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Time Blocking Method: A Step-by-Step Guide for Busy Leaders

To-do list looking daunting? Consider learning about different time blocking methods to gain control over your calendar and hectic work day.

Has your to-do list become absolute chaos? The answer is simple: Time blocking. The time blocking method has become an increasingly popular time management technique. While we hear lots of talk about placing blocks of time in our calendars, often we don’t fully understand the details of why this productivity method is so effective. Whether you are working on a specific task or planning long-term goals, when it’s time to complete your tasks, dedicating chunks of time to stay focused is going to be extremely beneficial for your productivity and organization. 

Because there are many blocking methods and ways to use time blocking, this article will cover what time blocking is, types of time blocking, how to start time blocking, why this productivity method is effective and some common mistakes to avoid. 

What is time blocking? 

Time blocking is a time management method that is meant for individuals to organize their workday into specific blocks of time. Each block is dedicated to completing a specific task, with the intention for the individual to stay focused on that task exclusively. Rather than an open-ended to-do list, time blocking allows you to focus on a concrete schedule so that there’s no question as to what you should prioritize each day, and when. In order to create your time blocks, create your task list in advance and make sure you do your own weekly review prior to the week ahead. This way, you know what’s coming up, what needs adjusting, and what needs to get done. 

Types of time blocking 

1 Task batching 

Task batching means grouping similar and smaller tasks together so that you can complete them all in the same timeframe. When you group tasks like this, you end up limiting the variability of your tasks and switching between different responsibilities throughout the day. Not only is this going to save valuable time but it’s also going to make you more productive and more effective. A great example is that instead of checking your email every 10 minutes, you can block off a few 20-minute blocks throughout the day.

2 Day theming 

For those who have many areas of responsibility competing for their time and attention, day theming is another time blocking method that may be effective for you. Rather than setting aside time blocks for each area of responsibility that you need to focus on, you can choose a theme for each day so that you can dedicate a full day to that set of particular tasks. This is a more extreme version of task batching where you compile all tasks that have to do with one area of the business for each day. For example, leaders can choose a day to focus on finance, another day to focus on marketing, and another day to really look at strategy or operations-related tasks. 

3 Timeboxing 

Timeboxing is another time blocking method that suggests individuals to impose a limit on how much time you dedicate to any particular task. These tasks can be broken down into smaller tasks such as finishing a first draft of a document between 8:00- 10:00 AM, editing the document between 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM, having lunch between 12:00 PM and 1:00 PM and then completing the document between 1:00 PM and 2:00 PM. You might plan to get approval on the document between 2:00 PM and 3:00 PM and then send the final version of the document between 3:00 PM and 4:00 PM. These timeboxes force you to work efficiently because you only have a limited amount of time to complete your task. 

Example of calendar time blocking

How to start time blocking 

1 Make a list of your top priorities 

In order to begin time blocking, you need to determine why you are blocking time in the first place. Whether it’s because you want to reduce the time you spend on emails, because you want more time for focused work or because you never leave work on time, understand why you’re using this productivity method. Whatever your reason, knowing your high-level priorities inside and out is going to decide what makes it onto your schedule for that day and determine how you time block your day. 

Pro tip

Use a meeting management tool like Fellow to keep track of all your action items and prioritize what is important.

Action Items Feature Fellow

2 Create a template for your day 

Creating a template for your day doesn’t just mean time blocking your work responsibilities. To avoid burnout and to feel satisfied at work, you also need to make time for some personal time blocks. Set some time aside for you to take a coffee break with a colleague, have lunch and make time for family or friends after work as well. Once you’ve set out these important blocks of time, you can begin creating your professional time blocks. These tasks are just as important as what you do during your workday. 

3 Set aside time for deep work and breaks 

Once you’ve blocked some personal time, which will actually make you more productive in your job, you can take the same approach to your business responsibilities. With these breaks scheduled, you can begin to put blocks into your calendar for focused work. Deep work is focused work such as writing, designing, or coding where you want to be able to work without distractions for a few hours. It’s a good idea to set aside a few hours for this deep work but be careful blocking an entire day for these kinds of tasks; often, this becomes counterproductive. Shallow work is moreso a reactive task such as an email or a phone call. 

4 Add blocks for reactive tasks 

Be careful not to be overly optimistic about the time that you have. Instead, be realistic and overshoot the amount of time that you may need to complete tasks. Remember to add blocks for reactive tasks, which are answering impromptu emails, phone calls, instant messages, or last minute meeting invites. Time blocking remains valuable because you decide when to do specific tasks, instead of letting your day and reactive tasks determine when you focus on those responsibilities. 

Why is time blocking so effective? 

Time blocking is really effective for a few different reasons. This productivity method makes you aware of how you spend your time. Because time management isn’t always easy, especially for those of us who feel pulled in many different directions, time-blocking forces you to confront your priorities and keep a solid focus. 

It also counteracts perfectionism because you don’t have the extra time to continue tweaking and going over your deliverables. It can be really tough to know when an open-ended project is completed, especially if you have perfectionistic tendencies. Time blocking gives you time limits that you need to respect. 

Time blocking is also effective because it helps you follow through on your goals. The idea here is that concrete plans help people follow through on their true intentions. Scheduling your tasks and goals simply makes you more likely to follow through. 

Common mistakes and how to avoid them 

1 Underestimating how much time a task will take

The most common mistake in time blocking is underestimating how much time you need to complete a task. Choose to block more time than you think you’ll need to complete a task so that you alleviate some pressure and stress from your day. Overshooting allows you to use any leftover time to begin on other important responsibilities so that you are making use of your valuable time. For subsequent tasks, you can even create “conditional blocks” that you can tap into if you end up falling behind. 

2 Being too rigid

Another mistake is being too rigid with your plans. As leaders, we know that often unforeseen responsibilities pop up, and we’ve got to deal with them head-on. The purpose of time blocking is to focus your energy on a specific responsibility, not to rigidly follow a schedule that you are unable to deviate from. It’s a good idea to look at your time blocks as a challenge you’d like to complete, but remember that they have flexibility. You should in no way punish yourself if and when you fall short from completing what you thought you might. 

3 Over-scheduling certain blocks

While leisure breaks are really important, don’t take advantage of them. Overscheduling personal time can actually be counterproductive. The longer you’re away from your busy schedule, the more you’ll worry about it, which means you may not actually feel present during your leisure time, or even enjoy it. Shorter breaks allow you to fully disconnect and spend that time however you’d like, without feeling guilty and constantly checking the clock. Personal time spent is more enjoyable when it breaks up focused spurts of work a couple of times throughout the day. 

Parting advice 

When you learn to time block effectively, you take control of your day by focusing on your most pressing priorities, while also denying yourself the tendency to procrastinate. While this method of productivity may take some practice, some trial and error, once you find the time blocking technique that works best for you, you’ll notice that you’re being more productive, more effective and less stressed about your deadlines. Time blocking allows you to lead by example with your team and sets a great precedent of the business etiquette that you would like to see in others. 

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Kate Dagher

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