Time blocking is a highly effective and underrated technique for increasing efficiency.
In case you are wondering, time blocking is exactly what is sounds like – blocking time off in your calendar for allotted tasks to make sure those tasks actually get done.
As I settle back into working from home after leaving the structured schedule of working for someone else, I am reminded that it’s up to me to control my own schedule. I find myself dusting off some familiar and much needed techniques to keep myself on track, with time blocking being one of the most important.
I have not always been good at time blocking. I had to learn the hard way why it’s so valuable.
It’s not that I don’t work hard! I suspect many of you reading this can relate. I am what I like to a “flitter.” My daughter thinks it’s ADD but I think it’s just a tendency to get easily distracted. Squirrel! (Actually it’s a little finch outside my window….)
I do practice what I suggest to my clients – set aside specific time blocks to make sure you have allocated the necessary time to get your tasks accomplished.
Of course, the first step is to get clear on your most important goals and objectives. While not all of us can follow Gary Keller narrow scope down to “The One Thing,” it has certainly been proven repeatedly that consistent and limited focus increases efficiency. “Where our focus goes, our energy flows.” Channeling that energy into too many areas leads to those missed deadlines I referenced before.
Googling “3 items on your to do list” brought back over 3 million results! Obviously, this is a common and successful approach. (3 million bloggers can’t all be wrong!) Keeping your short term to do list down to a few items offers 3 key benefits.
- Focus. You clearly see what you need to do
- Sense of accomplishment. Getting those items crossed off your list gives you a sense of accomplishment that can propel you to move on to the next item.
- Decreased feelings of being overwhelmed. Feeling overwhelmed can lead to discouragement and the temptation to procrastinate.
Now that you have your focused to do list, scheduling the time to get those things done is where time blocking comes in.
Calculate the length of time needed for the task
One critical element of time blocking is to calculate the length of time it will take you to get a task done. This can be a bit tricky if you are doing something new that you have never done before but for many tasks, you probably have a good idea of how much time you will need. This allows you to schedule your blocked time more appropriately.
Evaluate your working style
Some suggest that you set up a few easy and quick tasks along with some bigger tasks. Checking those things off your list can propel you into greater momentum. It might also alleviate some intrusions that may be nagging at you, distracting you from the more important items on your list.
Personally, I find that if I knock out my email first thing, I am more focused on the bigger items, like writing my blogs! However, others find that this takes them down a rabbit hole and they are better off getting the more important tasks done right away. This is a judgement call that has to be handled by what suits you best. Start with asking yourself which approach would make you more effective.
Determine your best times of the day
Another aspect to consider is your own internal rhythm and the nature of the task to be done. Some people are naturally more productive in the morning. They may want to schedule their most important tasks then. For those that don’t handle mornings well, they may want to tackle the easier issues first.
If it’s a creative task, try to figure out when your most creative time periods are and schedule those tasks accordingly.
Try the Pomodoro technique
Another type of time blocking is the Pomodoro method. This is a system in which you set a specific time, using a timer, when you focus completely on one task. At the end of that time, you take a break. This can be anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes. The length of time depends on your capacity for concentrating on one task.
This is an excellent way to create a very focused period of time with the reward of a break at the end. I have found this a very effective approach to certain long term tasks, like writing, that can seem overwhelming to me.
Pick a time blocking system that works for you
Another decision you need to make on this time blocking path is to pick a system you will use consistently. Some prefer paper, others a digital calendar. I do a hybrid of both.
If you are a fan of Mind Valley, you may have seen some of their ads for one of their online training programs that takes all to do list items and schedules them out. That is a bit much for me but according to people that have implemented this system, it’s very effective. The theory is that this leaves nothing to chance as everything is on the calendar. Seems like a lot more work but kudos to those who find it helpful.
It’s all about finding the time blocking system that works the best for YOU.
What I have found works the best of me is to start with blocking general time on my calendar specifically for working ON my business, regardless of what I use that time for. If I don’t do this, I find that my time can get eaten up with meetings and unnecessary distractions.
Then I use a paper planner to map out my day with those tasks layered into appropriate time slots. In working with my clients, I do see more of a tendency to use more digital tools than paper but even some of my younger clients prefer to pick up their pen to write out their tasks and then get the satisfaction of crossing them off as they are finished.
Once I was at a networking event where the speaker asked how many people added things to their to do list just so they could cross them off. Half of this room full of professional women raised their hands!
Time blocking works for your personal time as well!
One final piece of advice- you can also use time blocking to make sure you schedule time to do things you like to do! Busy people can often forget to schedule self-care, hobbies or even just time to relax. Work life balance deserves the same attention as our work priorities.
If you are not time blocking already, may I suggest that you block the time right now to start? You will appreciate your increased efficiency!