Have you ever tried time blocking to manage your time?
Time blocking is a strategy where you break up your day (or week) into blocks of time (usually half-hour or one-hour blocks). You then allocate a specific task to each block and work on only that one task during that timeframe.
Essentially, it’s creating a schedule so that you can get the important things done.
Time blocking has lots of great benefits, but it can have its challenges too.
If you find sticking to a schedule challenging, take a look at these tips to help make time blocking work for you.
Why is time blocking helpful?
(i) It keeps you focused
The big upside of time blocking is that it helps you to stay focused on the task that you actually need to be doing right now.
Like many of us, I work at home. I love being able to do this for so many reasons, but of course it has some downsides too.
For one, there is always something that needs doing.
Whether it’s putting on a load of laundry, emptying the dishwasher, or planning what’s for dinner, at any one time there are a number of things trying to pull me away from what I’m trying to focus on.
I get that script running through my head “if I don’t do it now while I’m thinking of it, it’ll never get done”.
Time blocking can give your reassurance that yes, it will get done. Just not right now at this very minute.
It gives you permission to focus on what’s in front of you with the knowledge that the other things you need to do will get done too.
Blocking your time also makes it easier to overcome procrastination.
When the time comes to do the task you can’t tell yourself you’ll do it later – because you can see in your schedule that “later” has been allocated to something else. You need to do that thing now.
(ii) It keeps you motivated
Being able to see your schedule in front of you, with time allocated for all the important items and activites that day can give you a real motivational boost.
You can see what you will achieve, and you’ll know by the end of the day that you will have made progress.
(iii) It helps you to feel accomplished instead of defeated
Time blocking also helps you to be realistic about what you can and can’t achieve in a day, or a week.
When you are realistic about allocating tasks to the time you have available to you you’ll know what you can achieve.
So instead of having unrealistic ideas about what you can do, and then feeling defeated when you are not able to meet them, you can celebrate what you do achieve.
You’ll know you will have done the best you can in the time you have available to you.
(iv) It gives you moments of pause throughout your day
Time blocking isn’t about squeezing as much as possible into your day. It’s about using your time wisely, including taking pauses or having breaks throughout the day.
Time blocking makes it easier to take a pause between tasks, activities and appointments because it allows you to see the natural transitions in your day.
You can then build in white space around them for you to stop, take a breath, and gather your thoughts.
Read more: How a Little Pause Can Have a Big Impact
(v) You can build in self-care
Time-blocking is a great way to ensure that you take care of yourself.
You can build in time for a proper lunch-break, a walk, a stretch, or a quiet cup of tea. You could also schedule time in the evening to unwind with a book, a favourtite TV show, or a phone call to a friend.
Creating the intention, and then seeing it on your schedule, makes it’s so much easier to actually carry it through.
Why time blocking can be challenging
The benefits of time blocking aren’t always instant.
It can take a bit of tweaking to get your schedule to a place where it is both realistic and flexible enough to work for you consistently.
Here are some of the challenges you may come across:
1. Your day doesn’t pan out in the way that you schedule it
It’s fair to say that there will be times when your schedule for the day goes out the window.
This could happen for a couple of reasons…
a) Unexpected things happen
Unexpected things don’t happen every day – if they did they wouldn’t be unexpected, right? So when they do happen, accept that they couldn’t be planned for and don’t be hard on yourself or expect schedule miracles.
There will be times when people get sick, cars or appliances break down, there is major transport disruption, or an extreme weather event.
Kids, pets, and other caring responsibilities mean that there will be times where you’ll be needed, right there and then, regardless of what your schedule says.
Accept that you’ll need to make some adjustments or ditch the day’s schedule entirely.
Remember the purpose of time blocking is to keep you focused and on track and to increase the chances of getting the important things done. It helps you to take control of what you can control.
If emergencies or urgent things crop up that are beyond your control you don’t need to feel guilty about ditching your schedule to deal with them.
For now, the emergency is the important thing.
Tomorrow is a new day, and you can adjust your schedule accordingly.
b) You are not realistic about how long things take
When you first start time blocking you may find that your expectations of how much you can achieve, or estimations about how long (or not so long) things take are way off.
If you’ve underestimated the time things take it’ll throw your schedule out and can have a knock-on effect throughout your whole day.
That’s okay – it’s a learning experience.
Start paying attention to how long things really take (not how long you wish they would take), and make adjustments to your schedule.
2. You find it restrictive
Blocking large swathes of time can feel restrictive, particularly if you value spontaneity. What if you get an invitation to do something fun but your schedule says you should be doing laundry, or answering emails?
Here’s the thing. There is no rule to say you can’t move things around. Your schedule can be flexible when you need it to be.
Having a schedule means you’ll know what you’ve done, and what still needs to be done. You can move things around, or substitute one thing for another with the reassurance that important things won’t get overlooked or forgotten. They’ll be done at a different time.
3. You want to wait until you “feel like it” to do a task
It can be easy to procrastinate on a task by telling ourselves that we just don’t feel like it when it comes up on our schedule – and that we’ll wait until we feel do like it to get it done.
It’s okay to feel resistant or uncomfortable about doing a task. Particularly those that you see as either boring or challenging.
Starting is quite often the hardest part. Acknowledge your feelings, but don’t use them as an excuse to ignore the task, or to procrastinate.
Try setting a timer for a short amount of time, say for 20-25 minutes, and just get started.
Time Blocking Tips
When creating your time block schedule start by blocking personal time out at the beginning at end of each day. Use this time to prioritize quiet time, family time, down-time, relaxation, and self-care.
Then add in time for regular breaks.
Next, consider your most important priority for the day or week. What will make you feel the most accomplished?
Schedule these tasks to the beginning of the day or the week so if things do go off-track you will be more likely to have accomplished the most important things for you.
Then schedule tasks to the remaining time blocks in your day.
It can be helpful to have an overflow day each week where you can tackle the tasks that you weren’t able to get to, or complete during the other days.
Consider task batching or day-theming strategies for tackling your tasks.
Task batching is where you group similar tasks together and tackle them at the same time. For example allocating two blocks of 20 minutes to go through your email, rather than checking it every 10 minutes. You could also batch paperwork filing, meal prep, or checking social media.
Day theming is similar to task batching, but you dedicate specific days to one type of task. For example, one day for cleaning, one for laundry, one for meal planning, prep, or shopping.
This doesn’t necessarily mean this is the only thing you do on those days, but it the focus of most of the time blocks that you have allocated to that day.
What’s the best way to time block?
There is no one right way to time block, so experiment to find the best way for you.
Be realistic, and forgiving, and don’t expect perfection.
Have an overall aim for your day or week. Revisit it each day and adjust your schedule according to the circumstances that day.
Set yourself up to succeed, but be kind to yourself if unexpected things happen.