“If you want something done, ask a busy man to do it.” Words of wisdom brought to us by the late great Benjamin Franklin himself. And who better to tell us about capitalizing our most valuable resource—time—than our nation’s forefather whose solemn stare characterizes the highest dollar bill?
It’s crucial to avoid falling into the trap of thinking that time is money because, unlike money, time is one resource that can’t be given back. As soon as we begin to see time as our most precious resource, we can start to make the most of our days, our weeks, and our lives by focusing our energy to increase productivity and be left with more free time to spend on meaningful connections.
We’re all limited by time and know this common struggle all too well. We all have access to the endless amount of online tools available: from tutorials to blogs to books all aimed to help us manage our selves and use our time in the most efficient way possible.
Given this plethora of information, what’s an easy way to sift through it all and what an easy fix we implement without hours of work? Time Blocking
Time Blocking, also known as Calendar Blocking, is a practical and powerful technique and is all about becoming aware of your goals and breaking things down to achievable steps. It’s about getting to know how you spend your time and then using that knowledge to map out your tasks. It’s about not getting distracted by the constant influx of notifications and emails and actually getting things done when you set out to do them.
How often have you asked yourself “where does the time go?” as you finish your day exhausted and anxious and with an ever-growing to do list? (If your answer is “never” than please, for the love of all that is good, let us know your secret!) But if you’re like most of us, the answer is probably “often” or “all the time” and you’re likely to benefit by applying this useful technique to your life.
The 3 ABC’s of Time Blocking
- Begin by tracking the time you spend on different activities in your schedule:
- It’ll take at least 3 “average” days to get a clear understanding of your personal productivity yet it’s really key to know this before heading into true efficiency. Head over to Easy Way to Live Your Priorities to get an accurate capture on how you spend your time and do a quick reality check on whether or not you’re actions are line with your values and wishes.
- Note that the in-between stuff is what often ends up being the biggest time suck. Attending to our devices and being constantly reachable can wreak havoc on our productivity (more on that later!). And for many of us, driving kids to/from things, errands or commuting is a huge drain. By the way, planning takes time too so when it comes to tracking, just take note of all the things that you are doing day in and day out.
- Pause and reflect.. then set some goals!
- Most people find that they are losing a lot of productivity by allowing distractions to take your attention off the task at hand. The biggest culprit for many (yep, guilty as charged) is the constant checking of the phone. You may have noticed that this “all purpose convenience device” is sabotaging your work with interruptions from your personal life. And your personal life with interruptions from your work life, worse!
- By now, you can see where you’re spending your time, notice what’s working (and not) and plan on blocking out times to accomplish your goals whether they be mid or long term. Prep for success by choose one thing in each area that you want to change and plan time blocks—of usually 30 minutes to 2 hours, several times a week depending on the goal.
- If you noticed that your time constraints grew as a result of taking on new projects or agreeing to new commitments, take a stand against your habit of taking on more by beginning to say no. It’s a tough one to do, but we often spread ourselves too thin by adding more to our to do lists when the fact of the matter is that days are not getting longer. We’re just robbing time from other areas (often sleep, anyone!?) in order to accommodate for the added commitment. This can have detrimental results to both your productivity and mental health; so say “no” more.
- You may have heard that to-do lists are outdated but I would beg to differ. The to-do list is still a useful tool when used in conjunction with a plan of action. By using the time blocking method, you can populate your day with your list of things to do… and, well, actually do them!
- Get to blocking:
- Now that you have a realistic sense of what your doing and how long you need to do those things, you can determine spaces in your schedule to dedicate your energy to working towards your goals.
- Map it out. There are many calendar apps that make scheduling out your day easy. Color code your blocks for visual cues that will not only make glancing at your calendar fast, it will also provide feedback that will allow you to plan more balanced work-life schedule in the future. If you prefer the pen and paper route, that’s totally valid but you’ll still want to color code to your schedule.
- Try working up to it. Time blocking can lead to lifestyle shifts so start by applying your new technique one or two days of the week at first and see how it goes. As you begin to become comfortable with this new focused way of operating, work it into more and more days.
- Respect the blocks. If you’re in the middle of a work time block, turn your phone to silent—don’t answer unless it’s super urgent… then set aside a time block or several throughout the day for phone calls, emails, and texting. Depending on your lifestyle and demands, you may do better with several shorter communication times throughout the day or maybe a longer period set aside towards the end of the day.
- Consolidate your actions. Try to make appointments in one or two possible time blocks a week and tag errands on the end to cut down on trips.
- Automate as much as possible!!! This may take you a bit of extra time to set up, yet it is so worth it! Have all your staple sundries auto-delivered (and your groceries too for that matter!)! Use bill pay and auto payments for everything. Literally automate anything and everything you do as much as you can. Removing mundane tasks will make a huge difference!
- Use timers to stay on task. The awareness that you have a finite time to work on each task will motivate you to stay on focus. It also provides a cap which helps you from throwing all your energy into one area of your life at the detriment of others… a.k.a. it helps you stay balanced!
- Factor in buffer blocks where you can go back and tie up loose ends from any unfinished/leftover tasks. OR factor in some buffer time into those blocks that you know might take longer than planned.
- Be sure to factor in the down time. You can think of it like those essential rest days that star athletes use for their bodies to restore themselves for peak performance.
- Schedule a time block for future planning on a nightly or weekly basis making adjustments for life happenings. In doing so, you are tailoring your schedule to your actual needs.
At this point you may be stressing at the thought of planning things out to the T but just remember that this is a flexible system meant to empower you to cultivate balance and efficiency in the all aspects of your life. It takes some getting used to, but like any new practice, if you start small and stick to your plan, you’ll find that the energy invested will yield an extremely worth-while return.
Time blocking might just be the key to breaking away from a multi-tasking, distracted, hot-mess version of some 10-armed Hindu goddess version of your Self, to channeling the focused and productive, present and grounded version of your Self. Life is messy but by being present in our actions, we can thrive in a world of organized chaos, one block at a time!