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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)
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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

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

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    Last Updated on July 27, 2021

    Can’t Focus? The Mistake You’re Making and How to Focus Better

    Can’t Focus? The Mistake You’re Making and How to Focus Better
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    What comes to mind when you think of learning how to focus better? Do you think of the attention or concentration it takes to complete a task? Do you consider the amount of willpower needed to finish writing a report without touching your phone? Do you think it requires sitting in complete silence and away from distractions so that you can study for an important exam or prepare for an interview?

    I’m sure many of you can relate to the above statements and agree that the ability to focus is about staying on task for a given period of time. Breaking that concentration would mean that you’ve lost your focus, and you’re either doing something else or trying to gain back that focus to finish up the intended task.

    With an ever-increasing amount of information—that is easily accessible online and offline—we’re faced with a lot more opportunities and avenues to create possibilities to experience things on a daily basis.

    Unfortunately, that can make it a lot harder for us to make progress or get things done because we’re either easily distracted or overwhelmed by the constant influx of information.

    That’s why many of us end up having problems concentrating or focusing in life—whether it be on a smaller scale like completing a task on time, or something much bigger like staying on track in your career and climbing the ladder of success. We’ve all found ourselves in situations where we blame our failures due to a lack of focus.

    Learning how to focus better doesn’t have to be too complex. Here is some information to help you get started.

    Focus Is Not About Paying Attention

    What if I tell you that you’ve been doing it all wrong this whole time?

    Focus isn’t just the attention span of giving 20 minutes to a task. It actually goes far beyond that.

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    The real reason why we focus is because we need to do something that exceeds our existing capability. We need to devote large amounts of time and energy to move the needle in life, to make that progress and positive change.

    And why do we want to do that? Because we want to spend time becoming a better version of ourselves!

    At the end of the day, the reason why we stay focused on any task, project, or goal is because we want to succeed. With that success comes progress in our lives, which means we eventually become better than what we were a month ago, or even a year ago.

    Let me give you an example:

    Say you’ve been tasked to manage a project by your boss. You have targets to meet and favorable outcomes to achieve. Your focus and attention has to be on this project.

    Once the project has been completed, your boss is happy with the results and your hard work. She rewards you with praise, a promotion, or maybe even a year-end bonus.

    That’s your success right there, and you feel good about your achievements. Looking back at who you were before and after the completion of this project, wouldn’t you say you’ve become a better version of your previous self?

    Focus Is a Flow

    This is what focus is and how where learning how to focus better starts. It’s not a one-off, task-by-task mode that you jump into whenever needed. Rather, focus is a flow[1].

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    Focus is the way in which you deliberately target your energy to push progress in something you care about. Because focus takes energy, time, and effort, whatever it is that you need to focus on should be something meaningful to you, something that’s worth shutting down phone calls, text messages, and social media for.

    So, why is it that we sometimes find it so hard to focus?

    Usually, it’s because we’re missing two major elements. Either we don’t know where we want to go—in that we don’t have a clear goal—or we do have a goal, but we don’t have a clear roadmap.

    Trying to improve your focus without these two things is like driving to get somewhere in a foreign country with no road map. You end up using a lot of gas and driving for hours without knowing if you’re getting anywhere.

    Let’s go back to the example of your boss assigning you a project to manage. The company is opening a new office, and your boss wants you to oversee the renovations and moving-in process of this new location.

    Now, if you didn’t have a clear goal or end result of how the new office should look, you could be busy arranging for contractors, interior designers, or movers to come, but have no clue what to assign or brief them on.

    The second scenario is that you know exactly how the new office should look and when it should be up and running. However, because you don’t have a clear roadmap to get to that end result, you end up working all over the place; one moment you’re arranging for the contractors to start renovations, the next moment you’ve got furniture coming in when the space isn’t ready. What do you focus on first?

    The Focus Flow

    Without a clear goal and road map, things can turn out frantic and frustrating, with many wrong turns. You also end up expending a lot more mental energy than needed. But, having a Focus Flow when learning how to focus better can help.

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    Let me show you how theFocus Flow works.

    1. It starts from a clear objective.
    2. This becomes a clear roadmap.
    3. Then it manifests into a state oftargeted attentionand effort.
    4. This results in pushing your progress towards your ultimate destination.

    Setting a Clear Objective

    To start off, you need to set a clear focus objective. If you don’t have an objective, how can you decide on which things are worth focusing on? You can’t focus on everything at the same time, so you have to make a choice.

    Like driving a car, you need a destination.

    In this case, you don’t want to drive around aimlessly. You want to arrive at your destination before you run out of gas.

    A good focus objective, therefore, needs to be concrete. This means that it should be something you can visualize, such as determining how the new office is going to look after you’ve completed the renovation and moving in. If you can visualize it, that means you have a clear enough picture to know what’s needed to achieve it.

    Drawing a Focus Roadmap

    The second step is to lay out a practical focus roadmap. Once you have your ideas, setting an objective is easy. The most difficult part is determining how you’re going to achieve your objective.

    There are lots of things you can do to work towards your goal, but what comes first? What’s more valuable, and how long will it take?

    That’s where having a roadmap helps you answer these questions. Like driving, you need to have at least a rough idea of which major roads to drive on, and the order in which you need to drive them.

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    Yet, creating a roadmap can get tricky because you have absolute freedom on how you’re going to achieve your objective.

    To create a good road map, you should include major milestones. These are targets you need to hit in order to achieve success. Your roadmap should also include feasible and realistic actions that you can achieve as you learn how to focus better.

    Need a little help in drawing this Focus Roadmap? The Full Life Planner can help you. It’s a practical planner to help you stay focused and on track with your most important goals and tasks in an organized way. Get yours today!

    Power Up Your Productivity

    I hope you now have a better understanding of how focus truly works. By harnessing your focus using the Focus Flow, you’ll be able to work on a task more productively, not because you’re able to concentrate, but rather because you know exactly what your end goal is, and you have a game plan in place to make that happen.

    Once there is clarity, I can assure you that you’ll be less likely to get distracted or lose focus on your tasks at hand.

    You may think it’s going to take you extra time writing out an objective and setting out a roadmap. You may believe that you are better off getting right down to the actual work.

    However, as I’ve mentioned, there’s no point in rushing your efforts that lead you to nowhere or cause you additional detours. You’ll end up expending more mental energy and time than needed.

    Once you’ve made your roadmap and found your focus, follow it up with unbreakable determination with Lifehack’s Actionable Motivation On Demand Handbook.

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    Featured photo credit: Paul Skorupskas via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Very Well Mind: The Psychology of Flow

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