Struggling to meet deadlines? Always feeling like you’re lagging behind in the office?
Time blocking might just be your saving grace.
Managing your time efficiently at work can be a difficult ask for even the most diligent employee. A 5-minute coffee chat with a colleague turns into a 1-hour catch up. Meetings overrun, emails pile up, analysis paralysis settles in and before you know it — the day is gone and you’ve achieved only a handful of your assigned tasks.
The classic way we rationalize not getting our work done is being ‘distracted’ all the time. We tell ourselves we simply need to work harder and ‘manage our time better’. This is all well and good, but a concrete strategy is required for us to get our work in order.
If this sounds familiar, you may want to try out time blocking.
What does time blocking mean?
Time blocking is a method of time management that can help you take back control of your day, boost your productivity and get more done in less time.
It is quite simply the act of scheduling out your day in advance, and then breaking down each task into a specific time slot. This allows you to focus on one task at a time, without distractions or interruptions, and get it done more quickly and efficiently.
Illustrating time blocking
Still confused? Let’s illustrate time blocking through an example.
It’s 9 am on a Monday morning. You’ve just arrived at the office, switched on your computer and are ready to start your day. The first thing you do is check your email inbox — 40 new messages since Friday afternoon!
You scan through them quickly, deleting the junk mail and flagging a few that will require a more detailed response. You know you need to deal with these emails, but you also have an important report to write and several meetings scheduled for today.
How do you prioritize? This is where time blocking comes in.
You take a look at your schedule for the day and decide which task you will work on during which time slot.
For example, you may block out 9 am — 10 am for dealing with emails, 10 am — 12 pm for writing the report, and 2 pm — 4 pm for attending meetings.
With your day now mapped out in advance, it’s much easier to stay focused on the task at hand and avoid getting sidetracked. You can also use this technique to batch similar tasks together, such as replying to all your emails in one go instead of dealing with them as they come in throughout the day.
Sounds simple enough, but time blocking can be a game-changer when it comes to being productive at work. Sometimes the most basic solutions are the most effective!
The key benefits of time blocking
Time blocking offers some important benefits that can hike your productivity to new levels. Let’s discuss the 5 main benefits of time blocking in more detail.
You complete tasks faster
Time blocking helps you to better focus on individual tasks and get them done more quickly. When you know you only have a certain amount of time to complete a task, you are less likely to get distracted or side-tracked. It means that you can achieve more in less time.
When faced with a number of tasks to complete, multitasking can become a very tempting proposition.
However the research is quite clear in saying that multitasking is actually counter-productive. Our brains are not very good at focusing on multiple tasks simultaneously and so we end up taking longer to complete each task and making more mistakes along the way.
You can get into a flow state
Time blocking allows you to batch similar tasks together and work on them more efficiently. This is especially useful for tasks that are repetitive or require a lot of concentration.
By grouping these types of tasks together, you can get into a flow state more easily and get them done more quickly.
You can avoid decision fatigue
Time blocking can help you to avoid decision fatigue. This is when you start to make poorer decisions as the day goes on because you have used up all your willpower making decisions earlier in the day.
A lot of us start the working day with a vague set of ideas, and the tasks we have to complete are all jumbled up in our brains.
Planning your day beforehand and blocking time out for certain tasks means when you walk into work — you know exactly what you’ll be working on the second you get there.
Planning beforehand also prevents anxiety and increases the quality of your work. When you know what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it, your mind will be more at rest. You avoid the predicament of wondering what to do, and are instead able to focus on the actual content of the tasks ahead.
As the great painter Walter Anderson said — ‘Nothing diminishes anxiety faster than action.’ We couldn’t agree more.
You don’t miss important tasks
Time blocking gives you a better overview of your day and what needs to be done. This can help to prevent you from forgetting important tasks or leaving things until the last minute.
It also allows you to better estimate how long tasks will take. This is because you have to account for each task in your schedule. As a result, you are less likely to underestimate the time needed for a task or leave things until the last minute.
You can plan for interruptions
No matter how well you plan, there will always be some interruptions throughout the day. Think of impromptu meetings, quick coffee chats with your colleagues, or an extended lunch with a client.
Time blocking allows you to account for these interruptions in your schedule. This way, you can still get your work done even if there are some unexpected delays.
This can be priceless if you’re in a client-facing role where it is commonplace for meetings to overrun, and client entertaining to go way past schedule.
Dos and don’ts of time blocking
Time blocking can be harmful to your productivity if certain best practices are not followed adequately.
Let’s go through a list of dos and don’ts so you get the most out of this productivity technique:
Make a list of the things you need to do — do this the night before for best results.
Break the list down into smaller tasks — simply putting down ‘finish report’ won’t help. Break down the task into sections. ‘Write pages 1–5’ is section one’, ‘Insert graphs into report’ is section two.
Put the task into your calendar and give yourself a specific amount of time to complete it — use a paper diary or a work schedule app to do this efficiently. Todoist, Calendly and TickTick are some good options to consider.
Be flexible — remember it’s not compulsory for you to stick to the timings exactly. They are a rough guide to the day. Needs can change based on certain events that happen on a certain workday. Be flexible to changing your schedule as the situation changes.
Try to do too many things at once — being overly optimistic is a common issue with time blocking. Keep the timings realistic to avoid yourself being left drained and disappointed at the end of the day.
Try to do huge tasks in one day — again, it’s important to set limits for yourself. Break down tasks into sections and avoid using up entire days for one task. You’ll be drained and bored when the workday ends.
Get distracted by other things — the big daddy of don’ts! It’s crucial to block off certain parts of the day for your assigned task, or you can be left with a huge pile of work to do. The Pomodoro technique is a great way to prevent distractions.
Forget to take breaks — taking breaks is important. The human brain is fickle and doesn’t like focusing for too long at once. Take breaks between work blocks and you’ll see your productivity increase.
We can all attest to the fact that there never seems to be enough time in the day. We start our days with a plan and good intentions of getting everything done, but somehow we always seem to fall behind.
Time blocking is a great way to stop this from happening as you break your day up into manageable chunks, and do each task in each specific chunk.
From avoiding decision fatigue, to getting into a flow state much quicker — you are far more likely to complete tasks quicker and to a higher standard when using time blocking. Have a browse of the dos and don’ts of time blocking detailed in this article to get an idea of the best (and worst) practices associated with time blocking.
To sum it up — it’s evident to see that this time management technique offers a plethora of benefits to maximize your productivity, so let’s get to using it!