You have a gazillion things to do at work, at home, and even for fun. You’ve tried to-do lists, using trackers in a bullet journal, even just using productivity apps like Wunderlist and Trello. Nothing. Freaking. WORKS.
Yes. I know. I have literally tried all those things, myself, but I finally have the answer: Time blocking.
Time blocking is perfect for managing your work tasks (I use it to plan my blog and Virtual Assistant work), but it’s also great for managing time at home, including meal planning, cleaning tasks, and other personal activities.
I recently realized that the adage “time is money” is totally true. While we all think that money is the most precious thing in our lives, the truth is our time matters and how we choose to use it can determine how successful our lives will be.
Well-established people know this and will spend money on outsourcing certain tasks— stuff they don’t like or aren’t good at, so that they will have more time for achieving their goals. Whether that is spending more time with their family, taking time out of their day to focus on health and wellness, or building their business. They use the time blocking technique to keep track of their day-today tasks.
So, the big question is: if we gave up one hour a day of video games, lying around on our phones, or watching Netflix, what could you do with that time?
You could start building a dream business, working out to finally get healthy, read a book to replenish your mind, spend quality time with your partner, or kids… the point is, you could be working towards those big goals that you never seem to have time for.
The magic trick? Time blocking!
With time blocking, you basically make an entire list of every single thing you need to do, and then you block out time each week to get those things done. You learn to dedicate time to long-term goals and focus on one thing at a time. You’ll limit your time, so you will work more quickly and efficiently, getting the things that less interest you done in minimal time and giving yourself more time for the stuff you actually want to do.
Time blocking will ultimately teach you time management. If you have only 20 minutes to clean the bathroom, focus on the more big, important things, like the toilet and shower, instead of obsessing over the small things. No more wasting time on trying to get everything just right. You’ll learn to be more realistic.
I know what you’re thinking: it sounds like you’ll be stuck in a rigid schedule, and you might hate that idea.
Here’s the thing: you’ll gain more flexibility because during your free time (blocked out free time, of course) you won’t end up having to run around and take out the garbage, pick up dirty clothes, dust random things, etc. It’ll all be DONE so you can just enjoy your time with your friends and family! (Or just yourself. That’s important too.)
But… how do you do it?
1. Make your list, and then prioritize.
You may want to do this over a week or two, so you don’t miss anything, but start with maybe 15 minutes right now and then keep adding to it. Your list could include house stuff, work stuff, or both. Here’s what mine looks like (in no particular order):
- Writing blog posts
- Writing newsletters
- Client work
- Updating old blog posts & adding new Pinterest images
- Mastermind meetings
- Budget meetings
- Movie night (with friends)
- Date night
- Work (at schools)
- Cleaning the bathroom
- Cleaning the kitchen
- Working out
Then, you prioritize all of it. What’s most important for you to get done each week? Arrange your list it in that order.
Next, allocate your top tasks to certain days a week. I usually choose three top items to do each day, but you can probably go with three or five. Three is just more realistic for me because after I get home from school, I don’t have a ton of time.
Write those top three daily items down in your daily planner, if you have one. (If you don’t, we highly suggest you invest in one.) Those are the tasks you MUST do each day. Any others are bonuses!
2. Block time for your tasks.
Once you have a planner, pull it out! It’s ideal if you’ve got a weekly calendar of some sort, because you aren’t just going to tell yourself, “I’m going to work out for one hour on MWF.” You’re going to SCHEDULE it, which means you’ll need something to schedule with!
Start with filling in blocks of time that are non-negotiable. For me, it’s my work days at school. I usually block off 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., including travel time. I won’t be able to get any blog or housework done during that time, so I plan around it.
Then, start blocking in time for other tasks.
For nearly everything, I usually give myself one hour for each task, or even half an hour. If you give yourself more than that, you may find you become inefficient—not only because your mind will get tired, but because if you think you have tons of time, you’ll start wasting it! (Guilty as charged… I used to check my emails every 10 seconds and waste HOURS until I gave myself only one hour to write blog posts!)
If you have a big project, like cleaning out your closet, just break it up. Allot one hour a day instead of one big four-hour chunk, and you’ll be much more efficient. You’ll also avoid feeling overwhelmed!
The point is, in your one hour, 20 minutes or half an hour, you set a timer and you race against the clock to get it done. When you know you only have so much time, you’ll prioritize within your tasks too. For example, if I give myself 15 minutes a day to clean the bedroom, I’m picking up clothes off the floor, making the bed, folding clothes I haven’t done yet… and not worrying about wiping the fan blades. That can be done once a month or every few months instead.
So, block your time and make a schedule!
As an example, here was my time blocked schedule for today:
9am-9:30am: Email & to-dos
9:30-10:30am: Breakfast, getting ready for the day
10:30am to 11am: Write newsletter
11:15am: Doctor’s appointment
12pm-12:30pm: Email & to-dos
12:30-2pm: Write blog posts
2pm-2:30pm: Mastermind group meeting
3pm-4pm: Post edits, graphics, scheduling
4pm-7pm: Client work
7pm-11pm: Personal time!
Buffer & Strategic Blocks
The orange buffer-blocks are something I learned from the 12 Week Year. They are 30 minutes to 1-hour blocks for my ongoing list of random to-dos and for checking emails. Emails are HUGE time-suckers so it’s important to set specific times you check them, and only check them during that time! These blocks keep me from doing random tasks during other time blocks, because if I have something random to do I just add to my list and wait until my next buffer block to do them.
That 3-hour Strategic Block I have scheduled for Thursdays is also something I learned from the 12 Week Year. It’s a time block I use to work towards big business goals without distractions. In December, I used those three hours to work on my new product, the Millennial Life Planner. In January, I used it to focus on Pinning Perfect, a course about Pinterest I took to help with my blog’s marketing. This is the ONLY block that I give three hours to, and even during that block, I usually took a break every hour or so to refresh my mind and stay efficient.
It’s sort of incredible how quickly I got through both of those projects by implementing this strategy. (I highly recommend reading The 12 Week Year).
3. Set alerts on your phone, even if you use a physical paper planner.
If you’re not a paper & pen person, this is perfect for you. You can do your planning on a calendar app and set alerts for each block, but even if you are a pen & paper person, setting alerts are quite helpful!
If you schedule your calendar on your phone, you can set it to alert you 5 minutes before your next task so that you have a jump start to prepare yourself. DO NOT give yourself more than 5 minutes to finish up, or you’ll risk running into your next time block, and ruin your productivity.
(Again, guilty as charged. These are lessons I’ve learned myself so don’t make the same mistakes!)
4. Do NOTHING but the task you’ve assigned during your respective time blocks.
No matter what, do not let ANYTHING distract you during your blocks! This is the hardest part, but it’s the most important!
If you block your time for meal planning, but instead you check your email, go on Facebook, empty the garbage, do the dishes, or anything else, you may have gotten random things done, but you totally skipped meal planning! The priority task need to be prioritized.
If you find that you keep doing random tasks and being distracted, take a look at your list and reassess your priorities. What’s MOST important to you?
If nothing needs to change there, then look at your time block schedule. Did you forget to include time for those random tasks you keep doing instead? Make sure you give yourself enough time each week to get the most important things done, and then fit in your other daily/weekly/monthly tasks around those.
Something that may help is to keep a master list of random to-dos that you can do during a Buffer Block, or something similar. That way, when random stuff does come up, you have a list you can work on during a dedicated time instead of feeling like you never have time for that.
Remember: You need to focus 100% of your energy on the task at hand if you want to be productive. Distractions take away from your goals.
5. Expect to make some mistakes & use them to improve.
Your first time trying this, you’re going to screw up, but come up with solutions, instead of dwelling on your mistakes! Practice makes perfect, or close to it.
If you struggle with focusing on one thing at a time and constantly check your phone, then move your phone into another room. If you get distracted when working online, always work in one tab, or two if necessary. Use a service like AntiSocial to block distracting websites like Facebook, YouTube, and BuzzFeed. Clear your desk so you don’t feel overwhelmed. Listen to music to make tasks you don’t enjoy, more fun!
If you have a fail day where you just kind of ignore your time blocking — which you will, it still happens to me from time to time — don’t stress yourself too much trying to catch up! Just cut your losses and move on.
And that’s it! Here’s a quick review:
- Make your list, and then prioritize each task.
- Block time for your most important tasks on a weekly/hourly calendar.
- Set alerts on your phone, even if you use a physical paper planner.
- Do NOTHING but the task you’ve assigned yourself during your time blocks.
- Expect to make some mistakes & use them to improve.
Do you have any tips on time blocking? Share them in a comment below!
(This article was originally published on FlightandScarlet.com.)
Hectic schedule? Join VINA to easily make friends while time blocking your busy day.