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What is time blocking and does it work?

Written 19 November, 2018, 4 minutes to read

Time blocking could just be the answer to your productivity problems. In our era of hyper-connectivity, it’s too easy to get distracted or feel overwhelmed by the sheer length of your to-do list. But applying time blocking to the way you approach your workload, could seriously boost your efficiency while stabilizing the work-based anxieties that hold your productivity back. It’s no wonder why some of the busiest people on Earth – Bill Gates and Elon Musk included – use the method to get work done.

What is time blocking?

Time blocking is a time management method that schedules your day into set, controlled units. Finite portions of time are pre-planned for specific tasks, so that you can go about your work day without interruptions or distractions. Instead of simply making a plan a to-do list and simply ploughing through, time blocking maps out dedicated controlled spaces for your work.

The trick is to keep time blocks as small as possible. Gates and Musk both go for five-minute time blocks for meetings and email, but you can also set more generous timeframes for more conceptual work: like limiting yourself to 25 minutes to research, plan and write the first draft of a blog article.

The idea of limiting the time you spend on tasks is a direct response to the idea of Parkinson’s law, which suggests that work expands to fill the time available to complete it. The more strict with the time we plan to spend on a task, the more focused and results-driven it will be – or so the time blocking theory argues.

What are the benefits of time blocking?

When practiced strictly, time blocking can help you manage your time far more effectively. By dedicating a specific amount of time to one task, you aren’t allowed to focus on anything else. It allows you to determine where you’re being idealistic with your schedule and makes it easier to say “no” to things that aren’t a real priority.

Time blocking also helps you stay on track. You know that if you delve into Twitter or web browsing you’ll fall behind schedule – and then you’ll either have to work longer, or things just won’t get done. No matter how helpful you might think making a to-do list is, research suggests that around 41% of them are never actually completed. Time blocking prevents you from adding to that statistic!

Humans have a tendency to remember what we haven’t done, as opposed to what we have: this is called the Zeigarnik effect, and it can lead to anxiety, tension, and difficulty sleeping. But as long as your tasks are consigned into set dates, times and lengths, we can feel stable with knowledge that everything is in its rightful place. Those incomplete tasks on your list won’t even enter your head.

Will time blocking work for you?

Pre-planning your entire day into a strict time regimen can seem a bit unnatural or even undesirable. But it could provide the productive structure and focus you’ve been looking for, and its mechanical approach is precisely why people find it to be so useful. The best way to figure out how time blocking could work for you is to consider the following:

  • Recognize your priorities: Which of your tasks are most important for that day? Find out when you’re most productive and schedule your ‘main’ task of the day for that time; often doing this first thing in morning helps, as it gets the hardest task out of the way and allows you to focus on it with a fresh, renewed mind.

  • Consider how long you spend on different tasks: Then work out if you actually need that time, or whether you actually want to spend that much time doing it. Meetings are notorious time wasters – breaks between meetings essentially preclude any actual productive achievement in that time. So bunch unproductive tasks together and be frank about how much of your time different tasks should be entitled to.

  • Schedule according to your own working preferences: The beauty of time blocking is that you can adapt it to your particular productive habits. Remember to block out your breaks and try to keep a spare half hour for flexibility – just in case something unavoidable comes up that you have to respond to.

What tools do you need for time blocking?

You obviously don’t want to have to manage a ton of extra tools, but these choice three will help keep time blocking simple and effective:

Timely

The first fully automatic time tracker, Timely lets you easily plan time blocks ahead for weeks at a time and then automatically track how your days actually pan out. By tracking everything you do, you get a whole host of insights about the way you work, from time drains and broken workflows to interruptions and distractions. You can’t be sure time blocking is working for you or even know how long you realistically need for a given task without it.

Plan

The beauty of this app lies in its simplicity. Merging a to-do list with a calendar, and with an easy-to-use user interface, it’s a great tool if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to plan your working day. You can drag tasks from your to-do list and place them into your calendar, and gain understanding into how long you’re spending per task.

Week Plan

If you find prioritizing a challenge, this app might be the time blocking tool for you. You can view your schedule by day, week or month, and use the smart planning capabilities of Week Plan to help you create your goals. With an inbuilt timer, it’s also easy to keep track of your time and your progress – although there will be some manual management involved.

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