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Last Updated on November 26, 2020

How to Use Time Blocking for Productivity (A Complete Guide)

How to Use Time Blocking for Productivity (A Complete Guide)

Time is our most precious resource, especially when trying to achieve our professional goals, but most of us are bad at managing our time—or at the very least, we could be better. Fortunately, there are potential solutions. Time blocking is a strategy that forces us to think more critically about the time we spend and how we’re spending it, and if harnessed properly, it can greatly improve your productivity.

Time Blocking: The Basics

Time blocking is a strategy in which you’ll break your time down into discrete “blocks” or set increments wherein you’ll accomplish specific tasks.

For example, in an 8-hour day, you might work with 16 30-minute time blocks, assigning tasks like “email catch-up,” “daily meeting,” or “project B” to each 30-minute block.

Here’s how to be successful with time blocking:

1. Understand the Philosophy Behind Time Blocking

First, understand why time blocking is so popular (despite so many other time management techniques in use). The task of time blocking is relatively simple, but the thinking behind it is more multifaceted.

Time blocking helps you achieve several goals simultaneously. It helps you treat your time like a resource, budgeting it the same way you would your income. It helps you track your time and identify sources of waste.

It forces you to dedicate your attention to concrete intervals and, therefore, helps you prioritize. It also gives you a consistent system you can apply to any important task[1].

The Complete Guide to Time Blocking

    2. Commit to Single-Tasking

    The science has been clear for decades now: multitasking simply doesn’t work.[2] No matter how good you think you are at multitasking, chances are, you’d be much better off focusing on one task at a time.

    In fact, studies have shown that multitasking reduces productivity by 40%.[3] Time blocking forces you to avoid multitasking if you’re implementing it properly.

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    For a given time block, set only one task; for example, during your 30-minute “finish sales proposal” task, don’t allow yourself to get distracted by emails, phone calls, or other unrelated tasks. This change alone can make a massive difference in your productivity.

    3. Decide on Your Chosen Increments

    So far, we’ve used the example of a 30-minute time block, but this isn’t a requirement. Time blocking can work no matter what kind of increments you’re working with. In fact, billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk is notorious for his ability to block his days down to 5-minute intervals.[4]

    Different people function well in different systems, so consider your options carefully; smaller time intervals allow you to be more precise with your schedule, but they can also be more stressful to manage. If you’re not sure, start with something broader, like 45-minute or 1-hour intervals.

    4. Decide Which Parts of Your Day to Time Block

    You don’t have to block out your entire day, especially if you’re just starting out, so think about which times of your day you’d like to block off.

    For most newcomers, this means blocking out the “core” of your day—something like 10 am to 4 pm—after your morning routine is over, but before your daily wrap-up. For more advanced time blockers, it’s better to block your entire day, from start to finish—even your personal life.

    5. Choose the Right Documentation Strategy

    Even if you have a photographic memory, you’ll find it hard to keep your time blocking schedule clear in your head. Instead, you’ll need to rely on some kind of documentation system.

    The exact system isn’t important, so long as it works well for you. A good calendar app or Google Calendar should be able to help you block off your time in regular intervals, and set alarms so you know when one time period is up.

    If you’re old fashioned, you may use a written planner or even a series of sticky notes to help you keep track of your day. In any case, some kind of automated timer is a good way to keep yourself aware of time’s passing.

    6. Provide Yourself a Buffer

    Before and after each block of time, give yourself a small buffer of extra time. For example, if you’re working with 30-minute chunks of time, give yourself 5 additional minutes to serve as empty space between tasks. If you want to keep your schedule tidy, work for 25 minutes, and leave 5 minutes to spare.

    This will help you finish tasks that don’t fit neatly into your original time blocking plans since most incoming work isn’t so naturally organized.

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    7. Block Time for Warmups and Cooldowns

    If you’re like most people, you don’t begin the workday at peak productivity. It takes you time to start up your devices, get coffee, read emails, and just “settle in” overall before it’s time to work. At the end of the day, you’ll be interested in finishing things up and preparing to leave.

    Don’t be too harsh with blocking these time periods; instead, treat them as a unique, open-ended block. For example, you can block most of your day in 15-minute intervals, but leave yourself a 1-hour “warmup” and 30-minute “cooldown.”

    8. Block Time for “Deep” Tasks

    Deep tasks are tasks that require your total focus or tasks that serve as major projects rather than individual, small responsibilities. They should be blocked in a way that allows you to focus on them exclusively; any block assigned to a deep task should include no other tasks or allowances. Even so, a single block may not be enough; don’t hesitate to assign multiple blocks to the same important work.

    Check out the following video to learn how to be productive with deep work:

    9. Block Time for “Shallow” Tasks

    Time blocking shallow tasks works a little differently. Shallow tasks are tasks that don’t require much time or attention, and they tend to accumulate throughout the day. You won’t need a full block to work on any single shallow task, so instead, consider blocking shallow tasks in groups.

    For example, you could dedicate a block for checking “email, social media, and project management platforms,” or “catching up on communications.”

    10. Block Time for “Reactive” Tasks

    Reactive tasks are informal tasks that are hard to predict and even harder to prioritize. They often come in the form of interaction.

    For example, you may need to manage an ongoing dialogue with your employees to coordinate work on a specific project. Again, you’ll want to consolidate these tasks in a block for the entire category.

    11. Block Time for Breaks

    In a strategy that’s all about productivity, it’s easy to lose sight of the importance of breaks. But you’ll need to block time for breaks the same way you would any other task—or else you’ll run the risk of burnout.[5] This includes not just lunch, but also smaller breaks throughout the day.

    Small interval time blocking, like intervals of 10 or 15 minutes, works best here. If you’re working with 30-minute blocks, consider hybridizing individual blocks with both breaks and work.

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    Check out this article to learn why breaks are so important.

    12. Create a Replicable Formula

    After you’ve blocked time for a few shifts, try to create a template you can use for all your future time blocking needs. Assign blocks for all your predictable, routine tasks, then leave room in the rest of your schedule for less predictable priorities or those that are determined on a per-day basis.

    13. Be Prepared to Estimate Poorly (at First)

    Most people are terrible at naturally tracking their own time and even worse at estimating how long tasks take.

    When you write out your first draft for time blocking, be prepared to feel embarrassed at how wrong you were about the true length of even your most common tasks. To compensate for this, try to overestimate the amount of time it takes to do a given task, giving it more block space than you think it needs.

    This may interfere with your productivity slightly the first few days you try it, but once you get a feel for how long each type of task takes, you can gauge your time blocking much more accurately.

    Better yet, use a time tracking app to get an accurate calculation of how long you actually spend on routine tasks so you can improve your estimates and cut down on the learning curve!

    14. Notify Others That You’re Time Blocking

    Give a heads-up to your bosses, coworkers, and partners that you’re going to be time blocking. When you start this practice, your habits are going to change.

    You might take longer to respond to certain emails, you might be more cutthroat when it comes to meeting timing, and you’ll almost certainly be more regimented in how you work throughout the day. People will be far more understanding if they know the reason why.

    15. Schedule a “Catch up” Day

    Even with time blocking, things will slip through the cracks. You’ll miss a handful of tasks, or you’ll need another hour or two to finish up that important project.

    To avoid stressing yourself out, simply give yourself a free catch-up day that’s at least somewhat block-free. It’s beneficial to give yourself the extra flexibility as you finish your priorities.

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    16. Be Prepared to Revise Your Approach

    Studies suggest the “best” time blocking strategy for an average person is working for 52 minutes, then breaking for 17.[6] But this won’t necessarily work for you. Everyone has unique preferences and working styles, which will be more conducive to alternate time structures.

    Some people need longer, less frequent breaks, while others need shorter, more frequent ones. Be ready to revise your approach as you learn more about yourself.

    17. Expand Time Blocking to Other Areas of Your Life (If It Works for You)

    Spend a few weeks blocking time in your professional life and evaluate how it works for you.

    Does it seem to be making you more productive or more stressed?

    If time blocking during your work day makes you more productive and doesn’t increase your stress, consider applying it to other areas of your life in the long term. Block out time for home chores and socializing the same way you do with projects and tasks at work.

    However, if blocking time is too regimented or simply isn’t effective for you, don’t be afraid to keep it restricted to work, or abandon it entirely.

    Conclusion

    Time blocking isn’t the right strategy for every professional or every situation, but if considered and executed properly, it can save you a ton of time—and directly boost your productivity.

    Use it to get a better understanding of how you’re spending time throughout the day, improve your focus, and effectively prioritize simultaneously.

    More Tips for Better Time Management

    Featured photo credit: Emma Matthews Digital Content Production via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Jayson DeMers

    Entrepreneur and Productivity Expert

    How to Be Committed to Your Goals Even During Hard Times Why Am I Lazy? 15 Ways to Stop Being Lazy and Unmotivated 13 Visualization Techniques to Help You Reach Your Goals How to Stay on Task And Be Laser Focused How to Use Time Blocking for Productivity (A Complete Guide)

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    Published on January 18, 2021

    How To Log Your Daily Activities And Manage Your Time Better

    How To Log Your Daily Activities And Manage Your Time Better

    Go to business school, and you’ll hear it over and over again: What gets measured gets managed. Often attributed to Peter Drucker, this maxim also applies to time management.[1] The best way to improve your time management is to log your daily activities. Simply seeing how your time is spent empowers you to be more productive.

    Before you begin recording your daily activities, you have two choices to make—where to do it and how to do it. Let’s discuss them both.

    Where to Log Your Daily Activities

    Generally speaking, you have two options for logging your daily activities: physically or digitally. Although there’s no “right” answer, there are reasons why people choose one over the other.

    Digital Logging

    For a few reasons, many people prefer to log their tasks in a calendar or productivity software:

    1. Accessibility

    Who wants to carry a planner everywhere they go? Digital tracking tools can be accessed from your phone, which is probably in your pocket from when you wake up to when you hit the hay. They can also be pulled up on your computer, where you’ll analyze the data.

    2. Customizability

    Do you like to view your tasks as a calendar or a list? Do you like to categorize them by type, participant, timeline, or something else? Do you color-code them? Digital activity logging tools put you in the driver’s seat. If you change your mind about a layout or color choice, you can always adjust it later.

    3. Cost

    Have you priced planners recently? A nice, hardback one can cost you a pretty penny. If you go this route, don’t buy online.

    “One of the best things you can do is go out to a store and touch the planner, feel it and really look at it,” explains Jackie Reeve, who writes for The New York Times’ Wirecutter project. Most digital tracking tools are free. Some offer paid versions with more features, but even these are competitive with bound paper planners.

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    Still, not everyone uses software to log their daily activities. So, what do the paper-planner folks like about them?

    Physical Logging

    Just as some people prefer print books to e-books, some would rather log their daily activities on paper. This option has a few advantages.

    1. Memorization

    Research suggests that writing things down helps us commit them to memory. If you’re trying to memorize a new routine, a paper activity planner might be your best bet.

    2. Privacy

    Although software companies spend a lot on data security, the reality is that breaches happen. If you worry about your schedule or activities leaking out to the wrong person, a paper planner could be the right choice.

    Remember that paper logging puts more of the responsibility on your shoulders. Nobody is going to read your activity log if you keep it in a safe deposit box. But at the same time, how are you going to access it?

    3. Visibility

    To access your digital activity tracker, you need to think about it, pull up the app on your phone or computer, and log in. If you post a paper log in the right place, all you need to do is take a glance at it.

    This is why many business professionals still keep a paper calendar on their desk, despite also maintaining a digital one. Nothing jogs the mind like a visual reminder.

    Once you’ve decided where to put your activity data, you need to actually log and analyze it. Practice by clocking how long it takes you to review my six tips for doing so.

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    How to Track Your Daily Activities

    Some activities are easier to log than others. Digital ones, like videoconferences, might already be on your calendar by virtue of the invite you sent out. Others, like that wilderness hike you took on a whim, may require some planning and estimation.

    Here’s where to start:

    1. Check Your Calendar

    Does what’s on your calendar match how you actually spend your time and how you want to be spending your time? It should, says Breakout Blueprint author Doug Foley—“If you learn to own your calendar instead of letting it own you, that’s the first step to building the life you want.”[2]

    If it doesn’t, clean up your calendar. Remove activities and events that are no longer relevant. Say “no” to things you don’t want or can’t do. Fill those slots with activities that get you closer to your goals.

    2. Use a Time Tracker

    To track digital activities, use activity tracking tools like Toggl or Harvest. They can pull event details from your calendar and prompt you to log the amount of time you actually spent on each activity.

    These tools are easiest to use with a widget, a miniaturized version of a program that displays only its essential tools. Time-tracking widgets let you start, pause, and stop the activity timer as you work.

    If you’d prefer to use a physical activity log, get a stopwatch. Your phone has one built-in, or you can carry one on in your pocket if you prefer the track-coach experience. Either way, remembering to press “start” and “stop” after each activity takes practice. Expect to spend about two weeks building the habit.

    3. Get Time Bounds Down to the Minute

    When tracking your time, it’s easy to round. Perhaps you forget to click “start” on the timer, so you call it 3:25 p.m. instead of 3:23 p.m. Maybe your log from yesterday has a gap at 4 p.m., so you assume that you started the next task listed then.

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    While that might not seem like a big deal, think about how it skews your activity log. Not only is your time for that task now inaccurate, but it may also cause you to shift the start or end times for tasks adjacent to it.

    Sloppy logging becomes an even bigger issue when you need to analyze how you’re spending your time. If every five-minute “review email” task is off by two minutes, your analysis may lead you to believe that you’re spending barely half as much time in your email as you actually are.

    4. Take Notes

    Was your son or daughter distracting you while you were finishing up that proposal email? No wonder it took twice as long as the previous ones. Make note of the reason why in your activity log.

    If you go the paper route, don’t do this in pen. Rarely does a day go by that I don’t make some sort of correction to my planner (more on that in a moment). Digital trackers allow you to not just attach notes to each activity, but update them as you wish.

    When it comes to logging your time, the “why” matters just as much as the “when” and “how long.” You need to know why certain tasks took more or less time than expected if you want to become a better time manager.

    5. Ask for Corrections

    No matter how meticulous you are, everyone makes mistakes. If you’re logging a group activity—whether it’s a marketing campaign at work or cooking dinner at home—ask others in the group to periodically check your activity log.

    Chances are good your time log will differ slightly from that of your partners. What’s important isn’t whose time is right, but identifying the types of tasks where discrepancies are common. Tasks that aren’t being logged correctly can’t be analyzed or acted on with confidence.

    6. Back It Up

    How good is your memory? Could you recite the last month of your activity log if it were lost or stolen? Probably not.

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    If you use a paper activity tracker, take a photo of it each week. Upload the photos to a cloud storage solution like Google Drive. If you use a digital one, back up your activity log on a local storage device. You never know when the company behind your tracker is going to go bust.

    7. Dig Into the Data

    Once you have a month or more of activity data—and are confident it’s logged correctly—the fun begins. You can make better use of your time by analyzing how you’ve been spending it.

    How you slice the data depends on what you want to do with it. Maybe all you need is a billable hours figure at the end of each month. That’s easy—just add up all the activities you did on behalf of your clients in the past four weeks.

    Using your activity log to improve your personal life requires you to think about your interests and ideals. Does your morning routine consistently leave you enough time to eat breakfast? If not, you might need to start waking up earlier. Is your salaried job forcing you to work well beyond 40 hours per week? Then, it might be time to start looking for a new one.

    Do More, Do Better

    Your routine might not seem like anything special. But if you log your daily activities, you’ll see that you do a lot each day.

    To better manage your time—either by cutting out unnecessary tasks or completing your existing ones more efficiently—you need to track your time. Opportunities for optimization are there—you just have to get started in identifying them.

    More Tips on How to Manage Your Time Better

    Featured photo credit: Paico Oficial via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Harvard Business Review: What Can’t Be Measured
    [2] Author Hour: Breakout Blueprint: Doug Foley

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