Just the sound of the phrase “time blocking” can stress some people out. Sure, it may be the ultimate key to becoming more productive, but it can seem intimidating.
While the act of scheduling out every minute of your day may seem bananas, you’d be surprised at how easy and rewarding it really is. People who time block rarely go back to past planning habits.
If you’re interested in trying one of the most popular planning methods out there, we’ve created a simple guide to help you understand the process—and start on the road to a more productive you.
A short history and who’s who of time blocking
In project management, time blocking is referred to as timeboxing. The process of setting firm time limits around tasks has been used by professional planners and managers for a long time, but the method has only been popularized in mainstream culture in the past few years.
Today, websites from Nasdaq.org to An Organized Life promote time blocking and its benefits. It’s no wonder they rave about it when paragons of productivity like entrepreneur Elon Musk, successful blogger Abby Lawson, and time management expert Kevin Kruse religiously use the method.
The benefits of time blocking
Parkinson's law claims that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” If you’ve ever noticed that a report can take two hours to complete if you’re in a rush but five days if you’ve got nothing else to do, you have had first-hand experience with Parkinson’s law.
Time blocking tries to counter that phenomenon. When you give yourself clear deadlines for activities, you’ll be far more likely to complete tasks at a reasonable pace. Knowing that you’re on a schedule will help you commit to avoiding distractions or straying from important tasks.
It also reduces decision fatigue. Without having to decide what projects to tackle when, you’ll be able to focus on the challenges ahead instead of deciding when to take them on.
How to prepare for your new time-blocking habit
If you’re new to time blocking, you might want to ease into it before you jump in the deep end—especially if you aren’t a big planner in the first place.
Write to-do lists. If you don’t usually write to-do lists, you’ll need to get in the habit of doing so. Practice jotting down detailed to-do lists each morning before beginning work, crossing off items during the day, and moving unfinished tasks to tomorrow’s list.
Learn how to prioritize. Once you get to-do lists under your belt, you’ll need to master the art of prioritizing. Arrange your tasks into three categories: top priority projects, important tasks, and errands.
Figure out when you’re the most productive. During a typical workday, record the times you feel the most clear-minded and energetic. Note when you feel tired and foggy, too. Knowing when you should tackle your most difficult projects will be key to successful time blocking.
Get the right tools. While you can certainly record your schedule in your web calendar or sketch it out in your graph notepad or dotted notebook, you might get better results if you invest in time blocking-specific tools. For example, Portage’s productivity planner provides specific space for time blocking—and a to-do list, among other extras.
The process of time blocking
You’ve perfected your prioritized to-do lists, purchased a productivity planner, and now it’s time to start time blocking. We recommend a big cup of coffee before your first try.
Step One: Identify your day’s non-negotiable events, like meetings, presentations, appointments, and classes. Create a box around each period of time that these events will consume, just like you would mark a meeting. Don’t forget to record travel or preparation time if necessary.
Step Two: Take your top priority tasks and block out time during the most productive part of the day. For many of us, it’s the sweet spot after that first cup of coffee and before lunch.
Step Three: Fill in the rest of your work day with less important or administrative tasks.
Finally, reward yourself with another cup of coffee. You’ve time-blocked your first day!
Don’t schedule in too many tasks. Don’t overburden your schedule; that is the fastest way you will fail. Give yourself reasonable time limits, too. In general, it helps to brainstorm how long you think a task will take, then add thirty minutes to an hour of time for wiggle room.
Stay flexible. It’s usually best if you try to keep to the schedule you have created for yourself, but if you have a job that involves a lot of last-minute projects, some flexibility may be called for. If that’s the case, sketch out your schedule in pencil or erasable pen.
Use colors. To ensure your separate projects are clearly defined and to add a little life to your planner, throw in some color coding. You don’t need fancy tools like Tombows—any office highlighters will do.
Schedule out your weekends. Once you’ve made your workdays about a million times more productive, it’s time to work on your weekends. Schedule plenty of time for relaxing, but reserve a couple of hours for those side projects and hobbies, too.