In the quest to be more productive, it seems there’s no end to the number of new tools and apps that keep appearing. But when it comes to productivity, tech can only take us so far.
Instead, we need to understand the ways in which we actually work best. This involves making purposeful changes to our behavior, and that’s where time management techniques like time blocking come in.
What is time blocking?
Time blocking is one of the most popular time management techniques around. It involves scheduling your day into set units, and allotting a finite portion of time to work on specific tasks. It aims to reduce context switching and procrastination, lock focus, provide control over our workloads and help us protect space for the work that’s most important.
While time blocking can seem deceptively simple, it isn’t always the silver bullet it’s made out to be. If you’re wondering why time blocking doesn’t work for you, here’s what you need to know.
Why time blocking so often fails
First, what are the reasons why time blocking doesn’t work for some people?
1. You don’t know what you need to prioritize
In order to time block, you need to know what to prioritize. When allocating tasks to units of time, you should always prioritize what’s most important to you – not what’s most urgent. Think about the tasks and projects that have the most value, or feel most meaningful.
If you’re unsure which tasks are most important, you can try using the time management matrix. The importance of prioritization can’t be minimized, and without it it’s easy to focus on what’s urgent yet inconsequential.
2. You don’t know when you’re most productive
Once you know what to prioritize, you can then schedule your highest-priority tasks for when you’re most productive. The beauty of time blocking is that it’s adaptable to our own individual productive habits – but if you don’t know when you work at your peak, you’ll be at a disadvantage.
If you’re a morning person, scheduling your most important task first thing means you’ll be working at your best – plus, it allows you to focus on it with a fresh mind. But if you don't reach full steam until the afternoon, you might want to schedule your most important tasks for after lunch, and fill your mornings with shallower tasks.
3. You don’t group meetings
Meetings can be great ways to collaborate. But they can also be time consuming and unproductive, and poorly scheduled meetings are another reason why time blocking doesn’t work. If you only have half an hour between meetings, it’s not long enough to get stuck into any deep work, and to fill the time, many of us start context switching, which builds up an attention residue.
The best way to avoid these pitfalls is to group meetings together. Once you group meetings together, you can then look at ways to stop them overrunning and ensure they’re always productive.
4. Your calendar is too full
Another reason time blocking might not be working for you is because your calendar is just too busy. To successfully time block you need to know that your schedule is achievable and your allotted time blocks for each task are realistic.
The best way to ensure your calendar isn’t too full is to track your time using an automatic tracker like Timely. Once you know where all your time’s going, you get insight into the ways you work, and can set challenging but realistic new time allowances for each task.
5. You forget to block off personal time
Forgetting to block off personal time is a common reason why time blocking doesn’t work – as when you stop for an unscheduled break, your schedule gets pushed back and things won’t go to plan.
Human beings are not machines, and we need to give our brains time to relax and reboot throughout the day. Taking effective work breaks can boost motivation and creativity, and it’s essential if we want to stay focused and alert.
6. You haven’t worked in flexible time
No matter how smart your time blocking schedule may be, you still need to factor in that things don’t always go to plan – whether it’s an unavoidable distraction, the internet going down or having to deal with a personal issue.
A lack of flexibility can be another reason why time blocking doesn’t work, so make sure you give yourself an extra half hour to deal with the unexpected.
7. You’re not minimizing distractions
Time blocking is a great way to protect yourself against distraction – but it requires willpower, too. In our hyper-connected world, distractions are all around – whether it’s people, chat apps or the lure of the internet – and it’s impossible to understate the harm distractions do to your productivity.
If you don’t take steps to minimize distractions, time blocking may not work for you – as when you return to your task you’ll find it hard to focus and will fall behind schedule. That’s where apps that help you block out distractions can come in handy.
8. Sometimes time blocking just isn’t for you
A final reason why time blocking doesn’t work for you is simply that it isn’t for you.
And that’s okay.
Even if you optimize your approach to time blocking, it just might not be your style – and there’s certainly no one-size-fits all approach when it comes to time management.
If a strategy doesn’t feel productive or right for you, there’s no point sticking to it doggedly – especially when there are many other productivity techniques to try.
What to try when time blocking doesn’t work for you
Creating a structured schedule for your work is vital for actually finishing what you intend to – plus, it protects space for important work, prevents one task from taking over your day and stops you from context switching and multitasking.
Having said that, time blocking doesn’t work for everyone, and for some, trying to schedule every moment of the day can lead to more stress. Luckily, there are plenty of other productivity techniques you can try – the four we’ve listed below are just a few of our favorites here at Timely.
1. Task batching
Task batching means grouping similar low-value tasks together and completing them in one single stint. A lot of people try to do this, but because distractions are everywhere, it’s easier said than done!
Task batching is about limiting context switching and procrastination, and creating a more focused workflow that gets shallow work done quickly.
2. Day theming
Day theming is a more advanced version of task batching. Instead of grouping similar shallow tasks together and working on them until they’re done, day theming is used for more complex projects, and involves dedicating whole days to specific initiatives – e.g. Mondays could be for marketing, Tuesdays could be for content development, etc.
3. The 80/20 rule
The 80 20 rule encourages us to focus on our highest-value work. It works on the belief that 80% of all of our output stems from only 20% of our efforts, so identifying and prioritizing which tasks provide the highest return is vital for this rule to work. By placing value on the work that’s truly important, we’ll get more meaning and satisfaction from our day.
4. Deep work
Deep work means reaching a state of intense focus for periods of time – usually 90 minutes, as research shows that our brain works at its peak for this duration before dropping off. When you reach this type of flow state, you’re able to concentrate fully on the task at hand, allowing you to push your brain to its limit.
So many time management techniques, so little time
It isn’t hard to see why so many of us struggle with time management at work. While the internet is chock-full of time management tips and techniques, there are also endless outlets for distraction at our disposal. This makes it hard to stay on task and focused, and compounds our time management struggles.
But whether we’re looking to better manage our capacity, cut down on time spent on admin, eliminate redundant meetings or reduce distractions, the right technology is out there. If you’re intentional about using the right tools and cutting down on bad working habits, time management will become far less of a mental battle for you.