We get it: the stress of balancing work, home, and personal responsibilities is rough.
It often feels like there are not enough hours in the day, and many people find themselves scrambling to get important tasks finished. The emotional and physical drain of always feeling like you’re falling behind can be exhausting, but life doesn’t have to be that way.
Plenty of self-help gurus offer elaborate strategies for managing time better and staying organized, but too many of these suggestions take more time to develop and implement than they add back into your day.
It can be frustrating to try tip after tip to get your time management skills on track, only to end up disappointed. But what if there was a solution that was simple, easy to implement, and even easier to understand? And what if that solution was effective?
Good news: that solution exists, and it’s called time blocking.
What is time blocking?
Simply put, time blocking is a process where you take stock of the hours you have available in your schedule and assign blocks of time to specific tasks; it’s a little like setting an appointment with yourself. Some time blockers keep things more general, like setting aside a full afternoon for cleaning their apartment.
Others are more granular—fifteen minutes to brush their teeth, twenty minutes for coffee, ten minutes for reading the news, and an hour to catch up on email.
Time blocking is completely customizable to your needs and the types of tasks you need to accomplish. The flexible level of specificity allows you to hold yourself as accountable (or let yourself be as creative) as you want to be.
Time Blocking Strategies
While we’ve already explained Time Blocking 101, there are some specific strategies that have proven popular among time blockers.
First, there’s task batching. When you “task batch,” you try to group together as many similar tasks as you can so you can complete them at once. The strategy here is to avoid the energy required to switch contexts. So for example, you might task batch by scheduling your laundry, vacuuming, and cleaning the bathroom on the same afternoon to keep your head in a “cleaning” space.
Similar to task batching is day theming. When you “day theme,” you take a full day to focus on a task area. Perhaps you’d set a day aside to do all your lawn work: pruning shrubs, mowing the lawn, weeding flowerbeds, etc.
Day theme works really well for people whose lives have many conflicting responsibilities, like multiple jobs: someone might set a day aside to focus on their part-time gig work or their homework for college.
You also might hear people mention timeboxing – but that’s really just another name for time blocking. Essentially, timeboxing involves setting a certain amount of time aside to focus on a task or series of tasks.
What makes time blocking work?
The philosophy behind time blocking is similar to the Pomodoro technique, but the thinking involved has more nuance than that. Time blocking teaches you to think about your time as though it’s a resource – and it also teaches you to see yourself as your own customer.
Manage your time better
Through time blocking, you learn to budget your time as though it were money (time is money, as they say!) and to respect your schedule and boundaries. It’s a form of developing accountability, which can provide a sense of accomplishment and of being grounded that so many people are desperate to feel in our chaotic times.
Focus on one task at a time
Time blocking is also effective at helping people defeat a very popular and very ineffective habit: multitasking. Studies have been showing for years that multitasking simply doesn’t work; we’re just not very effective at doing multiple tasks at one time (some studies suggest we’re as much as 40% less effective, which is significant).
Attention to detail suffers; focus suffers; the quality of work suffers. And for folks who are already overwhelmed or feeling scattered, multitasking just exacerbates the issue by pulling our focus in too many directions at once. Rather than allowing us to become controlled by that frenetic energy, time blocking encourages users to focus on single tasks or concepts at a time.
By distilling a whirlwind schedule down to simple singular foci, task blocking brings stress relief to the time management process.
Another way in which time blocking gives relief is the way it encourages autonomy and flexibility. There are no rules about how to set up your time increments – thirty minutes, an hour, a day – whatever works for you. That type of flexibility and control can appeal to people whose tasks or schedules require unique setups.
This same flexibility also allows users to think about what time of their day they can best maximize; there’s no pressure to magically become a morning person or to use their evenings to get ahead. You can be you, with the schedule you have and the habits you have, and still make time blocking work.
8 Tips for Making It Stick
Okay, so you’re sold on time blocking. What now? Here are some ideas on how to make time blocking a sustainable organizational practice.
- Find a way to document your time, whether visually or via notes or a to-do list. Documentation will help you stay accountable. Try an app to help you!
- Schedule buffer time and breaks. Nobody is a robot! (Except robots…) If you don’t give yourself adequate rest time or realistic buffers, you’ll find yourself exhausted and falling behind. It doesn’t need to be that way.
- Be realistic about how long it will take to start or wrap up a task. If you’re scheduling time for cooking dinner, don’t just include the time for prepping the recipe. Include the time you’ll need to gather ingredients or heat up the oven or wash the dishes afterward. Realistic planning lets you be successful.
- Know the difference between “deep” and “shallow” tasks. Deep tasks take more focus and energy and require longer time blocks to settle into; shallow tasks are quick and easy, like hanging up clothes or checking the mail. Schedule each type of task with the time it deserves.
- Tell your friends and family that you’ll be time blocking. By asking other people to respect your schedule, you set yourself up to succeed. If others don’t know that you’re getting organized or really need to focus at a given time, they won’t see any problem with asking for some of your attention. One of the benefits of time blocking, though, is that you can time block part of your day to focus just on friends, family, and having fun. So you’ll still have time to connect with loved ones.
- Be patient with yourself. You’ll need to adjust your schedule as you realize what tasks are hard, take longer or shorter than you thought, or if you can’t get up as early (or work as long) as you thought. The first month or two are trial and error. Be gentle with yourself; you’re learning.
- Consider trying a time blocking or calendar app to help you manage your time. Visual reminders and live notifications can be really helpful!
- Schedule a “catch up” day where you get to all the unfinished tasks and loose ends from the week. You won’t always be able to get to everything on a first pass-through, so remember to have that flexible catch-all period where you can get to things you didn’t finish.
What to Avoid
Here’s a short list of things to avoid when getting started with time blocking.
- Don’t wake up late. Starting your day on time ensures you don’t fall behind.
- Don’t procrastinate. Procrastination will cause a traffic jam in your time blocking schedule.
- Don’t be afraid to re-evaluate. If your initial time estimates aren’t working, try again.
- Don’t give up. Time blocking can take a while to get used to; stick with it for at least a month before deciding it isn’t for you.
- Don’t be a doormat. When others (or you, yourself) provide temptation to veer off your scheduled tasks, stay in the course.
- Remind yourself that you’ll fully enjoy the time you’ve set aside for relaxation if you can actually relax, knowing all your work is done.
Managing complex schedules and tasks can take a serious toll on your mental and physical health. By taking control of your time and your schedule, you make a commitment to health and wellness for yourself.
That type of commitment also improves the lives of the people who love you and will make the relaxation time that comes after all your time-blocked tasks sweeter.
● To manage stress and overwhelm from juggling tasks, commit to a sustainable time management practice – not a gimmick or trend, but something that works.
● Time blocking is a simple strategy that asks for you to be accountable to yourself and to schedule your time as though you are your own most important client.
● When you see your time as a resource and your relationship with yourself (and your time) as worthy of respect and trust, it will be easier to stick to your schedule and the tasks you need to complete.
● As time goes by, the relief you’ll feel from staying caught up on your tasks will make all the hard work worth it.
Start your journey with time blocking in Akiflow! Try it for free now!