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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

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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The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

“You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

What is the productivity paradox?

There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

He wrote in his conclusion:

“Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

How do we measure productivity anyway?

And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

Possible causes of the productivity paradox

Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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  • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
  • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
  • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
  • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

The paradox and the recession

The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

“Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

Looking forward

A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

“Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

“Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

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