I would like to think I'm a pretty busy person. On a daily basis, I balance school, a part-time job, half-marathon training, and multiple side projects. On top of this, I need some free time just like everybody else to decompress and relax. As a result of being booked all the time, I am constantly searching for ways to optimize my time and be more efficient; efficiency in this context does not mean accomplishing more but instead means finishing things up quickly to free up my time. If I can accomplish what is usually four hours of work without a schedule in two or three with a schedule, that's extra time that can be spent doing whatever I please.
Over the years, my time management has improved. When I was in middle school, I vividly remember putting off a four-month-long project until the night before and pulling an all-nighter to finish the project. I was never a procrastinator, but there is still a monumental difference between poor time management and great time management. Enter time-blocking.
What is Time-Blocking?
Time-blocking is a form of scheduling to accomplish your given tasks in a day. It is exactly what the name implies in its simplest form: blocking time off for each task. There are multiple reasons why this can increase efficiency which I will explore in more detail in a bit.
Nowadays, between being bombarded by phone notifications and juggling an array of responsibilities, it's a challenge for anybody to focus on a singular task for an extended amount of time. Time-blocking is the overarching solution to this problem.
Above is a personal example of time-blocking in a small pocketbook planner I use to keep my life organized (or at least try). As you can see, every task has been assigned a certain block of time, in this case, an hour, for it to be the primary focus of my attention. For that hour, I won't worry about anything else except for that specific task. Of course, the schedule will seldom be followed to the exact hour in the way I have it planned. Regardless, the principle applies all the same and it helps me get what I want to get done, done.
Benefits of Time-Blocking
The first major benefit of time-blocking is the time constraint it imposes upon your work. Whatever time you decide to allot to any specific task is all you have to complete that task, often meaning you'll find a way to finish it. I like to think of this benefit by using a real-life example. If you give yourself a month to clean your room, guess what? It's going to take a month to clean your room. But what if you only give yourself until the end of the week? Best believe it will be done by the end of the week. This is known as Parkinson's Law: work expands to fill the time allotted for it. Of course, there are limitations to this; you cannot expect to accomplish weeks worth of work within a day. You must be realistic, but you'd be surprised by how much your efficiency will increase by simply defining the amount of time allotted to tasks throughout the day.
Second, blocking out time for specific tasks promotes deep focus and getting into a flow state when doing your task. We tend to try and balance multiple things at once: prepare for a meeting, text back a friend, answer your emails, etc. We attempt to do all these tasks simultaneously. Time-blocking forces you to choose one and focus solely on that. This minimizes the distractions we usually face when trying to complete tasks and increases our efficiency tenfold.
Lastly, for benefits, time-blocking lowers the threshold of self-discipline necessary for accomplishing tasks. By having a pre-determined schedule of what to do, when to do it, and how long to do it for, we decrease the amount of friction associated with completing tasks. Fewer decisions equal less brainpower wasted, and it becomes that much easier for us to complete tasks when all we have to do is follow a schedule we pre-assembled.
Drawbacks of Time-Blocking
The first drawback of time-blocking is that it requires planning to time-block successfully. We must define our tasks, decide when to do them, and figure out how much time we should allot to each given task. If planning is neglected, there will be no time-blocking to follow and the result is action with no purpose. This need not take long, and I will elaborate on how I time-block down below.
The other drawback of time-blocking that I have experienced firsthand is the necessity to be flexible. As an organized person (lowkey OCD too), I love having a defined schedule to follow. The drawback? Sometimes, life happens. One thing takes longer than we expected, or we get called into work, or we simply don't feel up to doing what we planned to do. In this case, it can be hard to self-correct our trajectory for the day, especially if you are like me. When one thing goes haywire, the rest of the time-blocked day is thrown off. It takes discipline to make the necessary adjustments and get back to where we need to be.
How To Time-Block Effectively
Okay, so I've established what time-blocking is, the benefits of time-blocking, and the drawbacks of time-blocking. It's clear that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks of time-blocking, so sensibly, we arrive at the next question: how do I time-block?
There is not a singular right or wrong way to time-block, so I would recommend adapting how I time-block to fit your own life and needs.
The first element of time-blocking is when to plan and time-block your day. You could time-block a week at a time, or you could do it the night before. I like to time-block the night before instead of too far in advance. I find that if I plan too far in advance, what I thought I needed to do may not align with what I actually need to accomplish.
Next, define what tasks you want to complete. Be concrete and specific. A typical day for me consists of going to school, having work, getting some sort of workout in, and then choosing one side project to spend time working on. Within these categories, I choose one or two sub-tasks pertinent to my success. For example, if I choose to work on this blog for my side project of the day, I might further specify that I am going to brainstorm ideas for new posts, write a new post, or work on website design.
After defining tasks, time intervals must be chosen for each task. For simplicity, I have been blocking my time in one-hour intervals. I find this to be the sweet spot between too little time and too much time. Of course, block in whatever time interval works for you.
Finally, now that tasks have been defined and assigned a certain amount of time, all that's left to do is to order them in a way conducive to your success. Some things, like school and work for me, are not within my control, so I plan around those when time-blocking. One thing I will recommend is leaving a bit of time in between tasks when blocking your day out. This gives your mind a break and allows for you to decompress before moving on to your next task.
It's as simple as that.
In case my representation and explanation of time-blocking didn't resonate with you, I found an amazing additional resource on YouTube which coincides with most of my major points. Check out the video below for that additional explanation, and give time-blocking a shot. Test it for a week and see how it goes!