Why time blocking?
1. Time blocking helps you be aware of where your time is being spent
If you’re on a diet, one of the first things a program will do is ask you to track your food intake and create greater awareness of what you are eating and drinking. Because often we are unconscious to what we eat and do sometimes – well most of the time.
Time blocking and time tracking gives us heightened awareness around where we are spending our time. This has been invaluable for me and my clients in that now I can better see where I should be spending my time to reach my goals. By seeing the actual % per area (sales, prospecting, customer loyalty, admin, etc.) I can better review what % I need to be spending in each area to move the needle.
My superpower over the years has always been to constantly take a step back and re-evaluate. People don’t do that often enough and then lose precious time from veering off track. I can always bring myself back by analyzing what I am doing and the value of contribution it brings to my reaching my goals. Sometimes I even realize I need to change my goals. That is ok because I am making an educated decision versus an impulsive decision.
Take one or two weeks and track your time for better awareness. Then start with closing the gap with intentional time blocking which is planning your priorities and see through continued tracking how much more purposeful your time is spent.
Here is a free trial to track your time with a great tool for your phone.
The old adage we can’t manage what we don’t measure is true with our time too.
2. Time blocking helps you avoid procrastination.
Often when we feel like we have loads of time to do something, we have the flexibility to push something off until we absolutely have to start it. Setting a deadline for a task helps make and create greater urgency around that time. It makes us think twice about procrastinating because we have given it a deadline.
Parkinson’s law tells us that we will use whatever time is allotted to complete the task. So when we have projects it’s been over a long period of time but it’s easy for us to procrastinate and fill that time with less purposeful test tasks.
Deadlines and that sense of urgency help us to stay focused and force us to think about our plan of how to get it done. Shorter timeframe requires a greater level of planning and thinking.
So with that deadline, we may use time blocking to break down the project into smaller parts and then schedule each of those individual tasks or milestone. Scheduling time for a particular task is time blocking. It’s scheduling time for your priority.
One tool to support you in deciding which things are most important is the Eisenhower box or Eisenhower matrix. Stephen Covey, in his book 7 Habits of Highly Successful People used this matrix to explain how we can better keep urgencies from taking over what is important. The matrix has an axis of urgency and importance.
What makes this tool so effective is it is a support tool for decision making that Eisenhower himself used. What you may not know is that before Eisenhower was president he was a five-star army general. He served as supreme commander of allied forces in Europe during World War II. He was responsible for planning and executing the invasion of North Africa France and Germany.
You can see why his discipline, techniques for decision making and productivity approach has been studied and replicated over the years. We have all heard that success leaves clues, so we should follow the best practices from those who have accomplished the greatest level of success.
Without purposeful thought and planning, our habits and actions can be filled with low priority tasks keeping us from our desired goals.
3. Time blocking creates greater awareness around how long activities take.
Often there is a gap between the time we assume something takes and reality. We either grossly underestimate the time it takes or grossly overestimate.
When I was an application developer, estimating how long the project would take was always the hardest thing to do. I had one developer that worked for me that no matter the size of the project he would estimate 100 hours. He got it right once in a while but that is no way to estimate a project.
In order to make successful fixed priced projects and make money – you need to get good at estimating time.
I would break down the project into small tasks that were more easily estimated and we could use time records for past clients to help us get an accurate estimate. This worked well as long as the requirements stayed the same.
Time blocking can achieve the same result. It helps you to take a bigger project and break it down into smaller parts and then plan for the smaller parts which end up being planned time blocks.
4. Time blocking helps to plan for capacity
When planning across all your projects and breaking them down, you will see if you have enough time in the day to complete all project chunks or if you have a capacity problem.
Many people often confuse overload and overwhelm. We get overwhelmed and then don’t use our time wisely but that doesn’t really mean you are overloaded. By using time blocking to plan your week/month/quarter you will quickly see if you will face a capacity problem. Then you can re-plan with more resources, change the scope of the project or extend the time expected.
Time blocking is, in essence, a way to manage your time like managing multiple projects. This structure makes it much easier to plan and execute. The problem is most people don’t take the time to plan. That is the first block to start with – your planning time to make sure it happens.
5. Time blocking makes you focus on priorities
The whole premise of Time blocking is to start with your goals so you are planning and time blocking according to your goals. That means with focus on your goals, you will block according to your priorities. When I block and find that I don’t have enough time to complete it all, the first things I delegate or take off the list are the things that don’t have a direct impact on my sales.
Time is money when it comes to your business and you need to understand the value of each task and compare it to the value of other tasks. Without the ability to understand the value of the tasks/projects/activities you can get stuck in deciding what to block and it may even cause you to give up the whole process because you aren’t sure your next step.
Your next step is to value your tasks and blocks. What percentage of time should you spend on administrative tasks? If you have a far too high amount of time, then you have to get creative how to automate and eliminate these activities.
Time blocking is hard. Hard to be disciplined, hard to take the time to plan, hard to see the value up front. But the long-term consequences of not blocking time are even harder – burnout, low performance, reduction in sales, and even bankruptcy.
As my good friend, Dr. Tom used to say “Pick your hard”.
Different approaches to time blocking
Paul Minors says’ “It helps you to convert intention into action.”
He talks about taking your to-do list and mapping it over to your calendar so you know the most important tasks are scheduled.
Pomodoro is a common method for blocking tasks in 30-90 minute chunks (or whatever time intervals work best for you). The idea here is to also track any distractions you have during those blocks and give you adequate breaks to maintain peak energy.
This is important as sometimes I know I am guilty at sitting at my desk for hours without a break and not realizing that my energy and productivity are declining over time and not giving my best to the time I have.
This is my preferred method. I don’t start with my tasks because that is a tactical approach. Who is to say those are the right tasks? I might just be blocking things that distract me from what is most important.
I have to review my goals and understand what percentage of my overall time should be spent in each area of my job or business. Then I can block those categories in a plan form and see what gaps I find and then do some problem solving based on my priorities to plan to meet that percentage split.
I will block the actual activities I will do for each block on a daily basis. This way I am flexible with which tasks and activities are most important and making sure the balance of my activities is accurate.
It is a little like karate – it feels awkward and uncomfortable at first – even unnecessary but when practiced gets superior results.
What are the biggest challenges people face when time blocking?
I personally find the hardest part is the discipline of doing it on a regular basis. I do it for a while and then I stop doing it. The key is constantly stepping back and starting again.
I am not a structured person so maintaining structure is a learned adaptive skill. I know it is important so I embrace it as part of the process of getting my result.
There are always things we have to do that we don’t like doing or aren’t how we would do it. But when we embrace it as part of getting the result we want and trust that it is a better way, then we can even get good at it.
I find in certain areas, I have a tendency to avoid planning and it is the very thing that creates greater success.
I guess that is why time management has been a discussion point since Aristotle. They even came up with a word that describes when we do something other than what is most important. “Akrasia”
The key to overcoming something that is hard is to avoid willpower since that is not the strongest force. Willpower is exhaustible. It starts with why power and understanding upfront WHY this is important and then before it gets hard to put measures in place in your environment to protect your intention. Aristotle called this “Enkratei”, to be in power over one’s self.
If you want to work out, don’t just join a gym, get a trainer.
If you want to be smart about what you eat, don’t buy junk food in the house and don’t bring your wallet out.
If you want to write a book, write an outline, make the cover.
If you want to drink more water, have a full glass next to you.
If you want to stay focused on a task, turn your phone off.
If you want to work on your priorities – TIME BLOCK.
What to Avoid While Time Blocking
Avoid back to back meetings
Back-to-back meetings create stress and don’t enable you to transition well to your next activity. Your mind and thoughts are still in the previous meeting as you start your next if you show up on time.
Make your meetings or task activities 45 minutes and give your self time to transition from one activity to the next
Don’t Block 100% of your day
That means plan for the unexpected.
We know there are always unplanned urgencies and situations that will need your time and attention. So block 85% of your day and leave some space for the unexpected.
They are out there. We all know people who suck the time and energy right out of us. Have strategies ready to keep the interaction short. “What’s up I am in the middle of something”, “I can only talk for 5 minutes. What can I help you with?” or “I can’t talk right now, can we catch up later?”
Don’t allow projects to change scope without discussion on the impact of the timeline. Be clear what impact it will have on time and money before accepting any changes.
You can challenge your boss or client with some questions and make them aware of the dependencies and impact. Often they are not aware and will respect you more for the discussion up front than an acceptance and delay that might occur later as a result of not confronting the situation early on.