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Cover image for The Benefits of Time-Blocking, and Some Tips to get you Started
Scott White
Scott White

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The Benefits of Time-Blocking, and Some Tips to get you Started

At Monolist, we're obsessed with developer productivity. Between knocking off to-do's, cleaning your inbox, and responding to chats it's easy to feel like you're being productive at work without truly getting any important work done. When it's not clear how we should spend our time in a given moment, we gravitate to this kind of busy-work that feels rewarding, but does not contribute to progress on our larger goals.

It's possible to counteract this phenomenon by being deliberate about how you spend your time, and actually setting aside time on your calendar to work on specific tasks. This practice is called β€œtime-blocking”.

The five benefits of time-blocking

1. Time-blocking forces you to commit

Behavioral economics has taught us that defaults matter. People overwhelmingly stick with defaults when given choices. Time-blocking eliminates the ambiguity of how you're spending your time at work, and makes executing your scheduled tasks your default behavior.

In the same way that writing down your goals drastically increases the chance that you'll actually complete them, setting aside time to complete your tasks also increases the chances that you'll complete them.

2. Time-blocking makes you plan realistically

The central issue with task lists arises when they become too long to look at without getting anxious. Your to-do list gets too long when you over-commit, and this overcommitment comes from under-estimating how long your tasks will take.

When you schedule your work, you have to confront how long those tasks will actually take in the broader context of your day. Are you going to make a presentation from scratch, draft a blog post, build a financial model between the five hours of meetings you have that day? Probably not.

When you actually set aside time on your calendar for these tasks, you commit to less, but get more done.

3. Time-blocking minimizes context-switching

When you get distracted while working, it's difficult to return to the task at hand. In many instances, you have to go through the process of figuring what to work on all over again – look at your to-do's, chats, and emails. This is why context switching is so disastrous for productivity.

When you time-block, not only are you more productive because you have a strong default about how you should be spending your time, but you also have an artifact on your calendar to look back at that tells you what you were working on before you got distracted, so you don't have to go through the process of deciding what to do all over again.

4. Time-blocking helps you play defense with your calendar

Setting aside time for tasks on your calendar is a socially-acceptable way to let people know that the meetings they want to add to you have a tangible cost β€” the work you would have gotten done if they had not scheduled the meeting. In this way, time-blocking reduces the time you spend in non-essential meetings.

5. Time blocking allows you to reflect on your priorities

After you have finished a week of scheduled work, you can conveniently go back and look at how you actually spent your time. Did you allocate your time in accordance with your priorities? Did you spend too much time responding to emails or preparing for non-essential meetings?

Reflecting on how you spend your time can help you make better plans for the future by pushing you to ensure that you set aside time for your highest-priority tasks.

Some tips to get you started

Tip 1: Schedule in advance

On a Monday morning, having a plan of attack for your week can help you get execute faster, gain momentum, and get more done. Try scheduling next week’s work on a Friday afternoon, while you’re still in the work mindset, but are likely not going to start any big work before the weekend kicks off.

Tip 2: Account for wasted time

wasted time on calendar

As we’ve discussed, scheduling your tasks helps you confront how long your tasks will actually take, and plan more realistically as a result.

As such, it’s important that the available slots on your calendar reflect time you can actually spend executing. Try blocking off times where you know you can’t get good work done, like your commute, lunch, and any breaks you want to take throughout the day.

Tip 3: Get specific

specific time slots

Humans hate ambiguity. When given a choice between a high-impact, but ambiguous task (roadmap proposal, for example), and a low-impact, but clear one (respond to an email), most people will choose the latter.

The more specific (less ambiguous) the tasks that you schedule are, the more likely it is that you’ll actually complete them.

Tip 4: Don’t overcommit

As we’ve already discussed, task lists become unmanageable when you overcommit. Schedules are no different. You should budget more time than you think you need for a specific task in service of building a realistic plan.

Tip 5: Reflect and adjust intermittently

At the end of the week, looking back on how you spent your time that week helps you figure out if you’re allocating your time in accordance with your priorities. If you notice that you aren’t spending time on high-priority items or initiatives, you should adjust your plan for the next week to make sure you set aside more time for those items.

Our process at Monolist?

At Monolist, we've built time-blocking directly into our app.

dragging task onto calendar

First, we aggregate all of our important alerts, tasks, and pull requests into one list. After that, you can simply drag-and-drop the task directly onto your calendar to set aside time to work on that task.

The best part? If you don't complete the task, it'll add it back to your calendar the next day so you don't lose track!

Want to try it out? You can do so for free here.

Want to join our mailing list? Check it out here.

Top comments (6)

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httpspauline profile image
Pauline

This is very insightful, thanks for sharing Scott! I especially like your point about being able to look back at how you've spent your time and checking whether your priorities are getting the time and attention they deserve. I have a tendency to do everything at the same time (even though I am fully aware it totally kills my productivity) and have been trying to break this habit for a while now, I'm definitely going to try out time-blocking. πŸ™ŒπŸ»

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scahhht profile image
Scott White Author

Thanks, Pauline πŸ™. Glad it was helpful!

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maestromac profile image
Mac Siri

Awesome post! This is really motivating me to give time-blocking a try.

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stephencweiss profile image
Stephen Charles Weiss

Nice article Scott! I’m a huge fan of time blocking. Been doing it (on and off) for several years and Monolist looks fantastic!

Just wondering - any roadmap for O365 integration?

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scahhht profile image
Scott White Author

We do! If you're open to it, I'd love to understand a little bit more about your use-case. my email is scott at monolist dot co if you're open to chatting briefly!

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