Increase your productivity with time blocking: a step-by-step guide
Ever feel like you’re not making progress on your to-do list?
We’ve all been there.
Each day you sit down to knock out important tasks, but by the end of the day, your list has barely budged–or worse, it’s become longer than it was when you started.
It’s not a great feeling to be stuck in that endless loop and constantly drowning in work.
If this feels *too real* then it might be time to consider a new approach to the workday that could boost your productivity.
Enter time blocking.
What is time blocking?
Time blocking is a scheduling format that helps boost productivity through focused work done in specific blocks of time. Using this approach, tasks are outlined and slotted for different dates/times. From here, you then work in sprints on one type of work (rather than several at once.) As such, it often adds clarity, intention, and important boundaries to the workday.
In a way, time blocking is a form of the Pomodoro Method (a productivity system named for the tomato-shaped kitchen timer), in which you work for set “sprints” of 15-60 minutes at a time and then take a short break to recharge before picking work up again.
The time blocking approach to scheduling allows you to get away from the defensive approach to work, in which you’re constantly fielding tasks, emails, and requests as they crop up throughout the day.
Instead, this creates a more deliberate and regimented structure for the workday so you can get into flow and deep work with minimal distractions.
Why time blocking matters
So why does time blocking matter, anyway? The short version: It helps you protect two extremely precious resources–your time and your focus.
When distractions and incoming emails start to be the source of direction for your workday, productivity goes down the drain. Some data indicates it takes as long as 23 minutes on average to regain focus after an interruption.
Experts in productivity like Cal Newport echo this thought:
“Using your inbox to drive your daily schedule might be fine for the entry-level or those content with a career of cubicle-dwelling mediocrity, but the best knowledge workers view their time like the best investors view their capital, as a resource to wield for maximum returns.”
With this scheduling approach you get out of defense mode, stop letting tangents ruin your concentration, and start calling the shots around what type of work you do and when.
Time blocking offers a few other major benefits, too:
Helps establish flow
Flow is your fluid work state where you’re focused and working at maximum efficiency. Time blocking helps you achieve a flow state by allowing you to dedicate parts of your day to very specific types of work (and nothing else).
Because time blocking is the opposite of multitasking, it allows for concentration on a single task. This means you have more mental bandwidth to devote to what you’re working on–which is good news, as lack of distraction can boost attention to detail and produces fewer errors.
Creates a sense of control
When we feel more control over what we’re doing and when, it helps reduce stress and anxiety. In the short-term, time blocking allows you to gain more control over the day rather than just “winging it.” In the long-term, it allows for more effective planning and decision making.
How to use time blocking: A step by step guide
So we know that time blocking offers up some serious perks. But how do you go about doing it?
Step 1: Identify the tasks that need to be accomplished
The first step is to ask yourself: What are the repetitive tasks you perform every week? Make a list of those and from there, prioritize them based on importance.
At the same time, you should also consider how you’d like to structure your weeks for maximum productivity. Be realistic as you plan and ask yourself questions about what makes sense on different days. Do you have meetings on Tuesdays? Is your inbox jam-packed on Mondays? Plan accordingly.
Step 2: Estimate how many hours each task should take
Next, put together a rough estimate of how much time you spend doing what. Be sure to account for how much time is normally wasted (and cut that number out.) You don’t have to have these figured down to the minute–just put together a rough idea to start with and fine-tune from there.
If you’re really not sure what to allot to different tasks, use a time tracking tool like Noko to get a good grasp on how much time you’re spending doing different things.
Step 3: Decide how much flexible time you allot in your schedule
Things come up! Such is life. This is why you’ll need to leave time for miscellaneous tasks and those little surprises that scream I-gotta-take-care-of-this-right-now. Your flexible time could be for unplanned tasks and/or meetings that pop up, a doctor’s appointment, etc.
As you think this over, consider the type of organization you work in and what the standard is for meetings: Do people usually schedule in advance? Are you expected to have some sort of availability? This will help you allot time more realistically.
Step 4: Review your plan
With an almost complete time blocking plan in place, it’s time to calculate the number of hours listed and the time you left for unexpected meetings. Ask yourself: Does it exceed your working hours? Is it less? Either way, make adjustments accordingly.
Review isn’t a one-and-done process, either. Let your time blocked schedule evolve over time. If your work changes with the season or time of year, keep in mind you may need to do monthly or quarterly reviews of your process.
Step 5: Implement time blocking using your favorite calendar app
Now it’s time for the action. With your time blocked schedule documented via a calendar app like Calendly, Plan, HourStack, or even just the calendar app on your phone, you can put it to good use and test it out.
If you find you have trouble sticking to your allotted time slots, consider setting daily alerts or alarms to ensure you say on task–and as always, adjust as needed.
Get more productive with time blocking
Time blocking isn’t for everyone, but it is helpful if you need more structure and deliberate focus built into your workdays. Is it right for you? There’s no harm in finding out by giving it a try.
By following the steps outlined here, you can be sure you’ve developed a smart, realistic plan that works toward a more efficient and effective workday–and you might just discover the secret to your optimal, most productive workday.