What is time blocking and how is it different from a to-do list?
Time-blocking is a time management technique in which you divide your entire day into blocks of time with each block dedicated to accomplishing a specific task or activity.
Most of us are aware of a to-do list. A standard to-do list tells you what you need to do in the day, a time-block tells you when to do it. The key to the timeblock technique is its focus on single tasking rather than multi-tasking.
For instance, instead of constantly checking e-mails through the day (which most people do), a specific time needs to be set aside for responding to mails. If a majority of your work happens on the email/social media, you’ll need more time-blocks in the day for this activity. However, during your block time for other tasks, you shouldn’t be distracted or must fight the urge to keep glancing at your inbox/social media.
How to do time-blocking?
#1 Create a to-do list
Make a list of all the things to be accomplished in the week.
The list should be comprehensive to include all work-related tasks, personal commitments, exercise schedule, doctor appointments and so on. Capture all the activities, even the simplest ones like making calls, answering e-mails, generating invoices etc.
Once the list is devised, review it to highlight tasks that are the top priorities for the week.
Limit the priorities to about 2-3 per day. The idea is to provide prime slots for these activities in your timeblocking schedule.
#3 Develop a daily blue-print
Now think about how much time you’ll allocate daily for each task in your list.
A typical weekday blue-print may look something like this:
7:00 - 8:00 am Exercise routine
8:00 - 9:00 am Breakfast/bath/get ready for work
9:00 - 9:30 am Commute to workplace
9:30 - 10:00 am Morning meeting
10:00 - 10:30 am E-mails/social media
10:30 - 12:30 pm Priority task
12:30 - 1:00pm Lunch break
1:00 - 1:30 pm E-mails/social media
1:30 - 2:30 pm Employee training
2:30 - 2:45 pm Check e-mails/social media
2:45 - 3:15 pm Team meeting
3:15 - 3:30 pm Break
3:30 - 5:30 pm Priority task
5:30 - 6:00 pm Commute back home
6:00 - 7:00 pm Unwind/tea
7:00 - 8:00 pm Family time
8:00 - 8:30 pm Dinner
8:30 - 9:30 pm Meditation/Exercise routine
9:30 - 10:00 pm Ready for bed
Obviously, this is a simple blue-print. Based on the priorities set for the week/month and your job type, an appropriate plan needs to designed.
#4 Blocking off time for a priority
Let’s say you’ve to write a 1000-word article in the week, then you need to decide how long this activity will take. If the estimated time required is 4 hours, then you can block 2 hours each on 2 days, say Monday and Wednesday to create an initial draft and an additional hour to proof read and finalise it on Thursday.
With this kind of meticulous planning, one prevents procrastination and remains focussed on completing the task within the deadline.
#5 Timeblocking variation - task batching
The sample blue-print shown earlier has each task being time-blocked. A more streamlined and easier system is grouping of similar tasks.
For a freelance writer, the categories of tasks when clubbed together may look like this:
- Social media
- Family time
- Free time
Now, create this schedule digitally (Google calendar) or on paper, whatever works best for you. An example of a daily task-batching timeblock is given below:
7:00 - 8:00 am Yoga
8:00 - 9:30 am
9:30 - 10:00 am Meeting (morning)
10:00 - 10:30 am E-mails
10:30 - 12:30 pm Writing
12:30 - 1:00pm Meal
1:00 - 1:30 pm Social media
1:30 - 2:30 pm Administrative
2:30 - 2:45 pm E-mails
2:45 - 3:15 pm Meeting (team)
3:15 - 3:30 pm Free time
3:30 - 5:30 pm Writing
5:30 - 6:00 pm
6:00 - 7:00 pm Free time
7:00 - 8:00 pm Family time
8:00 - 8:30 pm Meal
8:30 - 9:30 pm Reading
This needs to be extended to a weekly and further to a monthly schedule.
Timeblocking tips for better results
It may seem a waste of time organising so much in advance when you could be getting things done right away, however when there are distractions affecting your to-do, it’s worth your while to try this method to enhance your efficiency.
Further, these tips can maximise the technique’s outcomes:
- Schedule down-times: incorporate not just meal times but also stretch breaks, hobby time, time for learning in the day/week to give yourself a physical/mental break.
- Overestimate time taken for tasks: until the time you get a hang of the actual time required for a specific task, provide for that extra time so you don’t end up getting disappointed.
- Share with people: communicate with colleagues and family members about your unavailability. Safeguarding your timeblocks will set realistic expectations, learning to say no keeps you on track for achieving your goals.
- Revise as required: no point in being rigid with the plan as there are bound to be interruptions. Edit the schedule when needed while continuing to concentrate on what’s crucial.
Notable users of the timeblocking technique include Bill Gates, Cal Newport, Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey etc.
So, what are you waiting for?
Start timeblocking to eliminate distractions, manage your time effectively and become more productive than ever before!