If you’re looking to organize and manage your time effectively, you’ve probably been drawn to time-blocking. And, for good reason. It can be a surefire way to fight back against multitasking, procrastination, and perfectionism.
But what if you’ve given time-blocking a try, and it’s just not working? Well, you may have made any of these seven mistakes. Once you’re aware of these, you can adjust them so that you can actually get the most out of time-blocking.
1. Not prioritizing tasks.
There’s no way around this. For time blocking to work, tasks must be prioritized. Why? Because the concept behind time blocking is to help your manage your time more effectively. And, one of the biggest time wasters out there is deciding which task deserves your attention first.
If you identify the important tasks in your schedule, you know which tasks you have to focus on more. Generally speaking, it’s advised to schedule these tasks during your when you’re most productive in the day.
If everything seems essential, here are some strategies you can use to prioritize your list:
- Decide what your MITs are. Then, pick a maximum of three things that need to be done today.
- Create a priority matrix. You would categorize everything on your list into the following four quadrants: urgent and vital; necessary but not urgent; critical but not urgent; and neither urgent nor essential.
- Use the ABCDE method to evaluate your tasks. For example, put “A” next to your most important task, “B” next to important, “C” next to perhaps, “D” to delegate, and “E” next to eliminating.
- The Pareto Principle. Prioritize the few activities that produce the most significant results, aka the 80/20 rule.
- Warren Buffett’s 2-list strategy. Write down your 25 goals for this week. Then, mark your top five and disregard the rest.
2. You start out by calendaring your to-do lists.
After you’ve identified your priorities and created a good to-do list, you’re probably itching to get these items into your calendar. In theory, this makes sense mainly because it guarantees that you won’t schedule anything else before your priorities.
But, this doesn’t actually pan out in reality.
This one is SO common and makes total sense.
As you begin blocking out your calendar, you quickly realize what a disaster it is. “Nothing goes to plan,” writes management strategist Kelly Nolan. “You don’t get to half of the things.”
“You feel even more defeated than you did by your to-do list because at least then you didn’t have that heightened level of hope.”
Now here’s the thing, Nolan adds;
“YOUR TOTALLY-UNDERSTANDABLE APPROACH JUST DIDN’T ACCOUNT FOR ALL THE THINGS YOU HAVE TO DO THAT AREN’T ON YOUR TO-DO LIST.”
Meal preparation, commuting, responding to emails, or walking your dog. “Those are all things that take our time (and, sometimes, a lot of it),” she adds. “If they’re not represented in your plan, your plan isn’t going to work (bonus perk of this approach: your calendar starts to help you manage all those things, so it’s not up to your brain to juggle it all! Hello and welcome, lighter mental load.).”
“Before you time-block your to-do list, you first have to determine what time you can give to your to-do’s,” Nolan recommends. “Only then can you find homes for them in your calendar that’ll actually play out.”
3. Underestimating how long things will take.
Thanks to something called the planning fallacy, we’re terrible at judging time. For example, your top priority for the day is writing a report needed for an investor’s meeting tomorrow. So, you assume that it will only take you an hour. But, it ends up taking you over 2 hours. As a consequence, that can throw your whole day off.
What’s more, we’re also stubborn when it comes to time. Let’s say that five years ago when you moved into your home, it took you 30-minutes to get to work. Over the years, the area has grown, causing more traffic congestion meaning your commute takes closer to 45-minutes. If you don’t adjust for this, you’ll be running late every day.
You shouldn’t be overly optimistic until you know how much you can accomplish in a day. According to some experts, a task should take twice as long as you anticipate it will. So, in short, overestimate how long things will take.
And track your time occasionally to get a more accurate picture of how you’re truly spending your time.
4. Overstuffing your calendar.
No matter how hard you try, moving from one activity to another doesn’t necessarily occur instantly when it is time.
Maybe you need to clean up and organize your workspace to focus better. Or, you might have to use the restroom or walk your dog. And, sometimes, you are just not in the zone yet.
Moreover, you need time to prepare for a meeting or travel to a different location. And, there’s also a genuine chance that an emergency has popped up, causing you to shuffle your schedule around.
If your calendar is jam-packed with blocks, that makes addressing any of the above scenarios stressful. And, just like underestimating your time, this can throw your entire schedule out-of-whack.
The answer? Place buffers in-between blocks. At the minimum, this should be 15-minutes. But, you may also want to leave larger blocks of time blank. For example, I leave the block from one p.m. to two p.m. open. I can use this time to handle any unexpected tasks or catch up on less important to-do lists. And, if I’m really focused, I’ll get a head start on my next priority.
5. Bulldogging through breaks.
Similarly, I also schedule breaks throughout the day. While this might sound obvious, you’d be surprised at how many people attempt to power through the day without taking time to rest and recharge.
How often should you take a breather? Well, that depends. The “best” time blocking strategy for the average person is to work for 52 minutes, then break for 17. Experiment with this until you find out how long you can work before you need to grab a snack, socialize with a colleague, go for a walk, or meditate.
6. Not designating an “overflow” day.
To catch up on the tasks, you’re consistently falling behind on, set aside an overflow day. Or, if you prefer, you could block out half a day. Whatever you choose, this should be preferably on the day that you’re most productive.
While this varies from person to person, studies show that Thursdays and Fridays tend to be the least productive days of the week. Personally, by Friday, I’m usually zapped. So, this is the day that I dedicate as my “overflow” day.
7. Getting frustrated when you need to revise.
A time-blocking schedule is not meant to be set in stone. Instead, it should serve as a guide for how you should spend your time. Again, things will pop up at the last minute that will throw your schedule off. As such, you can reschedule your time blocks as necessary rather instead of panicking about these changes.
Furthermore, because we all have different biological prime times based around circadian rhythms, you may have to tinker with time blocking. For example, if the 52: 17 rule is too restrictive, you might opt for an alternative like the flowtime technique. But, instead of getting frustrated about this, be patient and keep calm until you find the time blocking strategy that best suits you.
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