Have you ever felt that you just don’t have enough time to finish your work? Now that we have more distractions; smartphones, meetings, and for those who work from home – kids, beds, and TVs – it is hard to manage time effectively.
I had the same problem. I was constantly distracted by my iPhone next to me, and if I lost sight of the clock, I’d spend hours browsing the Internet. I was frustrated, to say the least. As a founder, every day counts.
I researched methods for more effective time management and found that time blocking was not only the most productive but also easy enough to practice daily.
What is time-blocking?
Time-blocking (also known as time-boxing) is a productivity strategy where you reserve time blocks throughout the day and allocate specific tasks to each block for deep, focused work.
Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work, popularized the method. Side note: regular readers of our blog will notice Cal’s made a big impact on how we work as a team.
Why should you practice time blocking?
According to Cal Newport, "a 40 hour time blocked work-week produces the same amount of output as a 60+ hour work week pursued without structure."1
When it comes to productivity, the output matters more than the input. You should optimize to do more with less time.
Time blocking can help you do that; with 40 hours a week you can accomplish many things when spent efficiently. It is a powerful method for you to be more intentional about where you spend your time.
How to Time Block (simple steps)
Here’s how you can start time-blocking:
1. Plan ahead.
Invest 1-20 minutes each night planning tomorrow’s schedule. If you’re not sure what to do tomorrow, check your to-do list, email, or messages from your co-workers to see what needs to be done tomorrow. Then, prioritize by allocating time for each task throughout the day. Estimate how long each task will take, and block off a chunk of your schedule for each one..
2. Don't worry about your schedule being messy.
As you spend your day, you’ll notice it’s pretty hard to stick to the time-blocked schedule you planned the day before. So long as you update your schedule as the day progresses, you’re fine.
You can have more flexibility if you let your blocks move around throughout the day.
Let’s say you blocked 1:30 pm to 3 pm, but at 1:00 pm you received a request that you will have to work on right away for an hour. What you’ll do is reschedule the time block to be from 3 pm to 4:30 pm.
If you’re not used to time-blocking, you’ll likely end up adjusting blocked hours due to ad-hoc tasks or meetings. Most people give up time-blocking because they feel guilty that they couldn’t stick to the original plan. So they say, “Plans are made to be broken”.
I experienced the guilt too. But I chose to ignore it and kept going. After a few days, I realized that sticking to the schedule gets a lot easier. I also felt much more confident about accomplishing what I have planned. Ignore the initial guilt and keep going. You’ll feel good about yourself soon.
Here's another quick tip: reserve 10-15 minutes in between each block to have some room to make changes.
3. Some people argue that time blocking is too rigid for them to be flexible.
I disagree. Time blocks can be flexible. For example, if you want an open calendar so your co-workers can send you meeting requests, you can create an “open block” hour(s).
Personally, I reserve a two-hour block from 5 pm to 7 pm as an open time on my calendar. My co-workers know I am available for a chat/discussion during this time. In most cases you can stay flexible by scheduling such “open blocks.”
Tools that help you time block
Cal Newport released a timeblocking notebook last month. You can try his notebook out to help manage your time! I personally prefer keeping my plans and notes digitally, so I use Roam instead.
If you’re a digital person like me, try planning your day with a note app. Any app that lets you create bullet points, texts, and to-do items will do—my recommendation: Apple Note, Bear, Roam, and Dynalist.
Here's how I'm using a note app to plan my day:
I write time blocks and add tasks underneath each block. I start my day reviewing the plan, and from time to time I would come back to this page and see what’s on my plate for the rest of the day. Whenever I have to change my schedule, I move the bullet points around.
I found using calendar apps helpful too. Marc Andreessen does this; simply add blocked hours to your schedule and move them around as the day goes by. This will show your coworkers that you prefer not to be disturbed during block hours. For this to work, you'll want a digital calendar such as Google Calendar or Apple Calendar.
You want to manage time, not let it manage you. Without a structured way to spend your day, you will not be able to complete tasks on time. And no structure means no priorities – you’ll often end up spending hours on trivial things.
Plan ahead of your day and budget against time. At first, your estimation might be off. But keep going, and it will become more accurate.
The time blocking method is one of the very few productivity methods that is effective and simple enough to be practiced daily. A deep life is a good life; time-blocking will free you from distractions and help you live a deep life!