What is Time Blocking?
Time blocking is the process of placing your priority activities into time slots on your weekly calendar, broken into 15- or 30-minute segments. If you’re new to time blocking, you might start with 30-minute blocks while trying to establish time-management success habits. If you are diving into time blocking, a 15-minute schedule will be a challenge.
Time blocking is one of the most effective ways to really manage your time.
How do you use time blocking?
Everybody knows what day two after the beginning of a new fitness program feels like: At first you may feel like you’ll never achieve the goals you’ve set, but sticking to the daily program and creating habits eventually brings the results you want. Figuring out how to best manage your time depends on two things:
- Consistent, diligent practice: If you want to build those time-blocking muscles, not only do you have to work them regularly, but you also need to increase the weight, stress, and pressure as you progress. Understanding the key to managing your minutes, hours, days, weeks, and so on takes repetition. Everyone needs some ongoing reinforcement, repetition, and maybe a refresher course of the time-blocking.
Don’t panic when you find yourself a little stressed or sore from all your time-blocking exercises. It’s simply a sign that your efforts to build up those skills are working.
- A span of time to improve: Achieving a level of time blocking mastery does take time— a minimum of 18 months and as much as 24 months. Why so long? Because you’re developing a complex skill. A typical day has you switching from refereeing an argument between your kids to making an important presentation to the corporate executives. That’s a lot to orchestrate, and even Handel didn’t write his Messiah If you accept that time-blocking skills require time to develop, you’re more likely to remain motivated. As we know, if we lose our motivation, the success we desire seems more challenging to obtain. Your objective is to make measurable progress in reasonable time.
Implementing time blocking to help organize your schedule takes a bit of time, but you reap huge dividends on that initial investment. These steps walk you through a general process to follow.
Step 1: Divide your day
To start, you need a daily calendar divided into 30-minute increments. Why such small bites of time? Because even 30 minutes can represent a good chunk of productive activity. Losing just two or three of these small blocks each day can diminish your ability to meet your goals, from finishing that project at work to writing your bestselling (you hope) memoir.
Designing it on paper, rather than putting your time-block into an online scheduling program or calendar app, is more effective. It connects you to your schedule; it creates a more tactile and visual example to follow. You can make changes and annotate easier. As your time-block schedule becomes more solidified in a few weeks or a few months, then move it into your online scheduling system. You then can colorize your blocks of time.
On that blank schedule, begin by dividing your day. Draw a clear line between personal time and work time. When you take this step, you’re creating work-life balance from the start. Don’t take it for granted that Saturday and Sunday are time off just because you work a Monday-through-Friday workweek.
So, block personal time into your schedule, or work activities may creep into your precious downtime. The more you take action on paper, the more concrete the time-block schedule becomes.
Are you apprehensive about drawing a line between work and personal time because you’re wary of having to tell a business associate you can’t attend a business function that extends into personal time? Not to worry. You don’t have to tell a client that your Tuesday-morning workout is more important than a breakfast meeting with her. Instead, simply say you’re already booked at that time. That’s all the explanation you owe, and my experience shows that professional colleagues who want to do business with you respect your boundaries.
Step 2: Schedule your personal activities
Blocking out personal activities first gives weight to these activities and ensures that they won’t be overtaken by obligations that have lesser importance in the long run. Personal obligations are almost always the first thing most people trade for work. Because of that, hold fast and tight to the personal area so it doesn’t get away from you. Another advantage? You help establish a reasonable end to your workday. If you’re scheduled to meet at a friend’s house for Texas Hold ’Em on Thursday nights, you’re more motivated to wrap up your project in enough time to cut the deck.
People who are success-forward and success-minded can have life balance and boundary issues with their personal life. We desire success, wealth, or recognition so much, we flex when we should be more rigid with our time rules.
Scheduling personal activities is twofold:
- Schedule routine activities that you participate in.
Do you have dinner together as a family every night? A weekly date night with your significant other? Do you want to establish family traditions? Don’t just assume these activities will happen, so give them the weight they deserve and block out the time for each one. Don’t forget to include your extracurricular activities here. All those PTA groups, fundraising committees, nonprofit boards, and other volunteer commitments get plugged in as well.
- Schedule personal priorities that aren’t routine.
Put those personal agenda items first before filling in your day with tasks and activities that don’t support those priorities.
Step 3: Factor in your work activities
Begin with the activities that are a regular part of your job and then factor in the priorities that aren’t routine. Whether you’re a company CEO, a department manager, a sales associate, an administrative assistant, or an entry-level trainee, you’re responsible for performing key tasks and activities each day and week. They may include daily or weekly meetings. Or maybe your responsibility is scheduling meetings for others. You likely have to prepare for these appointments. Perhaps you have to write and turn in reports or sales figures on an ongoing basis. You may have to call someone for information routinely. If you report to work daily and always spend the first hour of your day returning phone calls, time-block it into your schedule.
Step 4: Account for weekly self-evaluation and planning time
Your goals — whether a one-year business plan or long-range retirement vision — warrant routine checkups. Consider them as rest stops on your journey: Are you still on the right road? Is a detour ahead? Have you discovered a more direct route?
Use weekly strategic planning sessions — ideally for Friday afternoon or at the end of the workweek — to review your progress toward those near-future business projects as well as your larger career aspirations or personal goals. This is an opportunity to review the previous week and jump-start the upcoming week. I recommend spending 15 to 30 minutes daily and then taking a 60-to-90-minute session on self-evaluation and planning at the end of the week.
This strategic planning time is probably your most valuable time investment each week. It gives you a tremendous wrap-up for the week and a good start to next week, and it reinforces your vision for your long-term success. It also enables you to go home and spend time with your family in the right frame of mind.
Step 5: Build in flex time
Plug segments of time into your schedule every few hours to help you to minimize the fallout from unplanned interruptions or problems. About 30 minutes is enough time to work in at strategic intervals throughout your day. You will likely need three of these segments in your business day. Knowing that you have this free block of time can help you adhere to your schedule rather than get off track.
This strategy makes it easier to delay that “emergency” that really isn’t, to a more controlled time. Frequently, the emergency will burn itself out or be reduced in the short 60- to 90-minute delay you have created. It ends up taking less of your time and emotion, saving you time and energy that can be better invested elsewhere.
As you begin to build your time blocking skills, insert 30-minute flex periods into your schedule for every two hours of time-blocked activity. This may seem like a lot of flex time, but if it allows you to maintain the rest of your time-block schedule and maintain or increase your productivity, it’s worth the investment. My experience is that the best time for flex time is after you’ve put in a couple of hours of your most important work — whether sales calls, report-preparation, or meeting a deadline.
Don’t schedule flex time right before you go into an important activity time: You’re more likely to get distracted and fail to get started with your critical business. Schedule it after the work is complete. Then you can use it, if necessary, to resolve any unforeseen problems.