What is Time Blocking?
Using time blocks can help you save time and be more productive. When you time block your schedule, you take a look at all of the things that you have to do that week (or day), find ones that are similar, and get them done all in one chunk of time. You may also hear this referred to as batching.
It can be used in all kinds of settings, whether you’re a hotshot business executive, someone who owns their own business, or just your average woman trying to get through the day.
Let’s take a look at some examples.
No matter who you are, there are times when you have a number of phone calls to make. Last week, I had to make a hair appointment, a doctor’s appointment, call the dealership about a part we’re waiting for, and then call the insurance company.
You should know that I hate phones and making calls. I never know what to say (although I am getting better at it). So for me, grouping all of these calls together made sense. Do it all at once and get it over with.
Plus, in terms of calling the dealership and insurance company, everything was fresh in my mind because the two were related. (I also make notes on these kinds of calls, but that’s a different post.)
You can use the same idea with lots of different things:
- Need chopped onions more than once for dinner this week? Chop all you need at the same time and take out what you need when you need it.
- Got a bunch of errands to run? No sense making trips all week long. Plan one trip and get them all done at once. Bonus points if you arrange them in geographical order so you aren’t adding unnecessary miles.
- If you’re a blogger, like me, you always need to write a blog post or seven. Block off a few hours and write as many as you can during that time period. Better yet – break the process up into stages and complete one stage at a time.
Is Time Blocking Useful?
Absolutely! The beauty of time blocking is that it actually saves you time and makes you more productive.
Remember when Henry Ford invented the production line? (I’m not implying that you were actually around then – I know you’re not that old – just stick with me here.)
One person did one thing, over and over, all day long. That’s a hard and boring job for the guy that has to do it, but for the company he works for, it makes sense. He’s not jumping from one thing to another, stopping this and starting that. He’s just doing one thing until he’s done.
Think about grocery shopping. Let’s say you plan your meals and make a list of ingredients before you go to the store. One of the meals is spaghetti and meatballs with a salad and breadsticks. Another is chicken with rice and green beans.
Now, are you going to go through the store, find all of the things for your spaghetti meal, and then start over for the chicken?
So produce for the salad, then go find the spaghetti and sauce, get the breadsticks, go to the meat department. Then back to produce for green beans, back to the pasta aisle for rice, and the meat department for chicken.
That would be crazy. You’d never do that, right? You’d waste so much time and energy running around the store.
No. You’re smart. You get all the produce you need before you leave that area, and then you move on to the next one and see if there’s anything you need there.
Now you understand time blocking.
How does time blocking make me more productive?
OK, so hopefully you can see now how time blocking can save you time. If you had to chop onions for more than one meal or needed rice or pasta for more than one night, wouldn’t it make sense to do it all at once?
Instead of getting the pots and the knives and whatever out each time, you get them out once, use them, and you’re done for the week. You’ve used less energy (yours and the gas company to heat the water), you’ve gotten everything out, used it, washed it, and put it away once instead of multiple times, using less time.
But this kind of thing works for you mentally as well.
Let’s say instead of making pasta, you’re writing blog posts, answering emails, or making client calls. You’re doing something that requires you to be in a certain mindset, or a groove – to be “in the zone”. It’s far easier to get yourself into that zone when you know you have an uninterrupted block of time to work with, and that’s all you have to do for those few hours.
Getting your brain ready to do a task is a real thing. You know that. How many times have you put something off because you weren’t “in the mood”? OK. Not the best example. You were probably just blowing it off because you didn’t want to do it.
But seriously, if your brain knows that you are sitting down for a period of time to do one thing, it can help you get into that groove or zone. Think about reading a good book. You can read it in 5 or 10-minute bits of time when you get the chance, or you can have a whole hour or two to just read. Which would you rather do? And which would give you a better understanding of what you had read? Chances are, if you only get a few minutes here and there, part of it will be spent re-reading what you’ve already read, just to catch up.
So how do I start time blocking?
Yay! Did I convince you?
Time blocking is simple. Start by taking a look at your schedule for the week. That’s the way most people utilize time blocking – starting with the week, and then applying it per day if necessary.
Take a look at what you’ve got going on. Are there things that are similar enough to be done together? Can you move them around so that they can all be done in the same block of time? If you can, great! But if you can’t, do the best you can. As you become more experienced with time blocking, you’ll learn to naturally put similar things together on your calendar.
When I was a new bride, my mother-in-law embroidered some tea towels for me. There were seven in all, one for each day of the week: Monday is for washing, Tuesday is for ironing, and so on.
You can use that same kind of idea when it comes to time blocking.
Here are some examples:
- Check your email twice a day: once in the morning (around 9:00 maybe) and again around 3:00. Set aside a block of time each day at those times to read and answer any emails that you get. You might want to set up an auto-response to let people know when to expect a reply from you.
- Set one day of the week for errands, grocery shopping, or whatever you decide. Maybe Monday really is laundry day for you, or Friday afternoons are your time to do what you want (this is highly encouraged) and Friday night is pizza or take-out night.
- If you’re a writer, Mondays may be for writing the first draft, Tuesdays for editing, and Wednesdays for graphics.
How many things should I block?
The short answer is: as many as you need.
If you’ve only got two phone calls to make all week, it might not matter if you block them together or not, but it might be a good idea to get into the habit.
On the other hand, if you’re volunteering to man the phones and make 100 phone calls on behalf of the otters or whatever cause you’re helping, it might make more sense to choose a reasonable number to do each day and block those together. And be sure to add in some break time.
Also, be sure to consider your energy level, not only for the number of tasks you’re blocking together but the time of day as well. If you experience a three o’clock slump every day, don’t block off time to get an important report done then. Schedule it instead for a time when you are at your best.
The same goes for your tasks. If you’re like me and hate to make phone calls, don’t block too many together at once. It’s not so bad to be fatigued when you’re making appointments, but if the calls are more important than that, cut them down to a number that you can handle.
What if I have other things to do?
We all have other things to do, and not everything will fit into a time block.
If your boss calls a meeting right in the middle of your time block for writing a report, then you put the report on hold and attend the meeting.
Life is always going to get in the way. Someone will interrupt you, something unexpected happens, somehow you just can’t do what you intended to in that block of time. It’s OK.
Time blocking isn’t meant to be set in stone. It’s meant to be a tool to help you get your work done easily and more efficiently. Plan for it and use it when you can, and when life throws you a curveball, take it in stride and readjust your plans.
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