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Cover image for A Brief Guide to Time Blocking: Master Your Schedule and Mind

A Brief Guide to Time Blocking: Master Your Schedule and Mind

elinakukalo profile image Elina Kukalo Originally published at actitime.com ・6 min read

Today we live in a highly demanding world that throws new challenges, responsibilities and distractions our way every single day. If you aspire to be successful and lead a balanced life, you have no other choice but to manage the ever-increasing piles of tasks ably and be successful in staying focused no matter what.

One of the best things that can help you attain these two objectives is time blocking. This highly effective time management technique boosts productivity by promoting smart scheduling and discouraging multitasking.

What Is Time Blocking?

To understand what time blocking is and get a hint of its benefits, let’s compare two schedule examples:
 

Schedule comparison: time blocking vs. no time blocking

 
As you can see, when one designs a schedule following the time blocking principle, they divide a day into several blocks dedicated to working on a specific task (or a series of tasks) and nothing else. Thereby, time blocking brings a greater sense of order into your daily workflow and makes it easier for you to avoid distractions.

In contrast, a schedule of a person who doesn’t implement time blocking may often look somewhat chaotic, especially if they have a very long, continually extending to-do list. If you don’t have a clear plan of how to use up your time and which activities to focus on, you are prone to jump from one task to another rather unsystematically, in a reactive manner. As a consequence, you are bound to bear a high cost of context switching and risk your productivity tremendously.

Core Benefits of Time Blocking

Considering the nature and primary purposes of time blocking (i.e., avoidance of multitasking and promotion of focus), it fosters a significant increase in productivity. The reason for that is simple – the human mind cannot cope with “heavy-duty multitasking” very well, as the American Psychological Association notes. When we frequently switch from one task to another, our brains take a lot of time to readjust and regain concentration. By preventing task juggling, we eliminate the need to reactivate our mental resources again and again and, hence, become able to maintain performance efficiency at an optimal level.

Another important benefit of time blocking is an improved understanding of how you utilize your time. By minimizing the periods of unintentional “open-ended reactivity,” by intentionally keeping yourself away from responding to constantly emerging focus-killing messages and incoming calls during particular hours, you become able to track time spent on the planned tasks more accurately. Better time tracking, in turn, produces amazing advantages: from smarter resource management and more accurate task estimation to improved project outcomes and healthier work-life balance.

Besides, time blocking does the following:

  • It urges you to prioritize important and meaningful objectives,
  • It stimulates commitment to long-term goals,
  • It propels self-discipline and self-organization.

All this allows for staying on top of the game in whatever you do and helps you attain superior results faster.

Time Blocking Is Easy

To use time blocking and gain the benefits it offers, you won’t have to undertake any strenuous efforts. Just adopt a calendaring tool – digital apps and paper planners are equally good – and follow the steps described below:

1.    Plan ahead

Time blocking is all about planning. To make this technique work to your advantage, you have to review tasks for an upcoming week / month on a regular basis. This will let you get a clearer picture of your workloads as a whole and enable you to create a rough plan for your weekly / monthly activities.

More importantly, you must evaluate your achievements and identify newly emerged to-dos at the end of each day to specify a schedule for tomorrow and make timely corrections in initial plans if needed. As a result, you’ll be able to control changes and risks more effectively and ensure that nothing prevents you from committing to your time blocking plan.

2.    Prioritize tasks

Time blocking teaches us that we have a limited number of productive hours during the day and that our attention capacity is not endless. Thus, if there are dozens or even hundreds of tasks in your weekly agenda, you must learn to prioritize among them, discern high-impact tasks from lower-impact ones and choose what to concentrate on for a period at hand.

Strive to allocate the majority of your peak productivity hours – the time when you’re the most energetic and motivated – to work on something that’s especially important and meaningful to you. Less significant and recurring tasks that don’t require much attention, such as routine calls and staff meetings, can be blocked off for the rest of the day without any negative impacts on your performance efficiency.

3.    Estimate time

How to block off the right number of hours for a task? Time estimation is the answer to this question. You need to evaluate how much time an individual piece of work may take and try to arrive at an as-accurate-as-possible estimate of resources required.

When you work on many projects and tasks of the same kind, analogous estimation is a great option to consider. The technique calls for the analysis of historical data on tasks / projects completed in the past as a means to estimate the amount of time needed to accomplish a new task / project with some similar goals and characteristics.

Analogous estimation can be effectively implemented with the help of a time tracking tool, such as actiTIME. We described how to use them both and get highly accurate time estimates in this blog post.

4.    Commit to the schedule

When the final version of your time blocking schedule is ready, do everything needed to live by it. Align your usual daily routines and behaviors with your plan and do your best to eliminate all the factors that could distract you during specific hours of the day. It means you should prepare your work environment in advance and make certain nothing and nobody will disturb you while you’re focusing on work. Otherwise, what’s the point in designing a schedule that is difficult or impossible to adhere to?

5.    Evaluate!

The last step is to evaluate your performance results:

  • Were you successful in following your time blocking schedule?
  • Have you found any estimation and planning mistakes?
  • Did time blocking help you fulfill your objectives more quickly, if at all?

Be mindful of your new time management experience. Gather performance and time tracking data on the way, and don’t forget to carry out a thorough analysis regularly. This is how you will identify the weak spots, generate ideas for improvement and, after a while, master the practice of time blocking to perfection.

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