep working at it.

REMEMBER: actions compound over time. 1% improvement! 

Allocate a block of 30-50 minutes to your long term goal and stick to the plan. In 3 months, you will surprise yourself. After a few weeks, you can add more time blocks to work on your long term goals.

Step 5: Set aside time for both deep and shallow tasks:

While you want to set aside time for focused work you also want to schedule time for the mundane of life such as laundry,  checking emails, social media, errands etc. If you have jam packed your day full of intense tasks it’s easier to get thrown off schedule when things pop up.

These are things that need to happen, but aren’t often top priorities, they are often ‘reactive’ tasks and serve the needs of others but they still need to get done. 

Step 6: Reflect and Reassess:

Most of us (including me) overestimate what we can accomplish in a day and underestimate what we can accomplish in a month.

As you start to track how long tasks are taking and holding yourself accountable to these blocks you’ll gain a better understanding of how long it takes you to complete certain tasks. In addition you will be more focused during your work blocks as you know you must move onto the next task. You’ll be less reactive and more proactive to life.

Set aside a time, BLOCK it off for a weekly review and daily reflection. Ask yourself what is working, what is not. Remember you have control of your blocks and make them work for you!.

Control your time so it doesn’t control you.

Time blocking works because it introduces structure and control. It isn’t just about what to do, but WHEN to do it.

You are the one in control. You decide what goes in the blocks. Take time to reflect and adjust, and remember small actionable steps compound over time for the greatest impact.

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