How Does Time Blocking Work?
By dedicating a certain number of hours to just one task, you “block off” your time (and your mind) from other projects – and the myriad of other demands on your attention.
An office worker might schedule an uninterrupted block of time in the morning and attend meetings only in the afternoons. A stay-at-home parent may dedicate a 3-hour block of time (when the kids are at school) to their small business, leaving all other tasks for later in the day. A professional may let their family members know they will be unavailable at a certain time every night to make space for a passion project.
QUICK TIP: If you spend a good amount of time each day answering calls, texts, and emails, set aside a certain time each day for these tasks. Communicate these “office hours” on your voicemail message and in your email signature. Your clients and co-workers will appreciate knowing when you’ll respond. They won’t have to guess how busy your day is and when you’ll finally get around to answering your messages.
Clock Time vs. Event Time
Most people work by the hour and live according to their bosses’ schedules. Whether they complete their work or not, they leave the office right at 5 pm every day.
QUICK TIP: Parents treasure the quiet time each day after their kids go to bed – and you can apply this to your daily work. When (most of your) colleagues leave at 5 pm, you can work distraction-free (perhaps for the first time all day).
Stop clock-watching by scheduling tasks to complete each day. Leave your workplace when you’ve met your goals – not when the clock says it’s time to escape. Instead of leaving a project for the next day, finish it now, when all your ideas are flowing. Not only will you increase your productivity, you’ll impress your colleagues and supervisors with your work ethic!
Use the event time strategy to hold off on lunch breaks, trips to the water cooler, etc. Finish everything you start and never again feel the dread of needing to get something done, caught up, or finished by a deadline.
Planning Time vs. Execution Time
If you’re like me, you love spending time on work-related activities that don’t really count as work.
You can dramatically increase your productivity by limiting the amount of time you spend dreaming about your goals and fiddling with your spreadsheets. Use time blocking and a time tracker to balance necessary planning with actual work.
For example, you can set aside one day every year just for long-term, annual planning. At the beginning of each month, you can dedicate an hour to monthly goal-setting. At the beginning of your week, you can sit down for an hour and schedule your projects into daily time blocks.
How to Prioritize Your Time Blocks
Schedule your most important work first. It’s that simple.
When you make your yearly time blocking plan, consider which one task—once completed—would make all your other work easier (or even unnecessary)? Put this task front-and-center in the first four hours of each workday.
For example, if you brew fish-flavored organic kombucha for fickle felines, don’t spend the first half of your day looking for leads online and trying to expand your client base.
You’ll only be dreading the real task for today – cooking up another vat of your tasty beverages!
Instead, do your most important work first. Later in the day, when you have less energy, you can go online, comment on cute cat videos, and subtly name-drop your brand.
Of course, if morning isn’t your most high-energy time you aren’t alone. Schedule your most important task for your best-feeling time of day!
Use the same method to front-load essential monthly and daily tasks.
When you get to work in the morning, ask yourself, “What will I be proud of having done when I leave work today?” Block time early in your day for these tasks and ride home on your daily commute full of accomplishment, not regrets!
How to Balance Goal-Setting and Actual Work
Don’t drown in the “specific ocean”!
As a freelancer, I set my own schedule. I’ve learned to manage my temptation to fritter away my time and set healthy daily goals.
I love to fiddle with the minutia of my schedules, to-do lists, and spreadsheets. It feels like work but isn’t – really. (blush) If I’m honest with myself, I function much better when I work towards large-chunk goals.
You can use Toggl’s simple and intuitive time-tracking tools to understand when you’re working at your best speed – and when you’re coasting along on low-priority tasks.
Remember, it’s fine to organize, plan, and take care of details – just make sure you don’t do these tasks during your precious high-productivity times of day!
How Can I Protect My Time Off?
When you sit down to plan your year, schedule in time blocks for getaways, long weekends, and extended vacations. By committing to time off well in advance, you can look forward to well-earned breaks and work your schedule around them.
If not, you could fall into the trap of wanting to take a vacation but not having the opportunity to escape. Let your bosses, co-workers, and clients know about your plans far in advance to avoid friction and maintain the integrity of your alone time!
On an everyday basis, you can invest in a set of noise-cancelling headphones, close your office door (if possible), and let people know you’ll be unavailable for a certain amount of time.
Won’t People Be Offended?
You must be unapologetic when it comes to your time. Drawing boundaries with your friends, family, and co-workers can seem daunting, but a little practice goes a long way.
Let them know you care about them and their projects and will be available at the end of your next time block.
How to Avoid Overwhelm with Time Blocking
We often indulge in low priority activities during our peak-performance hours because our top-priority jobs seem so daunting. To succeed at time blocking, you’ll need to learn one essential behavior: stop being so hard on yourself!
Look at your goals for today and examine your feelings. Do you look away quickly from certain task headings on your Toggl dashboard? Do you busy yourself with unnecessary or low-priority tasks?
You can solve your overwhelm problem by noticing when you avoid big tasks. More than anything: don't feel bad for avoiding these items on your to-do- list. Your mind triggers stress symptoms.
Keep your Toggl time blocking task headings general, so you have some choice in the matter and don’t feel trapped in a “too-big” task. You can also use your desire to indulge in specifics to get specific about your tasks.
Breaking down big tasks like “build my client base” into smaller, daily tasks like “create a list of leads” and collect contact information from potential clients’ websites.” Take a breath, give yourself manageable tasks, and dive into your day feeling great!
But I’m So Busy – I Don’t Have Time to Sit Back and Block Off My Time!
You probably read this article because you’re frantic and overwhelmed. You need to catch up on your back-logged work before adopting a healthy time blocking strategy. Follow these quick steps to get on the path to recovery:
1. Focus on the Now – Stop. Don’t do anything. Take a breath and realize you’re going in circles, getting parts of many projects done and finishing nothing. If it helps, you can literally say “Stop” out loud.
2. Slow Down You have the time to do every task correctly and well. If this seems impossible, remember that your productivity will dramatically improve as you eliminate distractions and focus on one task at a time. Yes, you really do have all the time you need. Whenever you feel yourself getting anxious, slow down even more than necessary. Work in slow motion and feel the good emotions that come with releasing stress and doing your best on every motion of a task.
3. Complete Something – Anything. Just tell yourself you won’t stop or turn aside to another task (no matter how urgent it seems). Feel a sense of accomplishment for having finished one, small task – and the sense of relief you get from checking one thing off your mental to-do list. When you’ve done this, pick another small task and repeat the process. Repeat this process a few times until you feel grounded; then, take a minute to choose your most high-priority task and dig into it!