Do you ever feel like your days get away from you in a flash?
You go to work with a plan, but then everyone else’s emergencies become your top priorities? I’ve struggled with this from time to time, very recently, in fact, but I learned to use time blocking to overcome it.
Not so long ago I was a Project Manager. I was in charge of me, myself, and I. I worked with a team of freelance designers and internal developers who worked to meet deadlines I set for our collective clients. For the most part, I was in control of my day, my schedule, and my output.
Fast forward to today, and I lead an agile website development team, I’m a member of the company’s leadership team, I run our marketing and business development initiatives, and I oversee the production of a YouTube channel for a client that releases 3-4 episodes per week. WHEW!
I don’t tell you all of this to brag. I’m the first to admit that I want to take off a couple of hats and put them on the rack for good. But I work for a relatively small company, and many of us fill far more than a single role.
I tell you all of this for one reason: I would not survive my many roles if it were not for time blocking! If you feel stressed and overwhelmed, worry not, I’ve got your back.
What is Time Blocking?
Time blocks, simply put, are blocks of time that you plan out in advance to get your top priority tasks done without interruption. Let’s say you have a presentation due this Friday and it’s going to take a considerable amount of time. You could approach it a couple of different ways:
- You could field every question, every task, and every emergency that comes your way, putting your presentation off until the end of the day. Then, stay late every night and do a less-than-amazing job because you’re tired and burnt out.
- You could sit down on Monday morning and schedule several blocks of time on your calendar reserved explicitly for your presentation, making it your top priority. You could shut your door, work remotely, turn off your email, shut down Slack, and silence your phone – whatever it takes to avoid distraction or interruption, and get that presentation completed and polished.
Which option sounds better to you? Number two, right?
Intentionally reserving time for priority tasks and projects is the essence of time blocking, and it’s powerful. I use time blocking for my morning gym routine, my content creation sessions for this blog and podcast, my lunch breaks, and so much more.
How Long Should Time Blocks Be?
I’ve personally read several different articles on the correct length of time. According to the Pomodoro Method, it’s 25 minutes because that is long enough to be productive but short enough to avoid getting exhausted. I’ve already been writing this article for 25 minutes and don’t feel like that is long enough for me.
I’ve also read that 90-minute blocks are appropriate, but I would argue that is a tad too long.
The third model I’ve read about is one you may be familiar with: 50 minutes of focused work and then a ten-minute break. Sounds a bit like school, right? There’s a reason schools structure their schedule this way, and I find it’s the perfect amount of time to get something awesome done.
The time may vary for you, so I recommend experimenting with it.
If you start getting fidgety at 25 minutes, don’t try to push through. Your focus will begin to diminish anyway, so jump up and take a five-minute break. If you’re at 50 minutes and you’re still in the zone, maybe you’re a 90-minute kind of person.
Large Tasks and Batched Tasks
Now that I’ve explained what time blocking is, I want to share some examples of how you can use it. You can use time blocking to group several small tasks together in a batch, to tackle large tasks, or to chip away at a massive job with multiple milestones.
I like to group smaller things. Here’s an example of one of my 50-minute blocks:
- Catch up on my inbox using the Four D’s: Do it, Defer it, Delete it, or Delegate it.
- Review my sales CRM and make any necessary updates.
- Check and respond to Slack messages.
- Respond to any calls or voicemails that I may have.
These are all related to communication in one way or another, and they don’t take a lot of time, so it makes sense to batch them.
For large tasks, I try to fit them into a single 50-minute block of time. Any more than that and I try to break the job into multiple milestones.
- It’s best to limit most meetings to 50-60 minutes because conversations will expand to fill excess time anyway. Why not limit them to 50 minutes and have a break?
- I find that 50 minutes is the perfect amount of time to engage in my social channels by commenting and responding to the community.
- Fifty minutes is also the optimal amount of time to work out. I walk for 5 minutes to warm up, workout for 40 minutes, and then walk 5 minutes to cool down.
If you have a project or task that is too big for a 50-minute block, don’t try to force your way through it in one sitting. Instead, break it into chunks. Here’s how I tackle my blog and Instagram account:
- Monday morning I post a motivational quote and create three more quotes to use throughout the week.
- Monday evening I outline and draft a new blog post, breaking the session into two 50-minute blocks with dinner in between.
- Tuesday morning I review my draft with fresh eyes and make revisions, adding images and graphics as I go.
- Wednesday I post another quote and engage with the community.
- Thursday I prep my blog post for the Friday launch by creating the email and social post graphics and copy.
- Friday I send the email and upload the posts to my social channels.
If I were to sit down and do all of this at once, I would get exhausted, and my quality would suffer because of it. Time blocking allows me to stay consistent and fresh with my content.
Getting Started with Time Blocking
Now that you know what time blocking is, it’s time to get started! Here’s how:
- Start with your goals for the week. Sit down on Monday morning and review your major projects, pre-committed appointments, and goals. Ask yourself: “If I could get three BIG things done this week, what would they be?”
- Now, map out three blocks of time each day that move the needle on those big three goals and make sure to account for meetings you already have scheduled. By 9 a.m. on Monday, I already have my big three time blocks set for each day of the week.
- Now, make sure to leave one or two blocks for email and communication and find the optimal time for you to batch those tasks. For me, contrary to many studies, I find that first thing in the morning works best. I also check in again in the early afternoon.
- Finally, commit these to your calendar and guard this time. People will ask you to compromise, to move or cancel your time blocks for their tasks, and try to convince you that their tasks are urgent or more important. If their task is so urgent or important, why didn’t they plan it out better using time blocks the same way that you did? Don’t let someone else’s emergencies become your priorities.
- Review your big three goals at the end of each day. Did you get everything done? If not, do you need to juggle some things around for tomorrow? These are things to consider as you move forward. Not every day will be perfect, and you can’t abandon an important goal somewhere on your calendar.
Does Time Blocking Work for You?
Have you tried any time blocking strategies in the past or are you looking forward to trying this one? I’d love to hear about your experiences, successes, and even your failed experiments. Please consider leaving a comment below and let’s chat.
Thanks for reading!