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3 Threats to Effective Time Blocking and How To Solve Them

3 Threats to Effective Time Blocking and How To Solve Them
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Time blocking is a great way to get things done effectively. However, if you are not cautious enough, you can easily kill your time block productivity with these three common threats:

  • Procrastination

  • Wasting time without preparation

  • Distraction (internal/external)

First of all, procrastination is perhaps the most common reason for not getting something done within your time block. It’s actually one of the worst ways to spend your time, because you most likely are aware of this activity, and yet you still do it.

For instance, your goal is to write a report for your boss and you have decided to focus on this task between 9am and 10am. Yet, when you discuss things with your colleagues or check on your friends’ Facebook statuses during this time, you just waste your valuable minutes that should be spent on working instead.

Procrastination is wasting time for sure, but you can waste time otherwise as well. For instance, if you decided to write a blog post before going to work, but you just started planning the post in the morning when you should be actually writing it, you are not taking advantage of the time block you have.

Finally, distraction is another big threat to effective time blocking, and this can happen either if you are at home or at the office. It can even happen if you are working by yourself. The distractions come both as external and internal ones, and if you do not realize the possible sources of distractions in advance, it can ruin your time block productivity for sure.

With these three threats, you can destroy your momentum and getting any real work done. However, the next questions are: why do these threats exist and are you actually inviting them into your daily work life (and into your time blocks)?

So why do you allow them?

With these three threats, you can take two stances: you can either allow or disallow them.

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Unfortunately, if you don’t pay enough attention to this matter, you allow these productivity threats to affect your daily life, and thus make it harder for you to meet your goals that you have set for the day.

So when I talk about “allowing these threats,” I mean the following:

  • You are too busy to get started with your task

You would like to get started with your task right away, but you don’t care to plan your steps in advance. With this planning, you could avoid the common pitfalls during your time block,  like pondering what action to take next or failing to understand the dependencies of your task with other people (sometimes you can’t move forward with your task until someone else has done their part first).

You might also think that if you started right away, you get a head start and you can actually finish your task well before the deadline. Although this may be the case sometimes, too often the results are other than the desired ones.

  • You don’t have an optimum workplace

One sure way to get exposed to distraction is not having a dedicated and quiet workplace to do your work. The more dynamic the environment is (like working in a cubicle or trying to get work done when your family is around you), the less productive you are most likely going to be.

On the other hand, sometimes this situation can be turned around and you can experience something called the cocktail party effect, where you can actually filter out the majority of distractions and focus on just one thing at a time (like in a cocktail event, when you focus on the conversation with a single person, while filtering out the rest of the party-goers).

Unless you are consciously choosing a crowded place (like a coffee shop or a train) to do your work, distraction can turn against you and kill your productivity.

  • You are doing it when your energy is at its lowest

Doing work when your energy is at its lowest is a fertile ground for procrastination.

I realized this when I was doing a seemingly simple task and then I all of a sudden started procrastinating on it.

Although the task took only couple of minutes to finish, I still had internal resistance to complete it. This was due to the fact that I was doing the work late in the evening, when my mind was already off work-mode, and it was looking forward to doing something more fun (like watching television).

According to The Willpower Instinct, your self-discipline drains throughout the day and the willpower reserve is at its highest in the morning. This is exactly what I experienced with my task.

The true cause for these threats

So why is it so easy to get started with your time block right away without doing any preparation?

One reason can be that you think you lose your valuable time with preparation and that taking action right away is what you should be doing instead.

Unfortunately, even if you get started quickly, you might run into roadblocks on your way and you tend to waste your time, thus making sure that you actually finish your task slower, rather than faster.

Another reason is that you probably don’t value the actual preparation part that much and don’t want to spend enough time on such unproductive activity (it’s not helping me to finish my task any faster, thus it’s unproductive, right?).

Finally, spending time on planning and preparing is taking your time away from the actual task execution itself (at least this is how you think). This can be the case when you start working on your task too late in relation to the deadline. And every minute you are not actually doing the work inside your dedicated time block, you feel like you are losing time.

Everything can be fixed with a small preparation

Believe it or not, planning and preparing for the time task in advance is actually doing the work already. With proper preparation, you get rid of the unnecessary roadblocks that could occur during your time blocks.

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Also, make sure to time block your planning phase as well. This is very important, and you ensure that you can truly maximize the available time for the task (by taking everything necessary into account, like those productivity threats).

Bulletproof your time blocks — here is how

1. Set boundaries. If you happen to work at home, make sure that you family is aware of what you are doing. This way, they value the work you do more and are less likely to distract you.

If possible, try to work as much as you can when they are out of the house or are sleeping. This is exactly what I did (and I still do) when I had a day job. I was building my online business on the side, but since it was challenging to get work done when my almost 2-year-old son was awake, I decided to work during his nap times or early in the mornings when he was still sleeping.

2. Have the right space to do your work. If possible, try to “isolate yourself” when doing the work. This means that you figure out in advance the place where you do your work.

In my case, I have two ways to “isolate myself.” The first one is to do work when the rest of the family is sleeping. The other way is a dedicated work room at my parent’s place where I can go to do work.

When I’m physically outside of our home, I get work done really well. However, I let my wife know my location and that way she can reach me if anything urgent happens.

3. Prepare for your tasks in advance — with a time block. To have an effective time block, make sure to block some time for the planning and prep work as well. This ensures that you map out all the possible roadblocks and other threats to your productive work.

Spending time alone and really figuring out the different parts of your task will help you out a lot during the actual working phase.

4. Pick the right time of the day. To avoid procrastination, try to pick out the right timing for your time block. In my case, I try to do my work during the morning (because that’s when I’m most alert), but your situation may be different.

Pay close attention to your mood during the day, figure out in which part of the day you are most alert, and block your time for that moment (so, after eating lunch is not probably the optimum time).

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5. Clear your mind. If you feel tired and can’t focus on your work, take a quick nap. I have experienced a total change in my well-being and productivity when I take a quick power nap (20 minutes max).

You can also decide to write down the ideas and thoughts that you get during your work. I have a piece of paper and pen with me when I work, so that I can do a “mini brain dump” and get those thoughts out of my mind (which I can then process later).

Finally, you can decide to start a simple meditation practice of 5 minutes every day. You just basically close your eyes and say quietly in your mind “inhale” while breathing in, and then say “exhale” while breathing out. If your mind starts wandering around (which it will), focus back on your breath.

Meditation is a longer-term practice and it requires patience until you can see the benefits — like the improvements in your focus.

6. Automate the mundane and repetitive parts.  Do you know if any of the tasks you do within your time block can be automated? If so, take precautionary action steps to do the automation.

For instance, you can create a template out of the document that you use on a frequent basis. That way you can save some time and are not wasting your precious time block for low-value activities (like creating a document from scratch every time).

Conclusion

Time blocks are a great way to get work done, but you can ruin them by procrastinating, by wasting your time without preparation, or when being exposed to distraction.

The main point is to make sure to map out your environment, your timing, and your tasks well in advance. That way you can be sure that your time block gets you the maximum results.

Over to you: How do you make sure you can eliminate the productivity threats during your time blocks?

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More by this author

Timo Kiander

Productivity Author and Founder of Productive Superdad

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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