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Time Blocking In 8 Easy Steps | For Busy Entrepreneurs
What is Time Blocking and why is it so powerful?
One of the best ways to schedule your workload is by using a calendar with block times, often known as block scheduling.
Block scheduling is when you set defined time periods (called BLOCKS of time), dedicated to specific tasks or activities. This practice is life-changing for busy entrepreneurs, especially those who are struggling to manage time between family and growing a business.
The idea behind the Time Blocking method is that you dedicate 100% of your focus to the activity or task set aside in each specific block of time and then STOP when the time is up.
The keyword there (especially if you are like me) is STOP.
The ability to focus on one activity for a set time (and only that time) allows your brain to focus more clearly without distractions. You will naturally accomplish more because of this simple switch in your attention process.
Why is this so important?
Time blocking, in general, overrides most of our work-flow flaws: distraction, exhaustion, boredom, indecisiveness, overscheduling, lack of direction… the list goes on and on.
For example, I have used task apps, project management tasks, to-do lists, and more, all in the attempt to manage my schedule, be productive, and remember all of those little to-dos that seem to get lost in the daily shuffle.
Nothing ever works, at least not for long.
It could be that as I look at the task needed to be complete, I get overwhelmed. There’s nothing worse than seeing this massive to-do list (which you strategically planned out down to the minute), just go to crap when one task takes longer than expected.
Now your whole schedule is off, and everything else on the list gets shifted to later, and later, and later as the to-do list drags on. After two days of this, you finally just say, ‘Screw it- I will tackle these tasks as they come.’
Now, instead of following the schedule, I am just aimlessly trying to accomplish as much as possible in the remaining time, getting more frustrated as the time runs out. Even worse- I start jumping around, CHOOSING which tasks to accomplish, shoving the rest off until ‘later.’ I think you can see where this is going…
But wait- there’s a cure!
Block scheduling is meant to help prevent this task overload. It eliminates the endless to do-list and gives you back the power to control your day in manageable chunks.
How does Block Scheduling Work?
Block scheduling is pretty straightforward. You set a period of time, say a 2 hour period, dedicated to one category of work. Let’s say our first time block is for Marketing and Social Media.
During this 2 hour period, you can start tackling the specific to-do list of social media and marketing tasks, and only those tasks.
What makes this different than most work-flow styles is that you cannot see the to-do list until that time block opens. Each time block is dedicated to its own categorical tasks, creating a much more manageable list, and hiding the rest of the stuff until you get to it later.
There is no more jumping around. No more overload.
There are plenty of resources on this topic already, and I’ve listed some of our favorites below, but (in my humble opinion) I think a lot of the advice is vague and allows for too much room for error.
THIS article is meant to give you an quick and easy walkthrough for setting up time block scheduling, and help you optimize the time blocking method for what will work best for YOU.
Before we get started, let me give you a really quick glimpse into how I set my schedule up for maximum ease and productivity.
I use Google Calendar to block out time with color codes by making an event for each work category in a dedicated color.
Inside the event, I put the task(s) I plan on achieving during this time period. So when you look at a weekly view of the Calendar, you just see blocks (like legos) in different colors.
No task list is displayed, and there’s no overwhelming chaos in the calendar. Just a simple-looking chart of blocks- with a title and time period in the calendar. Simple is critical with this method.
Now, let’s dive deeper into the 8 steps for setting up YOUR time blocking method.
Step 1 – Set your calendar up with a weekly layout view.
When designing your schedule, the view matters.
Using the month view is crowded, busy, and overwhelming to your eyes. You look at the month, and the brain says, ‘Screw this, I have way too much to do, AHHHHH!’
To keep your schedule manageable, I recommend always keeping it in the week view. This provides a clean and comfortable display for your brain process without feeling overloaded.
Why not just keep the “view” in the day view instead?
First of all, the day view also creates a very noisy display. Second, and more importantly, the day view fails to give the whole picture.
There are times that you might not finish a task and need to assign it to a new block. By viewing the weekly display, you can easily spot empty blocks to reschedule those left-over tasks.
The weekly view allows you to rearrange quickly as needed.
Take a peek at the three different displays below to get an idea of what I mean.
Step 2 – Use colors to set the tone.
In most Calendar apps, Google Calendar, Outlook, iCal, Mozilla Thunderbird, you can change the color of each event.
Colors help break up the type and importance of the different tasks in your schedule.
I have designed mine based on what each color means. Looking at my calendar, I know that yellow blocks are for work-related tasks. I have chosen yellow because it is second in priority. (Like a stoplight, see?)
But why is work second priority? (Hint: it’s not due to a lazy work ethic.)
I’ve saved red to be top priority. Red symbolizes urgency, so I use it for important events and things that can’t be missed, like doctor’s appointments for the kids.
Purple is for personal tasks, like exercising or studying. (Purple signifies power and knowledge!) I know purple tasks can easily be shifted or eliminated if necessary.
Blue is for family events, like the kids’ Christmas play or afterschool activities. Blue symbolizes calm, trust, and stability, perfect for family time.
Lastly, green is used for activities of going, like taking the kids to school, picking them up, etc.
Assigning your events based on a color theme can help you quickly identify what is essential based on colors that can catch your eye and hold meaning.
Step 3 – Put your itemized tasks in the event notes section.
When you click on a calendar event, most apps open the editor part of the event. This is where you can change the time, date, and even edit the location.
But most importantly, this is where you can add notes for each event.
Most calendar apps even provide word processing and editing tools, allowing you to create an entire document in the notes section if you really wanted to!
You want to use this part of the event to add all of the tasks you want to accomplish in that particular category. (For example, my 2-hour time block for social media and marketing would have a task for engaging in my facebook group, a task for posting on LinkedIn, a task to review my ad spend, etc.)
Utilizing the notes section is a crucial part of time blocking success.
Once you save each event (and PLEASE don’t forget to save), you can no longer see the task list on your weekly calendar view.
This allows for that clean look, preventing those feelings of overload and frustration.
The second best part about the notes section is the ability to add attachments.
That little paperclip icon allows you to attach documents to any event. (And it hides that doc from view until you open the event, of course.)
The notes section is perfect for keeping your view simple and essential for a quick understanding, allowing you to focus on only that one event’s tasks at a time.
Step 4 – Size matters when time blocking.
One thing that can seem intimidating is knowing how large of a block you should make on your calendar. And honestly, it depends.
But it’s actually easy to break your time blocks down into reasonably manageable sizes.
Let’s start with the time available in the day: 24 hours in total. Next, we can take 8 hours away for sleep, leaving 16 hours.
Let’s say we want to work only 6 to 8 hours a day. Boom, we now have our first size, 6 to 8 hours.
But don’t get too excited, because we need to plan for eating lunch and taking breaks (we’ll look at this a bit more in a second).
So for now, take that 6-8 hour block and break it up into 4 smaller blocks, two for the morning and two for the afternoon.
Splitting your day up into bite-sized chunks makes it easier for you to be productive, since you only have short times to hold yourself accountable for.
I always recommend starting with blocks of two hours and set things aside from there. If you need more time for certain tasks, stretch that box and add more time. If you need less, shrink the box. This will make managing your blocks a lot easier overall.
As a general rule, try to keep your time blocks 3 hours or less, so that you don’t get bored or overwhelmed with any one particular thing.
Step 5 – Breaks will save your brain.
Just because you set the time dedicated to a particular task, does not mean that you are glued to your chair for the entire time block.
Go to the bathroom if you need to. Get up and walk around to get your blood flowing.
Heck, grab a snack, you deserve it!
The feeling that you can not take a break can get overwhelming quickly.
This is YOUR schedule- you made the rules, change them when you need to!
And do not worry about trying to schedule short breaks. It will just make your calendar noisy.
Just take a quick break whenever you need to, and then return to whatever tasks you were working on beforehand.
My suggestion is to do your breaks in military training style.
During military training, the instructors teach and lecture for 50 minutes. After 50 minutes, everyone takes a 10-minute break and then get right back to studying.
The 50-minute to 10-minute ratio is excellent for keeping your mind refreshed and active.
If this style does not work for you, don’t worry! You’re the boss of your own schedule, remember?
Just adjust where necessary- you make the rules, not the calendar.
If you discover that you aren’t checking much off of your to-do lists, you will know that you are taking too many breaks.
Step 6 – Openings aren’t just for baseball games and operas.
The most common mistake people make when time blocking is that they fill up their entire day with blocks. (Sorry to my sweet wife, but I’m diming her out here.)
Do not do this!
You are going to need room for flexibility (remember those ‘life happens’ events that pop up from time to time?) and time to recover from big projects or busy periods.
Always schedule time blocks for the important stuff ONLY.
Work tasks, doctor appointments, picking up your kid from karate, for example.
Do not plan out your whole day like it’s a vacation itinerary!
Cleaning your house (or room) does not need to be on the calendar. Showering does not need to be on the calendar. (Unless you don’t shower often enough, then please do us all a solid and pencil that in.)
Make sure to create time blocks ONLY dedicated to working, appointments, and extensive periods of time that you will need to dedicate to something specific, like the soccer game on Saturday.
Leave the other times CLEAR. These are your schedule openings.
These openings will help keep you organized and build the habit of using the calendar for scheduling.
Your brain will not be as easily overloaded. That way, whenever ‘life’ happens, coming along to try and mess up your master plan, you can just shift things into these open spaces.
These openings will help keep you on track and help you keep your sanity.
Step 7 – Adjust, adjust, adjust!
Entrepreneurs are BUSY. Things change often and you have to adapt to things that need attention, often out of the blue. This can be a really hard problem to adjust for when using a regular task manager app, though.
It constantly seemed as though I could never predict when “life” happened, messing up my perfect schedule.
As a business owner, especially with others to depend on you (kids, spouse, pets, etc), this happens over and over again. These kinks in the schedule leave you with full of to-do’s that sometimes sit there for weeks.
YOU CAN CHANGE THE CALENDAR!
This is not an issue with the time blocking method.
You just swap those unfinished tasks into an event in an open time block later in the schedule, and VOILA! You’re back on track.
Let me repeat that for those in the back: YOU CAN CHANGE THE CALENDAR!
Your schedule is on a computer screen- not written in stone.
Move those blocks around whenever you need to, resize them if you need more time, and delete them whenever necessary.
Time blocking is a tool to help you be more productive- your tasks are not finalized just because you wrote them down. They’re still flexible.
Step 8 – Edit your past events
This is another one of those, ‘it’s not written in stone,’ kinda things.
Productivity is often hard to measure. Time blocking makes that easier to do, with a little bit of accountability.
I find it enormously helpful to measure my progress throughout the day by adjusting the blocks to match exactly what happened during that time.
For instance, if my day got chaotic and I ran 20 minutes over on a conference call, it’s important that I stretch that time block out by 20 minutes to match.
Or, if I didn’t get time to work out until the afternoon, but had it scheduled in the morning, I go back and fix the time on my calendar.
These edits only take a few minutes and are easy to complete. Even better, if you forget to fix it after a couple of days, just try your best to remember and fix it when you can.
You also want to go back and edit your task list to match what you actually completed. (This will help those who need to have a checklist checked.)
This helps you keep track of what you actually accomplished.
(Just don’t forget to put those unfinished tasks in a new time block!)
Now you have a record account of how long these various tasks take, which will help in future planning. You can also look over your week and adjust for any trends you might see. For example, if you always push your workout back to later in the day, you know to change it in your upcoming planning.
And if you have a loving wife (like mine) who often asks you what you have gotten done that day (or week), you can go back and provide proof that you weren’t playing WOW for four hours instead of tackling that inventory list.
Let’s quickly recap the steps to help you optimize your block scheduling techniques:
- Use the weekly display view.
- Color code your event types.
- Set the tasks (and necessary documents) in the event notes.
- Start with 2-hour blocks for up to 6 to 8 hours a day.
- Be sure to take breaks, but do not schedule in the breaks, just take them.
- Leave some openings, do not fill in the whole day. Life just does not happen that way.
- Adjust the calendar whenever needed. It is not set in stone, and you’re the boss.
- Make corrections for past events to match the actual time and tasks completed.
Block scheduling is an excellent method for people who are extrememly busy, or for those who typically get overwhelmed with task lists and schedules.
The goal of block scheduling (aka the time block method) is to keep it simple and easy to understand, so you do not get stress about how much work needs to get done.
And if you’re like me, and have a tendency to procrastinate when you see large to-do lists, this will help reduce the lack of motivation as well.
Remember, there is no wrong or right way to use time blocking. Just be flexible in order to make it work for YOU, to fit YOUR needs.
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