For most of us, we’re at least familiar with the concept of time blocking. After all, the practice of time blocking has been around for nearly as long we’ve been using calendars. In fact, Bronze Age calendars seem to have reflected specific agricultural activities to prevent crop spoilage.
While time blocking for personal use is a more recent development, it’s still been practiced for years. So, it was somewhat surprising to read that it’s all the rage on TikTok. As USA Today notes, over 3.1 million views have been generated on the video-sharing platform using the hashtag #timeblocking.
But, before you jump on the time blocking bandwagon, let’s describe what it, who’s it for, and the pros and cons.
What’s Time Blocking and Who Should Use It?
As the name implies, blocking your time is a way to plan your day into manageable chunks. More specifically, each block of time is devoted to one particular task or a group of similar activities.
In contrast to a to-do list, time blocking tells you when and what to do at any given time. The idea may seem counterintuitive at first. However, having your Calendar divided into blocks makes you task-focused. And, it also limits others from invading your valuable time.
Furthermore, time blocking lets you begin each day with a set of specific tasks to complete rather than following an ever-expanding to-do list.
Unfortunately, time blocking won’t help you manage your attention and focus better if your Calendar is chock-full of meetings and overlapping meetings. On the flip side, the use of time blocking can be used to increase productivity when you have an abundance of available time. As Parkinson’s Law states, “work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” So, time blocking can be used to regain control over your Calendar and schedule work strategically.
You may want to consider time blocking if:
- Multitasking is something you do frequently
- You have trouble focusing on one task
- You’re prone to getting distracted
- Meetings rule your days, and you’re unable to focus on what matters most
- At work, you want to be intentional with your time and energy
- You need more insight into how you spend each day
- Overworking is a problem for you
- You must handle a lot of different responsibilities, tasks, and projects as part of your job
- You want to achieve more goals and boost your productivity
Advantages of Time Blocking
Highlights your priorities.
In my opinion, the main advantage of time blocking is that it clarifies what your priorities are. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with using a to-do list, they don’t account for time. That means you could underestimate how long a task takes you to complete. In turn, you can end up with an unrealistically long list that won’t be completed. And that can leave you deflated when there are still items that haven’t been crossed off.
You can only schedule your most important tasks for each day because your Calendar only has so many blocks each day. Therefore, you should prioritize your three or five most important and urgent responsibilities for today. As for everything, they can be scheduled for another time or delegated to someone else.
Replaces to-do lists.
The NY Times best-selling author and LEADx founder Kevin Kruse found that after interviewing over 200 billionaires, including Olympians, straight-A students, and entrepreneurs, they shared a similar trait. “Ultra-productive people don’t work from a to-do list, but they do live and work from their calendar.”
As previously mentioned, and as Kruse further explains in a piece for Forbes, to-do lists don’t take time into consideration. “When we have a long list of tasks, we tend to tackle those that can be completed quickly in a few minutes, leaving the longer items left undone.” Research shows “that 41% of all to-do list items are never completed!”
In addition, Kruse believes lists aren’t able to distinguish between urgent and essential items. Lists can also cause stress through the Zeigarnik effect. This concept states that we generally remember what has been completed better than what has been unfinished. Due to this, we may feel overwhelmed due to these “intrusive, uncontrolled thoughts.” And, for some, lists can cause insomnia.
Fights against perfectionism and procrastination.
Procrastination and perfectionism. Arguably, these are the biggest enemies of time management. Thankfully, Both of these adversaries can be foiled using time blocking.
Generally, it’s recommended that you block your Calendar with your most challenging tasks first when using the blocking method. As a result, this will allow you to conserve your energy and willpower for the remainder of the day.
In addition, time blocks can help you break larger projects into smaller, more manageable chunks.
Enhances concentration and focus.
“High-quality work produced is a function of two things—the amount of time you spend on the work and the intensity of your focus during this time,” Cal Newport, author of “Deep Work,” told Fast Company. “If you can increase your focus, you’ll get more done in less time.”
By discouraging multitasking, time blocking helps you to improve your focus. It also keeps you from being distracted and context switching. You could, for instance, use an app to block distracting smartphone notifications for an hour as you dive into deep work.
Additionally, this will improve your quality of work as well as your productivity. Why? As opposed to spreading your focus and energy across multiple tasks, you dedicate 100% of your attention and energy to the current task.
Ensures you follow through with goals.
Making a concrete plan helps people achieve their goals, according to researchers. As such, you’re more likely to accomplish your goals and tasks if you schedule them.
As you might have guessed, creating concrete plans becomes much easier when you block time in your Calendar. Mainly this is because it forces you to focus on specific tasks that can help you reach your goals and when you’ll work on them.
Protects your health.
I might sound like a broken here. But, if you want to improve or protect both your physical and mental health, then you need to eat healthy, exercise, and get enough sleep. When we overcommit ourselves, however, this becomes a challenge.
As a result of that, we feel more stressed and have less time to attend to our health during the day. Therefore, you should schedule time for physical activity, eating a real meal, and sleeping times to stay in excellent form.
Also, schedule time to stay mentally sharp, which can also reduce stress. Specifically, set aside times for reading, learning something new, or bringing a skill into play.
Helps you stop being a people pleaser.
Being a people pleaser isn’t always a bad trait. After all, having a meaningful relationship with others depends on being concerned and caring. However, this does become a problem if you say “yes” to gain approval to bolster your self-esteem or if you put the happiness and goals of others ahead of your own.
As a result of being a people pleaser, you may experience more stress and anxiety. What’s more, this can lead to anger, frustration, and less resolve to pursue your own goals. And, oddly enough, this can actually weaken relationships.
While time blocking won’t be the sole solution, it can help you stop being a people pleaser. How so? Well, let’s say that a colleague asks you to help them on a project. If you have already blocked out your Calendar for your own work, you can say “no” to them because you’re busy. As a compromise, you could lend them a hand when you’re available.
Disadvantages of Time Blocking
Using the time blocking technique takes a lot of time.
There’s no way around this. Time blocking takes a lot of time and effort. And, depending on how detailed you are, it can also be stressful. I mean, just close your eyes for a minute and imagine the stress of breaking your day into 5-minute slots like Elon Musk.
For most, that’s counterintuitive and exceedingly inflexible. Perhaps this is why some people abandon the time blocking method.
I’m sure that you’re familiar with Murphy’s Life, which in its simplest form states, “If anything can go wrong, it will.” But, what exactly does this have to do with time blocking?
Again, if you block out every minute of your day, there isn’t wiggle room for constant interruptions, urgent tasks, and the unexpected. For example, last week, I had an internet outage while trying to meet a deadline. Not only was I irritated that this threw off my schedule, but the thought of missing the deadline also increased my stress level.
Your stress level is even more significant if you require more flexibility in your business life — like executives or salespeople.
We’re terrible at estimating time.
“Most people overestimate what they can do in a day and underestimate what they can do in a month. Likewise, we overestimate what we can do in a year, and underestimate what we can accomplish in a decade,” Matthew Kelly wrote in “The Long View.”
Even if you believe you’re decent at estimating time, there will be times when you’re still off. For instance, you might block out an hour to analyze data, write a blog post, or winterize your car. But, in reality, it takes closer to two. The result is that time is eaten up by one task after another. And, eventually, your day is thrown into chaos after a series of errors like this.
It kicks you out of the zone.
Let’s say that you only planned to write for an hour. So, you block that time out in your Calendar for this. When the hour is up, though, you want to keep going because you’re in the zone. If you’re going to follow your schedule diligently, then you have to stop writing, or you’re going to bleed into another block.
We rarely have the same schedule.
Even if you have the traditional 9-to-5 gig, each day is still different. For example, one day, you’re working on administrative tasks, another, you’re in meetings, and another, you’re tackling a project. That can make time blocking tricky and more complicated. Time blocking issues can be especially tricky unless you only schedule for the day what has to be done of that day — don’t add other obligations.
Or, even if you do have the same schedule day in and out, this can lead to monotony. Over time, monotony can put you in a rut where you accomplish less.
Sunk costs can cause you to make the wrong decisions.
According to the sunk cost fallacy, once people have invested money, effort, or time into an endeavor, they tend to carry on. Accordingly, if you are more deliberate about your time blocks, it could be more challenging to let go if things don’t go as planned.
It doesn’t help you begin the work you have scheduled.
Just because you’re supposed to start a task at 10 a.m. doesn’t mean that’s going to happen if you’re not feeling it. While sometimes just sucking it up and just starting can help, there are days when you’re dragging. So, if you begin working 30-minutes later than scheduled, this can throw off the rest of your day.
How to Time Block Correctly
Is time blocking for everyone? Of course not. But, if you believe that it can be beneficial for you, here are some recommendations on how to time block correctly.
- Block your priorities. Create a daily to-do list of all the tasks you must complete. Then, sort each task by priority. Now, take your list and block out the most important and urgent for first thing in the morning.
- Stop working on clock time — work when you’re most productive. Instead, plan your schedule based on when you’re most productive. Usually, this is based on your circadian rhythm.
- Create theme days. As an example, spend Mondays recruiting, Tuesdays in meetings, and Wednesdays on creative projects.
- Reserve breaks and time off. Keep an empty block of time on your schedule at all times. These blocks can be used for meditation, walks, or staring out the window. They also give you more flexibility in your schedule.
- Set boundaries — but be flexible. Despite your best efforts to plan ahead, life is full of surprises. To accommodate this, leave empty blocks of time for adjustments or unexpected events.
- Create time blocks for things that happen. You should also block out specific times for your priorities and rest as well as those things that really matter, such as administrative and creative tasks, family time, and self-care.
- Use a calendar to track your blocks. Having the top calendar app is paramount to successful time blocking, mainly because it can track your blocks and avoid conflicts.
- Revise. Last but not least, track your progress every week or month and revise your schedule if necessary. For instance, if you planned to write a blog post for two hours, but it only took you one, adjust your schedule to reflect that by advancing your next task.
Image credit: Cottonbro; Pexels; Thank you!