how to start time blocking and become extremely productive

You may have heard of it, and you might even be doing it in some form or shape. Time blocking is a productivity method that sounds just like its name. It’s a way of blocking time in your calendar to get specific tasks completed. The same way people block time in your calendar for meetings, reminders, events, you can also block time in your own calendar to complete those priorities. Now that we have an idea of what time blocking is, lets talk about how to start time blocking.

Time-blocking Vs To-do List

So, is time blocking the same as working off a to-do list? The answer is NO!

To-do lists almost always leave you frazzled wondering how and when you are going to get done with the 13854602 tasks on the list.

Time blocking on the other hand, is a more strategic way of prioritizing your time. And getting the most out of the limited time you have in the day.

I don’t know about you, but my to-do list never ends! You don’t want to be working off a list that never ends, because not only does that leave you overwhelmed, it also leaves you feeling unaccomplished.

Instead, when you time-block, you choose the activities that are going to give you the highest return on your time spend.

You get laser-focused on completing those activities within the time block that you have allocated towards it.

You ditch the distractions and get over the consequences of overwhelm, which is usually in action.

In short, these are some of the benefits of time blocking. It helps you:

  • Focus on the very important priorities – I call them the ‘Power of 3’
  • Minimize distractions
  • Release the tension and anxiety of trying to get everything done
  • Reduce mental fatigue and decision-making on what activities to work on (because you have already time blocked your calendar ahead of time)
  • Save time wasted on switching between tasks (studies have shown that it can take you up to 15 minutes to get back into a task after switching from another one)

If you are convinced that time blocking will save your sanity and get you back control of your time, here is how to get started;

1. Plan ahead

As part of my weekly planning, I decide on my ‘Power of 3’. My most important priorities, and make sure I allocate time in my calendar towards these priorities.

2. Paper or digital time blocking

Decide on how you are going to block out your time. I have a free time blocking template which you can use to get started right away.

Digital time blocking is also a great way of organizing your time blocks. I prefer using a paper time blocking template first, and then transferring this into my task management system, Asana. Writing it down first, helps me visualize my time better, and be more intentional about how I am planning out my time.

3. Split your calendar into blocks of time

Blocking out your calendar is one of my favourite tips on how to get started with time blocking. I like working in small blocks of time because I find it easier to talk myself into spending 20 minutes to get something done than an hour to do it. Split out your calendar into 20-minute blocks and allocate activities to the blocks.

I make sure I leave out some time blocks blank deliberately so that I have extra time for any unplanned activities. This is also useful when you are working on a task and you are not sure exactly how much time you will need to complete it. 

Generally, we tend to underestimate how much time we will need to complete a task. Creating the buffer space reduces the tension and disappointment of not completing a task in the exact time estimated for it.

4. Block out appointments & meetings you can’t reschedule 

I call them the big rocks, because these are activities that you can’t move around. These are activities that you must work around, like a big rock.

Block out your big rocks at the start of the week, so that you have a better idea of exactly how much time you have for everything else in your life.

5. Block out your business hours

If you don’t set aside time blocks for your business, then working on your business will become something you do out of choice or when you feel like it.

Instead, decide on which time blocks you will commit to your business consistently. And allocate your priorities to those time blocks.

For example, I have two-time blocks everyday that I commit to my business unless I have a big rock that needs to go into that time block instead. I typically work on my business in the morning hours from 7-8 am in 20-minute time blocks, and I do the same thing from 8-9pm.

This way, I know ahead of time, how much time I have for my business tasks, and that makes me realistically plan out how many tasks I can get done in a day.

6. Schedule your power of 3 into your business hours

If you don’t prioritize your time, time blocking will become a to-do list on your calendar. We don’t want this! 

The whole point of time blocking is to schedule your most important priorities in specific time blocks in your calendar.

You can use the to-do list matrix below to decide on which activities you should prioritize and time block first.

Everything else can be time blocked if you have spare time towards the end of the week, or if you complete your tasks in a shorter space of time than what you had planned for them.

how to start time blocking and become extremely productive

7. Take stock of your progress

The best way to make time blocking even more effective is to keep track of how you are using your time in your time blocks. This way, you can start to

  • pick out what tasks are consuming more time than estimated
  • Identify what your distractions are, and how to tame them
  • Pick out when is your best time to do certain activities
  • Review your results for the week and use this to improve your time blocking for the next week

I love using the Toggl time tracking tool to track how much time I am spending on different activities. It’s a really useful way of tracking whether I am actually doing what I had planned to do and whether I am overestimating or underestimating how much time I need to complete certain tasks.

Top tips to make the most of time blocking

1. Batch similar tasks

This is one of my favourite productivity hacks. Instead of repeating the same task throughout the day or week, batch the task and do it once. This way, you are not toggling between tasks unnecessarily, and you are saving mental space. 

I batch my content creation to one time block in the week, typically Saturday mornings from 6-7.30am. This way, I don’t spend time during the week creating content, and instead, I can focus on other high-level activities for my side hustle.

2. Batch your days

The same way you batch similar tasks, you can also batch or theme your days. A typical theme would look like this:

  • Mondays – pitching & meetings
  • Tuesdays – FB Groups
  • Wednesdays – learning
  • Thursdays – coaching
  • Fridays – admin & email

This way, you know that if the day passes without you working on the theme of the day, you will have to wait until next week to get it done. So it keeps you focused and stops procrastination.

3. Use your timer

I use my timer when I am working on my time blocks to help me be aware of how much time I have spent on a specific task.

My timer also keeps me focused on the specific task that has been allocated to the time block. Multitasking and time blocking don’t go hand in hand, so your timer is an important part of getting the most out of your time blocking approach.

It also reminds me to take breaks in between time blocks so that I don’t get burnt out or spend too much time seated in my chair without moving.

4. Quick fire tasks

Ask yourself: can your task be completed in less than 10 minutes?

If yes, allocate that task to those extra pockets of time that you get in between meetings or activities that have taken less time than planned.

There is no need to time block quickfire tasks if they can be completed in less than 10 minutes, otherwise, you will take up the entire block of time when it wasn’t necessary.

5. How many tasks to complete a day

If you are just starting out, your best bet is to cut down your planned tasks for the day by half. Focus is the priority here, so the less you have to complete, the more focused and productive you will be. 

You can start adding to your tasks for the day as you get more comfortable with your time estimations but start with your Top 3 priorities before even thinking of doing anything else.

How to time block your day and boost your productivity

Create buffer time for mishaps. Especially as a working mom, unplanned things will always come up like a visit to the doctors clinic or a child who needs to be picked up from school earlier than planned. 

Less is more. Piling your time blocks with many activities is only going to leave you overwhelmed and disappointed when you don’t accomplish what you have planned for the day. Always start with few and very important priorities and build it up from there.

Be flexible. With time, you will need to switch up your time blocks, maybe even make them longer depending on your working style, block out even more time for the big rocks, etc. Be flexible and adapt as you go along

What’s your favourite time blocking tip?