If you work a 9-5 job (a typical 40 hour work week), chances are those 8 hours aren’t as productive as you’d like. Between meetings, responding to emails and Slack notifications, updating reports, and checking calendars, you rarely have time to be productive.
So you end up with 2-3 hours of productive time in a day when you get work done. This means you end up working late into the night to catch up and question why your to-do list doesn’t match your actual day-to-day work.
So what’s a way to better organize your daily schedule so you can be productive? You can leverage a technique that people like Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Deep Work author Cal Newport use: time blocking.
Here’s how you can become an expert time blocker to be your most productive self.
What is time blocking?
Time blocking is a time management technique that makes you divide your day into blocks of time. Each block is dedicated to accomplishing one specific task or a group of related tasks. Every day, you’ll have a concrete daily schedule that lays out what you will work on and when.
The key to success with time blocking is knowing what tasks to prioritize. Create a rough sketch of your time blocks for the week ahead, and make sure to re-examine your time blocks each day to see what adjustments need to be made.
Time blocking allows you to focus on a task without constantly making choices about what to focus on. If you lose focus, look at your time-blocked schedule and get back to the task you have time blocked off for.
Is time blocking effective?
Yes, because time blocking manages your day and focuses your attention. It prevents procrastination and is an efficient time management technique. You may need to experiment a little with different time blocking blueprints until you find one that works for you. In general, time blocking is seen as an effective time management technique.
Is time blocking good for ADHD?
Time blocking has been shown to work for people with ADHD. Because time blocking makes tasks and time visible and allows for adjusting blocks, the technique is effective for workers with ADHD.
Variations of time blocking
Time blocking, in general, is an effective technique that manages your daily schedule. Some alternatives take the basics of time blocking and modify them to match specific needs.
These methods include task batching, timeboxing, and day-theming.
Time blocking focuses on grouping similar tasks together into specific time blocks. For example, scheduling two 10-minute blocks to review emails and Slack during the day is more efficient than checking your email inbox and Slack every 15 minutes. By grouping similar tasks together, a person will limit the amount of context switching throughout their day. By doing this, a person can also conserve precious time and mental energy.
Time blocking works with task batching because it stops you from scheduling all the individual tasks on your calendar. Block off time each day or week for when you want to complete certain types of activities like email, meetings, coding, writing blog posts, deep work, errands, etc.
Timeboxing is when you open your calendar and enter a block of time that you’ll spend on a specific task in the future. Instead of trying to finish a task in its entirety, you proactively decide how much time you’ll spend on it and when.
Day-theming is the extreme version of task batching for people who manage multiple departments. For example, startup founders often have to pay attention to sales, engineering, marketing, customer support, and finance every day.
So day theming dedicates a day each week to each responsibility. So you end up committing Wednesday to finance, Thursday to marketing, Friday to sales, and Sunday to personal errands.
Why is time blocking an excellent technique?
Time blocking has risen to prominence over the past few years because it’s simple yet effective. Here’s why you should consider time blocking if you want to be more productive.
Better manages tasks & keeps you productive
Have your estimates about the time to complete a task ever been incorrect? It happens to the best of us.
It turns out that limiting the amount of time you can work on a task can make you more productive. We can get more done in the same amount of time. It’s much harder to begin when you have a long list, making you more likely to procrastinate.
The solution to the problem is a blocked schedule. It takes everything out of the equation except the time on the clock and the task on the schedule. When it’s time to do hard, focused work, nobody needs distractions. Multitasking doesn’t work.
More manageable tasks like checking email and Slack get their time blocks. And they aren’t allowed into the blocks of other tasks. This makes focusing easier, and achieving deep work is easier.
Can be adjusted as needed
The benefit of time blocking is that you can move around time blocks as needed. As you begin using time blocks, you might notice that the time you have scheduled to check your email is inefficient because emails might come in at a later time than you have planned. By adjusting time blocks to match your actual workday, you can continuously improve your blocks.
Time blocking prevents procrastination due to perfectionism
By sticking to a time-blocked schedule, you can stop yourself from worrying about the finer details of the tasks you’re working on. By adhering to the deadlines set by your time blocks, you can move on to the next block and prevent yourself from spending too much time ensuring every single detail is perfect.
In cases where perfectionism is required – like an investor deck – time blocking allows you to schedule ample time to work on the deck so you can ensure it’s perfect without getting in the way of your other tasks.
It makes “deep work” easier to achieve
Deep work is one of the states we all aim to achieve. This is when we’re most focused, and we see a massive amount of productivity. This is why time blocks are so valuable. You get to analyze each task to identify the work that must get done for the current week. Less critical tasks can be worked later, delegated, or even removed from your task list.
Here are some ways to create a prioritized task list:
- Determine your most important tasks: These are a crucial number of tasks that must be finished this week.
- Use the Eisenhower Matrix: Place your tasks into quadrants: urgent and important; important but not urgent; urgent but not important; and neither urgent nor important.
- Use the ABCDE method: Assign “A” to your most important task, “B” for important, “C” for perhaps, “D” equals delegate, and “E” is for eliminating.
- Use the 80/20 rule: Focus on the handful of tasks that deliver the most results.
How to manage time blocking effectively
Time blocking is easy to set up, but it’s possible to mess it up and find yourself being less productive than before. Here are some best practices to keep in mind so you can be more effective at time blocking.
Block off the entire day
What needs to be done on a given day or week must be identified and listed. Once this is done, practice keeping and updating a list of important work to complete.
This works best when you know what your important tasks are. Prioritize these tasks so that they’re completed during your most productive periods. This is where time management tools help. Search for a tool that allows you to add details and context to your work, including the priority, collaborators, documents, and more.
Once the blueprint is complete, you’ll block off each day of the week. Focus on your top priorities and adjust from there. For example, if your top priority for the week is to finish up an investor deck for your Series A, look at how long it took to finish previous decks to give yourself a realistic start time to complete your work.
If you think it’ll take 8 hours to complete the deck, you can schedule 4 hours on Monday and 4 hours on Tuesday to work on the deck. On Wednesday, you can block another hour to finalize it. So by scheduling blocks early in the week to complete the deck, you prevent procrastination and plan the right amount of time needed to finish the deck.
Protect your personal time
To best stick to your routines, it’s essential to schedule time for them. For example, checking Slack should be scheduled within a time block since it’s an everyday activity. It’s vital to time block your post-work hour’s schedule, so you can focus on personal activities and develop good habits to stay healthy.
Create a daily schedule
To create a high-performing daily schedule, think about how much time you have in a day and how long each task takes to complete. Start by making time blocks for things you do every day like exercising, checking email, coding, commuting, cooking, etc.
Here’s what a daily schedule looks like for someone working from home:
- 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m: Exercise & shower
- 7:30 a.m. to 8:00 a.m: Check personal social media accounts and reply to messages
- 8:00 a.m. to 8:15 a.m: Check emails and Slack
- 8:15 a.m. to 11:00 a.m: Deep work on a priority set of tasks
- 11:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m: Take a break by going on a walk
- 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m: Deep work on a priority set of tasks
- 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m: Cook and take a lunch break
- 1:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m: Check emails & Slack / check personal social media
- 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m: Priority Project
- 4:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m: Cook and eat dinner
- 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m: Priority Project
- 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m: Free time (be social with friends)
- 9:00 p.m. 9:30 p.m: Respond to emails / check social media
- 9:30 p.m. to 10 p.m: Evening routine
This blueprint doesn’t work for everyone. The key is to have blocks of time where you can focus on your goals.
If your company has daily standups, regular training, or weekly conference calls, you have to account for those. Keep travel time in mind if you have in-person meetings.
Some people need to develop new schedules every week. They usually have a very structured schedule and less free time. Other people, who can work with less structure, should adjust their schedule every day so they don’t feel too mired down in tasks.
Create a task list with software
If you don’t set aside time for your important work, it increases the risk of not getting it done. Instead of having time to focus on high-priority tasks, you’re pulled in other directions: invited to meetings, asked to pick up another group of tasks, distracted by long Slack messages. You end up spending too much time on less important work tasks without realizing it.
Time management apps help by putting your calendar and your tasks in the same place and making it easy to schedule your tasks. There’s a detailed level of planning available with software that a basic calendar app can’t match.
You could use Google Calendar to do this but dedicated time management software makes the process easier because they’re built specifically to make you more productive. The best time management apps do the following:
- Display your calendar and tasks together: To organize your day, it’s important to see appointments and tasks in one place.
- Easy to use: Moving tasks and appointments around with a drag-and-drop feature is key.
- Add tasks effortlessly: Adding tasks should be as simple as opening up the software with keyboard shortcuts and entering tasks as needed.
- Integrate with your current calendar: You likely already use Google Calendar, Microsoft Outlook, or iCal to manage your appointments. The best time blocking apps aren’t trying to replace them and can pull your appointments from them.
Is there a tool that does all of the above? Yes, that’s why we created Motion. Get started with Motion for free by clicking the button below.
Best practices for time blocking
Time blocking takes some getting used to when you first start using it. To help you out, here are best practices to keep in mind when time blocking.
Adjust as needed
One of the biggest benefits of time blocking is its ability to be adjusted according to your unique work habits. You won’t get it right the first time when you start time blocking. You can quickly improve productivity by analyzing your work habits and adjusting the blocks based on your productivity levels.
Plan for lost time
Once you start block scheduling, you become aware of how you spend your time. This can be eye-opening, but it makes you more effective when tracking your time. Since you’re holding yourself accountable for the blocks and how they are filled in, there are no excuses like “I just don’t have the time to work on expense reports and go to the gym.”
Time block meetings if possible
Ever feel like a workday is lost because you have 7 hours of meetings? Too many meetings can ruin productivity and make your daily schedule hard to follow. The time blocks you had set up for deep work and free time are now ruined by meetings.
Meetings can be time blocked, just like tasks. Plan your meetings together rather than scattering them throughout the day, with enough time to rest and recharge between meetings. This gives more time for focused work.
Once you master time-blocking, you can easily improve productivity to get more work done. Remember that software makes it easier to time block and keeps you on track to finish your work. Tools like Motion make it easy to manage your day and meet your long-term goals.
Get started with Motion today by clicking the button below.
The app that uses artificial intelligence to optimize your day.Try Motion for Free