Do you feel overwhelmed and continuously behind on your to-do-list? Don’t beat yourself over it. It’s happened to all of us at some point. But, the difference between the most productive, successful, and skilled people from the rest of us is that they have an ace up their sleeves. And, it’s called time blocking. But, why do highly skilled people always use time blocking?
Time blocking is simply a time management technique where you schedule your day into periods devoted to a specific task. For example, you could block out 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. to write a blog post for your website. Some people like Bill Gates and Elon Musk prefer to keep their blocks as small as possible — five-minute blocks to be exact.
You don’t have to chop up your day as much. But, the concept has been widely embraced by highly skilled individuals for the following reasons.
To-do-lists don’t account for time.
Kevin Kruse, after interviewing over 200 billionaires, Olympians, straight-A students, and entrepreneurs discovered that they don’t use to-do-lists. Instead, they live and from their calendar.
The main reason? To-do-lists don’t account for time.
“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,” writes Kruse. “Research from the company iDoneThis indicates that 41% of all to-do list items are never completed!”
Time blocking, on the other hand, only works when you dedicate the right amount of time to the right task. Let’s say that you have a conference call on Thursday at 2 p.m. Since it’s only a discovery call; it’s only going to last 10-minutes. As such, in your calendar, you would block out from 2:00 to 2:10 to account for the time needed for the call. It’s more structured and requires more discipline than just jotting down “phone call this afternoon” on your to-do-list.
If you’re uncertain about how long something should be blocked out for, add one to three 30-minute blocks of time. If you go over the allotted time, then you can bump another appointment into this buffer zone. But, for future reference, you should track your time so that you have a more accurate idea of how long recurring tasks take you to complete.
Time blocking forces you to prioritize.
If you’re like most people, you rely on lists. Even though they may not account for time, they’re still handy. After all, they can provide structure and reduce anxiety. Lists can also make you more productive. The, however, is to prioritize your list so that you can accomplish everything that you need to get done.
Time blocking can help you with this. Since there are only so many blocks that you can squeeze into your calendar each day, you’ll only be able to schedule your most important tasks for the day. Ideally, these should be your three or five responsibilities that need to get done today because they’re both important and urgent.
As for everything on your plate? They can either be scheduled for another block on another day. Or, they should be delegated or dropped from your schedule.
You’re committed to getting things done.
You just received an invite to a party this weekend. You’re on the fence about going. So, you respond with a maybe. What is the likelihood that you’ll end up going? Probably pretty slim since you didn’t commit from the get-go.
The same idea applies to time blocking. When you add a block of time to your calendar, you’re committing to follow through on completing that task in the timeframe you’re given yourself.
Ultimately, that means you’re getting more done. And, it also helps you fight back against procrastination.
Quality = Time x 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.”
Time blocking encourages you to increase your focus by discouraging multitasking. It also helps you block out disruptive distractions. For example, if you need to dive into deep work for an hour, then you could use an app to block distracting smartphone notifications for that period.
Sure. While this will make you productive, it will also improve the quality of your work. The reason? You’re dedicating 100% of your focus and energy to the task at hand, instead of spreading it across multiple activities.
Time Blocking reduces stress and anxiety.
Have you ever been toiling away at work when suddenly you’re interrupted by a nagging thought? It’s just not some random thought that appeared out of nowhere. You can’t forget about that task you didn’t finish earlier.
Psychologists call this phenomenon the Zeigarnik Effect. That’s because it was first reported in the 1920s by the Lithuanian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik. And, it states that the human mind can’t stand unfinished tasks. So, you’ll be reminded about this activity until it’s completed. Until then, you’ll feel anxious and stressed.
Thankfully, when your tasks are placed into set dates, times, and lengths, we’re more motivated and focused on knocking these items out. Again, it’s because we only have a set time dedicated to this task. In turn, you won’t have any unfinished tasks hanging over your head.
And, even if there was something you didn’t wrap up yet, time blocking encourages you to remain in the present. That means those uncompleted tasks will be less of a nuisance.
It beats Parkinson’s Law.
Parkinson’s Law states, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” That can be a problem when you rely just on lists. Why? Because your brain assumes that you have all day to execute everything on your list.
But, what if you know that you have 10 a.m. to noon to finalize a specific task? Then you’re more likely to have this done within the time allotted –especially when your afternoon is also booked.
You’ll feel more accomplished.
As you move from one block to the next, you’ll feel more accomplished. And, when you feel more accomplished, you’ll be motivated to repeat that feeling. After all, this makes you feel good about yourself and your abilities.
Time blocking shields your calendar.
The other day while on a back, a friend called me. I shouldn’t have answered. But, I haven’t talked to him in a while and wanted to catch up with him. Because my next block of work was scheduled to start in ten minutes, the conversation wasn’t as long as he expected. If I didn’t have that block of time, I could have kept talking to him for the next half hour.
Time blocks are an acceptable way to set boundaries and say “no” to others. I wasn’t short with my friend. I just looked at the clock and told him that I had to get going because I was only taking a short break from work. He understood, and we set-up a call for another time when we were both available.
It creates a record of how you spent your time.
I review my calendar every Friday afternoon. It lets me reflect on what I’ve accomplished and what needs to change so that I’m more productive. I also make a quick note about each block, like if I need to adjust the time or if it can be delegated.
Over time, this gives me a pretty decent record of how I spent my time. I can then use this to determine when I’m most productive or create recurring events in my calendar. I can even use it for other purposes like invoicing.
It helps you carve out “me” time.
Because you’re getting stuff done in less time, you’ll finally be able to enjoy a little me time. For example, instead of eating at your desk for lunch because you’re behind on work, you can take an hour. During this time, you can enjoy a healthy lunch, go for a walk, and catch up on some news. When you get back to work, you’ll feel recharged and ready to conquer the rest of the day.
Additionally, with more free time, you’ll have the opportunity to learn or enhance your skillset. And, you can finally get around to doing the things that matter, like strengthing your most essential relationships in your or improving your well-being.
Will the time blocking habit work for you?
Some people aren’t fans of time blocking. They feel that it’s too rigid and takes a lot of time to build. But, highly skilled people swear by time blocking, So, it wouldn’t hurt to give it a spin.
To get started, identify your priorities for each day. Place them into your calendar when you’re most productive. Then, block out a realistic chunk of time to complete each of these tasks. Once they’re in your calendar, do not schedule anything else and eliminate distractions. Remember, the only thing that you’re focused on at the moment is the task at hand.
That’s pretty much it. But, I also recommend that you don’t overcommit and allow for a little flexibility. As noted earlier, you can do this by including buffers throughout the day.