Time Blocking and Scheduling: 9 Crucial Tactics and Apps to Plan Your Day

Penny ZenkerEnergy Management, TIME MANAGEMENT

time blocking and scheduling a laptop showing a typical schedule with blocked out hours on calendar

Have you ever settled down to a task and can’t seem to find the energy for it? Sadly it’s the most important thing on your table, but too many other responsibilities and putting out fires keep you from the most important tasks. The emails, personal projects, and endless interruptions just won’t let you make the best of your day. 

Day after day, and by the end of the week, you find yourself struggling to meet that deadline, meet the performance metrics that make all the difference on your business. 

Or perhaps you find yourself too stressed and taking the work home for the weekend because you just can’t let it slide into the following week. You sacrifice sleep and put in more time to try to catch up, but you never seem to catch up.

If one of these scenarios hits close to home, then you need to reinvent your strategy.

How would you like to learn how to juggle priorities, manage your time better, become productive, and get more done in a single day and every day?

In this guide, we will talk about:

In the end, you will learn how to avoid multitasking, manage interruptions and be more productive.

14% of people who set goals are ten times more successful than those who don't. Click To Tweet

What is Time Blocking?

Time blocking is a simple but effective way to take charge of your time and schedule based on what is important and still leave time for what is urgent. It’s a time management technique that helps you segment different times in your day for different tasks.

It’s all about having blocks of your day for tasks such as checking your inbox, working on projects, attending important meetings, and much more. So each time block will be dedicated to a group or category of tasks or specific tasks. 

Time blocking isn’t new or revolutionary, but so many people aren’t doing it or are not doing it consistently. Moguls like Elon Musk and Bill Gates are great fans of time blocking. They mainly use systems such as micro-scheduling, where their entire day is divided into five-minute blocks. I have found that the most productive people and people with the most demand look at their day in minutes over hours. But it’s more common to have blocks in hours for essential tasks, followed by shorter periods for smaller tasks. 

time blocking and scheduling notepad, blocks of woods and a clock

Why Use Time Blocking? 

When planning allotted time for the task, we often underestimate how long a task will take almost every time. Most tasks take twice as long as we think. Click To Tweet

First, you must know that to-do lists have their limits. Supposing you have five important tasks to accomplish, but they don’t all take the same amount of time and do not have the same priority. What if the first two require more time than you have? 

Studies show that we often tackle the less critical tasks first and often underestimate how much time we need for the bigger tasks. Before long, we find ourselves multitasking or procrastinating, or falling prey to the throes of perfectionism. 

Time blocking makes it easier to fight all of these things. By scheduling chunks of time for tasks, we can enjoy a deeper focus on achieving outstanding results.

 By scheduling blocks of time to work on a single task, problem, or project, you force all your mental resources to focus on that task, making sure you get the best.

 Time blocking helps you avoid getting carried away with busy work, so you focus on dedicating time to your bigger long-term goals.

In this video, Steven Covey shows us in a practical way why that doesn’t work and why to tackle the bigger more important tasks first.

Time blocking will also help you “say no” when necessary to tasks you don’t need on your plate. You will also become aware of how you spend your time, so you no longer underestimate tasks and overcommit yourself.

It’s a beautiful strategy you will love, especially if you:

  • have too many meetings between important tasks
  • deal with constant interruptions
  • juggle multiple priorities, responsibilities, and projects
  • have trouble finding time to focus on the big picture

Overall, time blocking will improve your capacity to follow through on your intentions. This aligns with goals and actions.

This brings to mind the words of Dr. Katherine L Milkman

“Paradoxically, people frequently underplan when they begin with strong intentions. They mistakenly believe that their strong intentions are enough to propel them to perform desired behaviors. That belief keeps them from using strategies that could help translate intentions into actions.

Time blocking is proactive. It gives us structure to control our tasks and time. Instead of reacting to external demands you prioritize and organize effectively. Click To Tweet

A step-by-step guide to time blocking and scheduling 

Naturally, a time blocking example that comes to mind is this; Let’s say 1 hour for emails, 2 hours for meaningful tasks, 30 minutes for a break, a conference call at noon, etc.

However, harnessing the power of time blocking and scheduling demands a lot more. Here are easy but powerful steps to create the perfect schedule;

1. Create your brain dump

Every good strategy starts with a blank page. Avoid the temptations of starting with what you already have. Create a brain dump so that you can have a big and clear picture of your short and long-term goals.

2. Identify your priorities

Now you need to prioritize your activities. Create criteria, so you have a clear structure to determine what is a priority. Break your list by value, impact, need desire, urgencies, and time, for instance. You can check out this article on prioritization techniques that can help you prioritize tasks seamlessly.

3. Estimate Time

Your checklist comes next, but ensure that you are dealing with the most challenging tasks first.  Be sure to estimate correctly how much time you need per task, and take into account breaks and distractions. For instance, if one task usually takes five hours, then you cannot have a 10-hour day to handle two tasks taking five hours each. You have to consider other commitments such as meetings, demanding deadlines, appointments, and such. Break the tasks down into smaller units, which will make them easier to start and make progress rather than avoiding them. It is better to get started with those important items even if you can not finish them.

4. Plan your entire day

"Spend 10 -12 minutes planning your day, and you will save up to 2 hours that would have gone to waste." Click To Tweet

likely, your plan isn’t good enough if you aren’t time blocking and scheduling the majority of your day but do not every minute of the day. Block out time for deep work, shallow tasks, and add the breaks, spontaneous commitments, morning routine, family time, and other important categories. 

Also, add a block of unscheduled time, which might be used for many things, including taking care of backburner tasks and completing tasks you didn’t complete earlier or take a walk or a little nap.

Here is my 1:3:5 Daily Planning method to approach your day to balance urgent and important.

5. Understand your inner clock 

According to Duke University Professor, we all have golden hours, and it isn’t the same for everyone. At such golden hours, we have unlimited bursts of energy, focus, and willpower. At other times, we struggle to make the best of the day. So you need to identify your most productive hours during the day, that time when your brainpower and will powers work best, so you can get the best results while handling the most challenging task.

"We all have unique inner clock systems; learn to use your productive golden hours for the most challenging tasks to make the best use of time." Click To Tweet

6. Dedicated daily and weekly review

The key to making time blocking work for you is reviewing your performance daily and weekly. By reviewing, you are making sure you can allot the right time estimates for specific tasks. It also helps you take stock of what’s coming up, so you can make credible choices and avoid getting off-task or distracted. 

7. Avoid becoming rigid in your planning

It’s essential to get a sense of how much you spend on tasks. Also, pad your schedule with extra time to transition between tasks. These conditional blocks or buffers will help you even when you fall behind. But don’t also forget that things can come up, forcing you to change your plans at the last minute. It might even mean crossing out original blocks of time. Prepare for time, and remain flexible, so you don’t punish yourself when you fall short.

Schedule actual unscheduled time gives you flexibility and spontaneity. It's perfect for all those tasks that come up at the last minute. Click To Tweet

6. Buffer your leisure time too

Don’t forget to make sure some of your leisure time is actually free. This means why you are already scheduled to read a book, perhaps, add a few more minutes or even an hour for spontaneous activities. That way, you have more time for any leisure activities that come up at the last minute.

7. Control your distractions

Pesky distractions become pesky if we let them, so you need to eradicate them. Consider putting on the ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode on your smartphone, shutting your office door, or putting on a pair of noise-canceling headphones to tune everyone out. 

Take this distraction quiz and see what is distracting you and take greater ownership of how to reduce them.

8. Use time blocking variations.

Sometimes the actual dictates of time blocking and scheduling doesn’t work for everyone. Consider using these variations according to your specific preferences;

  • Day theming; this means having specific days for specific project types. For instance, you can create content on Monday and Tuesday while you promote your products on Wednesday.
  • Task batching: means similar grouping tasks within specific time blocks. For instance, you can schedule two 20-minute blocks between 2-hour necessary task blocks for processing emails. Business leaders often pair time blocking with this variation.

This brings to mind the words of Mike Vardy, founder of Productivistist’ 

Knowing what the day ‘means’ to me allows me to get the things I need and want to accomplish without seeing undetermined ‘ought to do’ items on a to-do list. As a result, I have less decision fatigue and even have more energy when I spend time with my kids.”

  • Timeboxing; is about limiting the amount of time you can dedicate to a specific task. For instance, you can schedule to finish writing content between 8 am, and 10 am the next day. The time-box forces you to prioritize that work during that limited amount of time. 

9. Create an actual system

According to Kelsey Kryger, creating systems can help you forge a better time blocking and scheduling strategy and stick to it effectively. Systems involve breaking down your ‘business’ into sub-systems such as finance, administrative work, and marketing.

It would also involve having actual steps and processes to get easy aspects done. That way, you no longer have to think about how to handle a recurring task. It will also help you re-force the mindset of avoiding procrastination and focus on building better habits.

As echoed by James Clear, author of Atomic Habits:

The goal in any sport is to finish with the best score, but it would be ridiculous to spend the whole game staring at the scoreboard. The only way to win is to get better each day. In the words of three-time Super Bowl winner Bill Walsh, “The score takes care of itself.” The same is true for other areas of life. If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead”.

time blocking app progress

Time blocking and scheduling apps to create better schedules.

1. Undock (Free for individual users/ $20.00/month)

Undock brings your calendar, task management, messaging, and email into one unique app. So you don’t have to waste time moving from one app to another. Besides, this tool is particularly excellent because it uses artificial intelligence to help you manage time efficiently. It’s a great tool for business leaders, entrepreneurs, and business owners to build a time management tool that works in real-time.

2. HourStack ($7 – 15/ month)

This is an excellent tool for blocking your time by day or week. You can also enjoy the timer for each task. It’s also a wonderful time blocking app for monitoring the actual hours you spend on tasks. If you also run out of time, you can always roll over the task to work on it again.  

3. Planyway (Free, $4.99/ month)

If Trello is your favorite task management tool, then Planyway is a great time-blocking app for you. This project management tool helps you block tome in your calendar without stepping out of Trello. You will love the option to connect to Google, outlook, and apple calendars for seamless flow.

4. TickTick (Free, $2.79/month)

If you use the Pomodoro technique, then TickTick is an excellent time blocking tool for you. You won’t only block in your calendar but will have the luxury of a Pomodoro timer. However, it would help if you had the premium to access the calendar view and Pomodoro timer.

5. Skedpad ($14.95 /month)

This is a great tool for time blocking and scheduling. Here you can pull from your Google, Outlook, iCloud, or Exchange calendar. It also Ai functionality that helps you set preferred times and better durations for your tasks. It’s an excellent tool if you want to try automatic scheduling based on priorities.

6. Forest ($1.99 / month)

Forest helps you become productive through gamification. It allows you to block out time and prevents you from using your phone for other things like the temptations of mindless scrolling through social media. If you log out of the app, take a call or check social media, your tree dies. With this app, you can stay on track and avoid one of the biggest distractions we often have – our phones!

Make the Best of Time Blocking and Scheduling 

Time blocking helps us take back control of our time and everything we do with it. It forces us to be purposeful and accountable for every second, minute, or hour. 

We no longer have to backtrack to remember what we were up to in the first place. We only have to focus on getting more done and avoiding distractions.

However, you won’t get that control overnight. A little practice and mindset shift are the first steps to take. Give yourself time to master the process and stay on top of revising your estimates until you have a proper time blocking and scheduling system that works. 

You will notice the amazing benefits and gain that stability that comes with being proactive about your time in no time.