For a couple of months, I have been interviewing successful people to understand their tips and tricks to manage their time better. During these discussions, a common practice emerged. When they have to manage an important task, they usually book some time in their calendar to work on it.
I decided to investigate further and discovered that many successful productivity experts, entrepreneurs and CEO like Elon Musk and Bill Gates use the blocking or time boxing technique.
What is time blocking?
Time blocking is a time management technique, which consists in blocking slots in your calendar to work on a specific task or activity.
To time block, you schedule 30 to 60 minutes long meetings in your calendar (only inviting yourself).
Some experts manage their calendar up to a very small-time unit. Elon Musk for example plans his day out in five-minute increments.
Time blocking can be used to wrap up together small tasks (like replying to an email, reading another important one or reading a memo), but time blocking takes all its strength when it is allocated to a single task requiring a high level of concentration.
The Five advantages of Time Blocking
This method will help you to program your mind to:
Focus on one task at a time. By doing so, you will get rid of the multitasking. Since you know that you will work on a specific topic, you will accept less distraction (from others and also from yourself) and you will remain focus on the task you are doing.
'' Work expands to fill the time available for its completion''
Tackle the Parkinson rule: We know that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. Since you have an end in mind, and actually in your calendar, you won’t let the time you spend on a task grow endlessly.
Prevent procrastination: The worst thing you can do when considering the time management is procrastinating. The problem is that we all have a tendency to procrastinate when we don’t have something concrete to do. Consider the time you are back home and you don’t have to book your next holidays or register your daughter to her activity for the next term. You turn on Netflix and only realize when you start yawning that you have been watching for 3 hours.
Accomplish more: By scheduling slots to work on the things important to you and by having the discipline to respect them, you will accomplish a more than what you usually do. The beauty of this is that you will also accomplish those things faster.
Reduces stress: Since you know that tasks are booked in your calendar and you have allocated time to manage them, not only you won’t feel that your calendar is dictating your life but also you will feel less stressed by approaching deadlines.
Time blocking difficulty
There is not one single time management rule that works for everyone. The length needed to complete the tasks and the time of the day to perform those tasks will be different for everybody and you will need to remain agile and to experiment before finding your right setup.
Long concentration will consume more energy and you will likely feel tired if you schedule too many consecutive blocks. For this reason, I would recommend for the beginner to only book 4 daily slots of 30 minutes in their calendar: 2 in the morning, 2 in the afternoon.
How does it work?
Step 1: Plan
When a task is urgent and important, it usually doesn’t require you to schedule in your calendar. When there is a fire in your house, you won’t plan to put the fire out the next day, you do it right away.
The tasks you need to schedule in your calendar are the important and non urgent ones. You can find more on how to find your important tasks in this dedicated article on Eisenhower Matrix Here
Step 2: Block
Block four slots of 30 minutes in your calendar, two in the morning, two in the afternoon. For the beginner, I recommend not to block more time in a single day. You can block these four slots for each day of the week.
Tips: Don’t block two consecutive back to back time blocks. You should take a short break between 2 sessions to let some time to your brain to recover.
Step 3: Execute
You must have everything ready before you start your block. For example, if you schedule a review of a memo in a 30 minutes block, make sure the memo is ready, either open on your desktop or inserted as an attachment in the meeting invite of the time block. You don’t want to spend your block to look for the information you need to complete the task.
Your blocks have been scheduled in your calendar; you just have to execute the tasks you have selected accordingly. If at the end of the block, the task appears to be longer than expected, schedule a new time block to finish it.
I also recommend using a timer to keep track of the time. I personally tried this Pomodoro tracker for a long time and it works very well.
Tips: The main factor of distraction in the workplace are emails and communication apps pop up. I recommend to turn off all sort of the notifications on your desktop, and stop reading your emails in real time. Instead, use one of the blocks to read them. I also recommend to put your phone in your drawer during your time blocks.
Step 4: Review
This is normal that you have difficulty to assess how long a task will take. This is something you will learn. Regular review will help you to know how long each sort of task takes.
At the end of the block, if the task is not completed, just schedule another block. In reality, you will probably prefer to use the next available block. This is perfectly fine, just expect to play a little bit of Tetris since this means that you will have to reschedule a few blocks.
At the end of the week, review your calendar and the outcomes of the blocks. How did it work. Use these precious conclusions to schedule more accurately the tasks for the following week.
Time blocking is an easy technique use by lots of time management experts. Since I discovered it, I am using it everyday with amazing results.
Your challenge for next week:
Put this post into action! - If you are not using time blocks yet, start using it now for this week.
Share your experiences and tips on the comment area of the blog post or on the LinkedIn post; Are you using time blocking technique? Do you have any tips for making time blocking even more effective?