The Complete Guide To Time Blocking

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Person holding a small alarm clock to represent the guide to time blocking

Time is a limited resource, but is often overestimated. 

It is way too easy to fall into the habit of pushing tasks for later and always working extra hours, as the work shifts are never enough. By doing so, they enter an endless cycle of working too much without actually getting anything done. 

We’re used to planning project roadmaps and financial budgets. Still, few people have a time management plan, planning every task into their schedules and setting a specific time to execute each one of them.

If you often feel like your days go by too fast, and you never have enough time to do everything, time blocking can become a great ally to your routine. 

Time blocking is a simple yet highly effective way to reclaim control over your time and schedule. It improves your daily productivity by helping you avoid distractions and do more in less time. 

You should give time blocking a try if you:

  • Struggle choosing which task to tackle next.
  • Get distracted too quickly and have a hard time focusing on a single task.
  • Have a schedule consumed by hours-long meetings. 
  • Work too much and get too little done. 
  • Have a habit of overworking. 
  • Spend too much time on shallow tasks rather than deep, meaningful work. 

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the ins and outs of time blocking and show you how this technique can be helpful for your productivity and how to adapt it to your particular routine with Akiflow. By the of it, you’ll be ready to try time blocking, create a healthy time management plan and develop a balanced work routine.

Time Blocking Explained 

Time blocking is a time management method that helps you plan how to spend your time throughout the day. It requires you to split your day into several blocks of time that will be dedicated to executing one single task per block.

Instead of focusing your calendar on meetings and one-time activities, time blocking makes you schedule a time slot on your calendar for each action you must perform that day, like a daily itinerary. You’ll always know what work is coming up next, so it will become much easier to avoid distractions and ignore procrastination tendencies. 

This notion gained traction in productivity conversations with the publication of Cal Newport’s Deep Work, where he shows the importance of blocking our schedule to make space for focus time and deep work. 

It’s a concept that values the tasks that are essential to your job or that you guarantee the most results, rather than shallow and reactive tasks such as clearing the email inbox or answering non-urgent Slack messages. In other words, time blocking is also about selecting and managing priorities.

Although filling your daily calendar with several time blocks may seem nerve-racking at first, following it through is not as tough as it may appear. 

Much like implementing any new habit, time blocking takes some adjusting and discipline until it becomes effective. With practice, it will be intuitive for you to create schedules that respect the natural flow of your day while promoting productivity.

The Benefits Of Time Blocking

Time blocking gives you greater control over your schedule.

It is typical, for example, to accept meeting invitations quickly and schedule other duties around them. It can become a problem when we already have a long to-do list to balance with additional incoming meetings. 

But when you use time blocking and restrict your time, declining some meetings or offering a better time is easier. Similarly, it allows you to better grasp the job complexity and how much time is required to complete them.

Time blocking can have many positive impacts on your routine:

  • It sets a foundation for priorities.
  • It’s easier to meet deadlines.
  • It eliminates multitasking.
  • It promotes more deep work and less shallow work.

It sets a foundation for priorities.

Time blocking requires you to list and track all of your responsibilities, as well as assign them the proper priority. With such a backlog of your priorities, it’s easy to plan the days ahead, knowing what you need to tackle first. 

It also helps you to track how you are spending your time and if you are indeed managing your schedule to work on your priorities and towards your goals. With practice, you’ll get better at anticipating how long each task takes and not overcommit yourself. 

It will be easier to meet deadlines.

Tasks become non-negotiable when they are scheduled for a specific time. This way, you can always devote the necessary hours to each assignment and finish it by the deadline.

For example, you can break larger projects into small batches and commit to blocking a little bit of time every day or every week until the deadline.

It eliminates multitasking. 

Juggling several tasks at the same time is a productivity killer. Time blocking eliminates multitasking by requiring you to focus on a single task at a time. 

You must choose a task and work on it until its conclusion or until the time for it is up. It is also a best practice to mute your cellphone and close unnecessary apps while working on your tasks to reduce the temptation to multitask. 

It promotes more deep work and less shallow work. 

Shallow work consists of the tasks that you can tackle fast but don’t significantly impact your goals. Tasks like answering non-urgent emails are considered shallow work because they easily take too much space in our work shift, jeopardizing time for deep work. 

The time blocking method reverses this situation by requiring you to assign time slots for shallow work and deep work, not allowing you to work endlessly on tasks that won’t add up to your progress. It also triggers your brain to train its concentration abilities, as you’ll focus on one assignment at a time.

Time Blocking Variations

While classic time blocking enthusiasts advocate scheduling every minute of your day, you may prefer a more flexible strategy in which you just allocate time for the most important activities.

You could also find it helpful to plan an entire week at once or to plan the following day every evening. 

Nonetheless, time blocking rules are personal. Regardless of how you design your personal time management plan and routine, the objective is to ensure that you have enough time to do everything on your to-do list.

Here are some time blocking variations that can help you find the best time management approach for your routine:

Task batching 

With the task batching approach, you’ll group several similar small tasks to complete over a time slot. Instead of scheduling every little task and every minute of your day, task batching requires you to block slots on your day or week to get things done. Planning a schedule with task batching is faster and more practical than traditional time blocking. 

Also known as macro blocking, this variation helps you avoid context switching too much during the day. Rather than checking your email inbox every five minutes, you can schedule a time block where you’ll check your email and answer all Slack messages, for example. 

Day theming

While tasks bathing works with larger chunks of time, day theming requires you to block whole days for a single responsibility. It is the ultimate strategy for those who struggle to focus while context switching, as your attention for the day, will be dedicated to only one type of activity. 

Choosing a theme for the day helps you save energy by lowering your cognitive load as you won’t be juggling many different tasks per day. It can be a great option for entrepreneurs, as they often need to balance many activities simultaneously, such as product development, sales, and customer support. 

Time boxing

Time boxing offers a different take on time blocking, requiring you to determine how much time you’ll devote to a specific task. The time restriction creates a healthy pressure that helps you focus better and work more effectively, so you can finish the task on time. 

This variation can be a helpful tool to overcome perfectionist thoughts, as you’ll need to complete the task in a set time and won’t have time to wonder whether the work is perfect or not.

Time Blocking In Action

At first, time blocking might not seem a good fit for those who need to perform tons of reactive work daily. As it was initially thought for knowledge workers, who need some deep focus time to get their job done and usually have the flexibility to reorganize their schedules as preferred, time blocking can come across as irrealistic for other professionals. 

Time blocking, however, is a highly flexible methodology. Although the traditional practices of it may be too rigid for some types of jobs, time blocking’s core concept applies to any work routine and lifestyle and greatly benefit anyone who tries it. 

Next, you’ll find guidelines to help you craft your own time blocking strategy. From better understanding yourself and your body to effectively designing your ideal schedule, the following tips will ease your way into practicing time blocking. 

Identifying your energy patterns and peaks

Most of us would like to fit a hundred different activities in a day or copy someone else’s supposedly successful routine. But the truth is that each person has their own energy patterns and peaks that strongly influence our productivity. 

Instead of working against our biological settings, time blocking can help us use it in our favor. 

According to the US NIH, our circadian rhythms control our sleep and hunger, body temperature, and alertness, meaning the intensity of our brain activity. Although there are some standards to how the circadian rhythms work in the human body, you’ll only learn your particularities through observation, trial, and error. 

For example, you may observe that you feel more energized and attentive in the mornings, so that would be a great period to allocate most of your focus time. On the other hand, if you feel like you can’t get straight into complex assignments right after lunch, try to ease your way into work mode with some low-complexity or operational tasks at first. 

Assessing your routine and current activities

Once you’ve become familiar with your individual productivity patterns, you must assess your current activities, responsibilities, and priorities.

Like an inventory, you’ll list your daily, weekly, and monthly professional and personal activities. Catalog all your recurring tasks and upcoming one-time assignments. Then, run a prioritization assessment to verify which activities are relevant to your goals and which you can delegate, automate, archive, or delete.

Here is what the activity inventory might look like for a CEO or founder:

Priorities:

  • Review the company’s whitepaper
  • Complete monthly growth report
  • Finish that book

Must-Do:

  • Answer urgent emails
  • Join daily team meeting
  • Hit the gym

Automate:

  • Schedule meetings
  • Answer FAQ on the customer support platform

Delegate:

  • Write that announcement for the blog
  • Fix minor bugs on the website
  • Fix kitchen pipe issue

Archive:

  • Record a webinar
  • Take piano classes

Delete:

  • Check team member’s work once a day

Designing the ideal daily plan

At this point, you’ll know your most productive period of the day and the activities you’ll have to fit in. Now is the time to design your daily plan.

Planning is the key to a successful time blocking technique. In this step, you must find a balance between what you want your schedule to look like versus what is realistic to your routine and lifestyle. 

4 steps to create a daily plan

1. With your to-do list and calendar in hand, assign a time slot to each desired activity

Doing so will provide you with an overview of how much time you have left to allocate to other tasks or if you need to rethink your plan.

e.g.:

  • 1h/week → administrative tasks
  • 4h/week → deep focus on product-related tasks
  • 4h/week → deep focus on marketing-related tasks
  • 2h/week → read relevant business material
  • 3h/week → personal tasks
  • 30m/ every day → review emails and inbox
  • 6h/week → play sports

2. Dedicate time slots for deep focus time. 

Every profession has its need for deep focus, which is often neglected. Think of the tasks that would have better outcomes if you had the chance to execute them in deep focus, without juggling other tasks or being interrupted by distractions. 

By locking slots for deep focus on your calendar, you are making the time for it, just as you make the time for meetings. 

3. Don’t forget to add breaks. 

It is a common mistake to think you can follow through with a strict routine without any breaks between tasks. Doing so might trigger the exact opposite effect: the more you pressure and tire yourself, the easier it will be to give in to procrastination. 

You need time to grab a coffee, have a chat, and manage an interruption. Adding frequent shorts breaks or a few longer ones might help your brain stay fresh and switch between activities more smoothly. 

Turn your breaks into placeholders on your calendar, so it will be less likely for you to skip or schedule something else on top of them. 

4. Make your calendar visually practical. 

One of the best tips to help you stick with time blocking is to organize your calendar with a visually practical strategy.

You can do so by using a color-coding palette or emojis that categorizes the tasks in a way that you’ll know what is coming up next just by glancing at the calendar.

Testing, tracking, and optimizing the plan

With your daily plan ready, it’s time to put it to practice. 

It’s important to remember this is the first draft of a time-blocked schedule, and it probably won’t be as practical and accurate as you expect it to be. After some days of following the plan, it’s helpful to take a step back to review it and analyze if it’s working efficiently or not. 

When reviewing your daily plan, you can ask yourself:

  • Did I manage to do everything I had scheduled? If not, why? 
  • Did my tasks take more or less time than I planned? 
  • How did I feel at the end of the day? Reasonably tired or with a “fried brain” feeling?
  • Did I procrastinate? How much and which tasks?
  • Am I making enough time for personal activities? 

Flexibility is critical when it comes to time blocking and routine building. 

Unexpected events happen and your life also changes over time, so your schedule must be a flexible tool and evolve with you. Keep an open mind and make the necessary adjustments if you feel like the current structure isn’t working.

Reclaiming and protecting your time

The real challenge in time blocking is communicating and creating boundaries to protect your time. 

We are so used to saying yes to every meeting and allowing others to control our time instead of us that breaking such a habit can seem stressful. But reclaiming our time as ours and protecting it from external disturbance doesn’t need to be a hassle.

The first step is communicating with other people about your new schedule and how it works. 

You can communicate verbally, send a message with your availability or create a public calendar where people can check when they reach out to you or not. Both work colleagues and family or housemates must be aware of your availability to respect it. 

It is ok if people have a few issues with your new time-blocked daily plan at first. They were so used to the old you that it might seem like a subtle change. The key is to stick to your plan, decline or reschedule unexpected requests when possible, and politely explain your strategy if it suits the situation. It also helps to make your time slots non-bookable to avoid overlapping commitments. 

Your increase in productivity will soon show everyone the perks of being in total control of your schedule with time blocking. 

Time blocking made easy: 

  • Set a realistic time budget. You’ll probably need more time for that task than you think.
  • Plan your day’s activities based on your ability to focus and your physical and mental energy levels.
  • Schedule regular breaks throughout the day.
  • Make time for low-impact duties (email, for example).
  • Spare some time for possible emergencies/interruptions.

Time Blocking In Akiflow

You can resort to the old-fashioned pen and paper to prepare for time blocking, but using a time blocking app like Akiflow can make the process much more straightforward. 

A single source of truth

Akiflow is a task and time management tool that helps you organize your schedule starting from a unified view of all your tasks. 

It pulls assignments and reminders from other platforms you may use recurrently, such as email, project management tools, and messenger. Instead of jumping between apps to find your tasks and create your activity inventory, you can quickly connect them with Akiflow and let our tool do all the hard work. 

For any task that isn’t registered in any other app, you can create it from scratch in your Inbox or with the command bar. You can open the command bar anytime by pressing alt + space and never forget another idea again. 

A visually practical calendar

When it comes to planning your days, Akiflow combines a to-do list and calendar view that allows you to drag and drop the tasks onto the schedule, making it much easier to create time blocks. 

In the task’s details, you can set the execution date, time, deadline, repetition, determine a priority level, and categorize it with a label. You can create and color-code events to indicate themes for the day or task batches and also set a task as the goal for the day to keep a visual reminder to get it done. 

Easily share your plans and schedule

You can use the features Copy & Share or Share Availability to communicate your schedule to your team and anyone else. 

With Copy & Share, Akiflow quickly summarizes all your tasks and events in a short paragraph that you can copy and then send to your contacts via message or email. The Share Availability feature allows you to select the period you are available for meetings or interruptions and lets you share it with your contacts as well. 

Start time blocking with Akiflow 

Akiflow can be a reliable ally in your journey of implementing time blocking in your routine. With all the features mentioned above and beyond, you’ll have all the tools to create practical and realistic schedules that you can actually follow and stick to. 

You can learn more about time blocking in our blog or Akiflow’s features in our user guide

If you have any further questions about time blocking or how to use Akiflow, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our staff. We’ll be happy to assist you! 😄