Productivity & Effectiveness

How I use Time Blocking (or calendar blocking) to get things done

By 02/03/2021 No Comments

Time blocking (or Calendar Blocking) is a very effective tool for the modern workplace, as well as our own lives.

In a nutshell, time blocking is about scheduling everything you have going on in your life into your calendar, or scheduling tool. Everything – from health, to family commitments to work.

There are many benefits to scheduling everything in our calendars but it’s not without downsides and problems too – which we’ll cover in this blog post also.

You can watch the video where I introduce my giant calendar or continue reading below.

 

I started time blocking several years ago and it really helped me get things done. I’d resisted this approach for years after I worked with a tyrannical leader who had this method of running his days. I’ve since been to break this association between him and this method and have successfully got over that psychological scarring.

By scheduling everything in our calendars we can see some very positive effects.

Prioritisation is obvious

Once we have added everything we want to do in our lives into our calendar we can see clearly how little time we actually have available. Once we’ve stopped crying about this problem we can then start to prioritise.

I have found no better way to prioritise what is really important to me than to see everything in a calendar. I can choose which activities to do and which ones I have to say no to. I can move things around and ensure that my days are organised based on the truly important work and activities that matter.

By seeing all of our work and activities (and this is a core principle of agility) we can make informed choices about where we focus our energy and attention.

When we have work and activities scheduled, listed or held all over the place, we can quickly become overwhelmed and spend our time on activities that lead nowhere.

We can say No

When we schedule everything in our calendars, particularly at work, we have a good reason to say no to incoming requests for pointless meetings and other people’s agendas.

It’s not a good thing in work to say No without giving a reason, which is why having your work (even creative work) scheduled, allows you to say No.

Of course, we will still need to be available for work meetings and other people’s agendas, so it makes sense to leave some gaps in our schedule. That way we can say “No, not now but later at 3pm I have some time”.

When we don’t schedule our work in our calendars, don’t be surprised when people book meetings, and we get derailed from what we wanted to do. There’s a classic saying in the world of work “Show me someone’s calendar and I’ll show you their priorities” – so true.

Schedule everything. Thinking time, relaxing time, creative time, work time, meditation, lunch, breaks, exercise, time with family – everything.

The power of digital calendars (and I use Google Calendar) is you can set up recurring tasks to form habits or block out recurring event.

Separate Calendars

You can also use multiple calendars so you can colour code them to make it more obvious what your commitments are. This way you can see, at a glance, where your time is being spent.

It becomes easier to spot patterns, waste and commitments that aren’t in line with your pillars of life and commitments.

Printable

I like to print my weekly calendar and use analogue ways of checking off my commitments and routines. This way I can use a pen for rapid modifications, notes and ideas – which can then be replicated in the digital calendar.

By printing off the calendar I don’t have to use my computer which is full of distractions, and I can carry it around with me without having to use my phone. It stops me falling into the trap of seeing those pesky emails that never stop coming in.

It is visual

The big benefit, as mentioned earlier, is that a calendar with all of your work on it is very visual. It is obvious where you have time and where you do not. It is pleasing to see your week, so you’re not swayed and pulled by other people.

It’s a plan. It might not go to plan, but at least you have something to guide your day or week – rather than going on what mood you’re in, or what other people want.


There are some challenges with Time Blocking though. I will cover these below.

Energy and attention isn’t the same as time

We often have more time than we do energy and attention. Energy and attention are life and as such we should guard it wisely.

Some things on your calendar will give you energy, some will consume energy and some things (and people) will grab our attention when we don’t want them to.

Time blocking only shows time, so be aware of your own energy flows and what activities give or take energy, and schedule them wisely.

It’s not uncommon to see people scheduling world domination but not having the energy or attention to do it all. Or they focus on productivity and leave nothing for their family.

Managing energy and attention is a very personal thing. We are in different seasons of life, so it makes sense to work out what’s important to you and how your energy and attention is used and then schedule accordingly.

Under-estimation

When scheduling activities, we can often under-estimate how long things will take. As a calendar is designed in chunks of time we often make our schedules harder to stick to if we under-estimate how long things take. When we over-estimate we get some time back, but when we under-estimate we have to make some choices.

We may break up the work even though we are in the flow. Bad idea as it can sometimes take a lot of time to get back into the work – flow is important.

We may end up re-scheduling other things if we can, but try not to lose track of them. They were important enough to make it onto your schedule, so it makes sense that we still want to get them done.

We may end up multi-tasking, which is a myth, but we try it, and we get nothing done and everything slips further rather than just a few things.

The best way to avoid these sorts of decisions is to try and get better at estimating and leave some slack in your schedule.

Neglect our personal lives

Go Go Go. Grind. Hustle. Never take a day off.

It’s tempting to focus on productivity and getting things done. After all, to be in demand and busy is a sign of importance and worth…right? Nope. Being loved, spending time with family, being healthy, eating well, being rested and being a good person are more important (at least to me). But we are in different seasons of life with different motivations, so it’s a personal choice.

But it can be tempting to schedule lots of productivity at the expense of the things that are really important in life. It’s why I always start my scheduling with the Pillars of Life and then put work around them.

Nothing but admin

Sometimes plans don’t go to plan. Even the best schedules can be interrupted by emergencies, ill health and more. As such, when we calendar block, but our day gets hijacked we need to be careful not to spend all day re-arrange tasks and activities and getting nothing done. Keep some slack, notice when all you’re doing is moving things around and focus on re-prioritising your day or week and ensure you move things accordingly.

There is no point ignoring what is immediate and urgent because of the time blocking – better to get what needs to be done done, then get back to it. No harm in not achieving the many things we have in our lives, so long as we don’t let that deviation from the schedule become an everyday occurrence.

Not every week will be the same

One thing I see people doing with calendar blocking is simply setting up recurring tasks and hoping each week will be the same. This is a good thing to do for certain routines and habits, but not every week will be the same.

I tend to plan my week on a Sunday evening by moving the various recurring blocks around (as they are typically pillar items) and then filling in the gaps with emerging activities. It works for me, but I spent a long time getting this routine going. Play around and find what works for you.


There you have it, that’s how I use Time Blocking to get lots done. It works for me; it might work for you too. Let me know.

 

Until next time

Rob..

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