Are you tired of feeling like your calendar has been hijacked? Do you feel like you never have enough time to get things done? Do you start on projects only to be interrupted by things that feel less important? Are you frustrated by your lack of progress on your to-do list or toward your goals?
If any of these sounds like you, let me show you how to be more productive with time blocking. Read on for an end to calendar hijacks and to-do list frustration.
What is Time Blocking?
Time blocking is the practice of setting aside specific chunks of time in your calendar to work on tasks or projects. It’s another way to plan your time and manage your projects so you can focus your energy and attention and avoid distractions. Think of time blocking as putting your to-do list into your calendar so you can plan for those things to get done.
How Does Time Blocking Work?
For me, I first make my to-do list, and then prioritize what’s on it. If tasks and projects have a specific due date, or meeting date for appointments, I add those to each project. Next, I give each one a realistic time estimate. Realistically estimating my time took some practice. I used to be ridiculously optimistic and constantly overscheduled myself. This led to a lot of stress and frustration and feeling like a failure, even though I was getting a lot done. I just wasn’t getting everything on my list done—which was impossible since I constantly overscheduled myself.
Once I know what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and how long it will take, I get out my calendar and begin blocking time. Some projects may need more than one block of time. Unless you’re attending a meeting or workshop of some sort that takes several hours at one time, I do not recommend blocking more than two hours at a time for any one project. There are obviously exceptions. When I am scheduling home improvement projects (I put everything on one calendar to help keep me from overscheduling—I just change visibility according to who needs to see it), they are often more than two hours. It is mostly “brainwork” that I schedule in shorter blocks. According to an article in the Atlantic, DeskTime, a productivity app, found the most productive workers “tended to work for 52 consecutive minutes followed by a 17-minute break.” Admittedly, my time blocks are not all shorter than 52 minutes, but it’s something to think about.
What Kind of Calendar Should You Use?
I use Google Calendar. It’s free, it’s easy to share and connect with family members, associates and clients, and for me, it works. You may find something else that works better for you. Whether it’s a computer calendar, or a paper one, it doesn’t matter, as long as it works for you. There is no one best way for everyone to time block, so feel free to tweak it to what works.
I also like Google Calendar because I can color code my time blocks, and I can have it remind me when it’s time to change tasks. My task list Is actually colored sticky notes on a white board above my desk, and they correspond (mostly) to the colors I use on Google Calendar.
When blocking time, I make it a point not to fill my calendar completely. I try to make sure I have a break between projects, and that I leave time in my days for the unexpected. I generally have only one or two days a week that are fully scheduled for time in my office working on projects. Those are days where I do not schedule meetings out of the office. The other days I leave time open for meetings, networking, etc.
One thing that has helped with my productivity is to only schedule meetings on specific days so that I am either in the office or out, and not running back and forth. I find it easier to group like tasks together on specific days so I don’t have to constantly shift gears. Your experience and your needs may be different.
My Time Blocking Results
I’ve used many different productivity plans over the years, and I have found that Time Blocking has, by far, been the most effective. Once I learned to be realistic in my time estimates and how much I could get done in one day, I found I am more productive with time blocking than with any other scheduling method. Combined with designating specific days to be in the office or to be available for outside meetings, this plan has nearly doubled my productivity and helped me stay on deadline.
The only time I have a problem is when I “forget” my own policies and start allowing other people to dictate my time. I do make exceptions in my calendar for urgencies and emergencies, but I also have to remind myself and my clients (and my family) that forgetting to tell me something until the last minute doesn’t always make it an emergency. I had to get tough with myself and my clients and learn to hold firm to finally take full control of my time so I could realize my productivity potential.
If you’re frustrated and feel like your time is constantly being hijacked, give time blocking a try. It does require some self-discipline and the ability to say no (check out this post for some help on learning to say no and why it’s important), but with practice you should find that you’re getting more done in less time. And the beauty of this system is that it can work if you’re a business owner, it can work if you’re an employee, and it can work in your personal life. Yes, you can even use it for scheduling household chores and personal time. You can use time blocking to reduce calendar overload and stress, and be more productive in all areas of your life.
Have you tried it? I’d love to hear from you about what’s worked and what hasn’t. Share your thoughts in the comment section or use the Talk to Me tab to send me a message.