Want to organize your workload, avoid procrastination, and improve work-life balance? Learn how to maximize time blocking for productivity.
It’s hard to maintain productivity when you have lots of different tasks vying for your attention. You’re trying hard to focus but your email pings and you feel compelled to check it. Or someone calls an impromptu meeting and your planned schedule goes out the window.
So, how do you keep your focus and minimize interruptions and distractions? Time blocking is a great way to organize your workload, avoid procrastination, and make your day less chaotic.
In this post, we’ll look at the benefits (and potential drawbacks) of this technique and show you how to maximize time blocking for productivity.
The idea is that you separate your working day into blocks of time, during which you’ll concentrate on a specific task or a group of related tasks. This gives you a fixed schedule, making it clear what you need to do and when you need to do it.
As well as major projects, you can block out times for checking emails or doing admin, and times when you’re available for meetings. You can schedule future tasks (such as a pre-arranged meeting in three weeks’ time) or recurring tasks (such as submitting monthly expense claims).
At the start of each week, you’ll prioritize your tasks and assign the time blocks accordingly. You then carry out a quick review at the end of each day, and carry over any unfinished tasks to the next day—or add in any new ones that arise.
There are several variations on time blocking, including time batching, time boxing, and day theming. You can use a combination of these techniques and find out what works best for you.
Time batching is when you create one time block for a bunch of similar tasks that require the same skill set and level of focus. For example, sending out invoices or scheduling social media posts. It’s easier to get into a rhythm, rather than scattering these tasks throughout the day.
Time boxing gives you a more specific timeframe to complete a particular task. For instance, instead of saying, “I’ll work on blog posts between 2 and 5pm”, say “I’ll finish my listicle about SaaS tools between 4 and 5pm”. If you’re someone who often finds tasks expanding to fill the allotted time, or you’re a perfectionist who prolongs tasks by trying to get everything right, set a strict time box and stick to it.
Day theming sees you choose a specific theme for the entire day or time period—such as working solely on content writing on Thursdays, or doing all your catch-up admin on Monday mornings.
Time blocking encourages you to make a firm plan for your day, which is more effective than writing an open-ended to-do list (which can easily expand). It reduces procrastination, since you’re giving yourself start and finish times. And you don’t have to waste time deciding what to work on next: you simply need to consult your schedule.
Focusing on one task at a time is more productive than multitasking, which sees you handling multiple tasks without giving your full attention to any of them. If you’re constantly jumping between unrelated tasks, such as checking your emails every five minutes, it’s harder to maintain your flow.
But time blocking enables “deep work”, the term coined by productivity expert Cal Newport to describe focused blocks of time without distractions. When colleagues see from your calendar that you’re focusing on something, they won’t interrupt you or ask you to start a different task.
The technique helps you develop time-management skills, as you’ll gain a better understanding of how long it takes to complete various tasks. In turn, this helps with future scheduling and prioritization. By taking control of your schedule, you can also avoid overwork and burnout.
Time blocking also helps your HR team with human capital management, which is all about facilitating a productive workplace and promoting work-life balance. It’s useful for time tracking, too—knowing how much time was spent on a particular task helps you monitor productivity and bill clients accurately.
Does time blocking work for everyone? It depends on the type of work you do, and on the stability of your schedule. If you usually have a clear set of daily tasks, it works well. But it doesn’t allow flexibility in terms of impromptu meetings or urgent requests.
For example, if you work in customer support where you need to react to tickets at any time of the day, time blocking might not be right for you. Or if your company is in the middle of a major project such as remote auditing, requiring all hands on deck, it’s harder to declare yourself unavailable.
You’ll need to spend time and effort on creating your schedule each week and reviewing it at the end of each day. If you underestimate the time required for a task, you may feel stressed when you don’t complete it in the allotted time block.
Now that we know what time blocking is and why it’s beneficial, let’s find out how you can make the most of this technique to improve productivity.
Creating an effective schedule is tricky if you don’t know which tasks you should prioritize. Think about your high-priority and mandatory work, and add those as time blocks before anything else. Then, you can fit lower-value tasks around them.
If your role involves attending meetings, block out time when you’ll be available—then you won’t feel bad for declining invites at busy times. If you’re the one scheduling the meetings and there’s more than one in a day, aim to group them close together (with short breaks in between).
To make the most of time blocking, you should choose the optimum times for each task according to your working style. You’ll know from your own experience whether you’re typically more productive first thing in the morning or later in the afternoon.
Schedule key projects for the times when you’re at your sharpest. Less-critical tasks that require a lower level of focus can take place outside of these times.
Life (and work) doesn’t always respect your perfect schedule. Sometimes last-minute meetings or urgent tasks get in the way—there may even be times when you have to abandon the day’s plans altogether. Don’t feel bad about it! Your schedule is a framework, not a mandate.
It’s a good idea to include a time block each day for any unforeseen tasks that might crop up. That way, you can handle them without having to disrupt your regular workload. If nothing unexpected happens, use that block for a break, or to complete a task that’s overrun.
Time blocking isn’t just about work—you should also schedule your breaks. You could even block out time for a five-minute scroll through Facebook, so you don’t feel guilty about doing this when you’re meant to be working. Or just add a blank slot where you can do whatever you want on the day.
It’s also important to create “personal” blocks at the beginning and end of a working day. This helps to prevent you from blurring the lines between your work and personal life, especially if you work from home.
Although it can be helpful to sketch your schedule out on paper at first, it’s best to transfer it to a digital calendar or use a dedicated time blocking tool. Then, you won’t risk losing the paper copies, and it’s easy to amend or delete the time blocks.
You can also see if the other software in your tech stack can help with time blocking and scheduling—such as call center systems that only route calls to agents who are marked as available.
Whatever tool you use, make sure to share your schedule and synchronize your calendar with your team members so they know what you’re working on—and when to leave you alone. (You should be able to view theirs for the same reasons.)
Make it clear which time blocks are for deep work, and when you’re free to attend meetings or pick up messages. This also means that your managers can schedule over the less-important blocks if something really urgent comes up.
Time blocking is a great way to increase your productivity and take control of your schedule. It not only reduces procrastination, but also guards against overwork by building in scheduled breaks.
Time blocking techniques help you to prioritize tasks and understand how long they take to complete. Your team members can see when you’re in deep focus, meaning fewer interruptions. It’s also important to maintain some level of flexibility for any unexpected developments.
As long as you choose the right times to work on different types of tasks, you can maximize time blocking for productivity, improving not only your output but also your work-life balance.