We’ve all had those days. The kind of day where you start off motivated, ready to work hard and accomplish a lot. Yet, when the end of the day rolls around, you realize you have little to show for it.
Oh, you were busy all day—but got very little accomplished, and hardly touched the items on your to-do list. When you look back, you realize you spent the majority of your time on busy work, emergencies, and unimportant tasks. You’re working hard, but like most of us, you could probably manage your time better.
The term “time management” may be a big buzzword right now, but when it’s done right, it lets you be more productive at work, and have more time left for activities that are important to you when you’re not at work. By implementing the right time management strategy for your work style and personality, you are better able to:
- Accomplish your important daily tasks
- Maintain better focus
- Cut down on stress
- Be more confident in the decisions you make
- Have time for activities you enjoy
- Enjoy a better balance in your life
- Take pleasure in both your work and free time more
Have you noticed that some people seem to be naturally productive, while others struggle with completing important tasks, meeting deadlines, or feeling overwhelmed? If you’re in the latter group, don’t worry. Productive people weren’t born that way, and they don’t have any sort of innate advantage. They’ve simply found a time management system that makes sense to them, and is easy to follow.
There’s no single one-size-fits-all solution for time management that fits every person. However, there is a flexible system called “time blocking” that most people find effective and easy to follow. With a little planning and a little practice, most people find that time blocking can take them to new levels of productivity, both at work and at home.
What is time blocking?
Time blocking is a time management method where you divide your workday into individual blocks of time and schedule tasks throughout the day. Each time block is designated for a purpose, and is only used for that particular task or goal. Blocks can be designated for any task or goal that’s relevant for you on any given day or week. For example, you may divide your day into blocks for:
- Creating proposals
- Client work
- Administrative work
- Answering emails or phone calls
- Prep work for the next day or week
- Time for unexpected but urgent tasks
Due to the flexible nature of time blocking, you can decide which blocks you’ll have for each day, and in what order. Depending on the day’s priorities, you may choose to spend more time on client work and proposals, or meetings and administrative work. You can also devote an entire day to a certain task or goal.
If the idea of scheduling your day doesn’t initially appeal to you, consider the many advantages to setting time blocks. By scheduling your anticipated tasks throughout the day, you will:
- Know what you’re doing each day because each day or week is scheduled in advance. This allows you to make better use of your time and stay on top of projects.
- Be able to prioritize tasks and work on higher priorities during your most productive time of the day.
- Be able to adjust your schedule if a particular task takes longer than planned. If a task runs long, you can adjust the rest of the day or week to accommodate the change.
- Eliminate surprises in your schedule and plan time to deal with unexpected tasks so you’re not playing catch-up.
- Stay on task and have the structure you need for easier recovery from distractions. It also helps eliminate stress from the inevitable distractions and unexpected tasks, because you already know how it will affect the rest of your day.
Different types of time blocking
One of the factors that makes time blocking so effective is its flexibility. Because it can be adapted to nearly every mindset and work style, it can fit nearly every person and every job. It can also change to adapt to different projects or to deal with emergencies. You can adjust time blocking to fit your own schedule by using one of the three popular variations of the method:
- Task Batching – this method groups similar tasks together to complete at one time. As an example, you may set 2 blocks during the day to read and respond to emails, to replace your habit of checking email once an hour. The purpose of batching tasks is to cut down on how often you mentally switch between tasks, or what’s known as context switching. Eliminated context switching helps you maintain focus so you can complete all similar tasks at once, before moving on to your next task.
- Day Theming – having a theme for each day allows you to devote the entire day to a particular task. An example of day theming is to schedule all of your planning on Mondays, perform client work on Tuesdays, do your marketing on Wednesday, and so on. You can repeat theme days throughout the week, such as working on client projects on Mondays and Thursdays. You can also designate hybrid weeks, where certain days have a theme, such as planning on Mondays and marketing on Wednesdays, while the rest of the days use time blocks for different tasks throughout the day.
- Time Boxing – in this method, you set restrictions on your time blocks, specifying a specific time, task, desired results. For instance, suppose you’re working on client proposals. Instead of simply designating a two hour block to work on the proposals, your time box would specify that in that two hour block, you’ll finish writing 3 proposals. Setting time limits and productivity goals can be a fun way to challenge yourself to finish in the allotted time, as well as gamify the task.
What makes time blocking effective?
The concept of time blocking isn’t new. Some version of it has probably been in use since not long after the calendar was invented. Benjamin Franklin, known for his productivity, followed a daily schedule that included work blocks, lunch, and rest time.
Time blocking has remained popular for decades and has been adopted by many because it works. There are a number of reasons why time blocking has been effective for the many people who’ve tried it:
It promotes more focused work. Scheduling blocks for specific tasks lets you know exactly what you’ll be doing throughout the day. It takes the guesswork out of your schedule, so you can focus on your priorities without worrying about other tasks. Time blocking also promotes “deep work” or what Cal Newport describes in his 2016 book as “a state of distraction-free concentration.”
It helps get rid of busy work in your day. It’s easy to spend too much time on busy work, or work that’s urgent but not important. While busy work is easy to do in a work environment filled with distractions, it’s not the type of work that will get you closer to your goals. Instead of getting caught up all day in busy work, time blocking lets you set aside a block for busy tasks. During the block, you do what you can on the task. When the block is finished, you set it aside and move on to work with higher results. At the end of the day, you’ll see that you accomplished several important, high priority tasks, in addition to the busy work.
It creates mindfulness on how time is spent. Think about the last time you had a day where you were busy, yet felt like you didn’t get anything done all day. Did you wonder where the time went? Blocking out your time helps you know where you’re spending your time each day. You’ll start each day with intention, know what you’re working on, and will know whether or not you followed your schedule. Once you start time blocking, track your blocks for several days to see if you have realistic expectations for your time. You may want to make adjustments that allow you to spend more time on what’s important to you, such as work priorities or personal time. Time blocking also helps you impose limits so you can meet deadlines and fight against perfectionism.
It helps you follow through on your goals. Studies show when you write down your goals, you are more likely to accomplish them than if you simply make a mental note of them. Setting a vague intention to “work on the report” might not actually mean you get anything done on it. By time boxing an hour on your calendar with the goal to find two sources and write four paragraphs of the report, you’re more likely to accomplish the task. This additional progress each day can add up to big results over time.
How to time block your day
Ready to get started with time blocking your day? Great! Here’s how to create time blocks and schedule your workday, and some best practices to ensure good results right from the start:
- Prioritize Your Responsibilities – The first step is to determine why you’re using time blocking in the first place, so you can make sure the process is meeting your expectations. This can be anything that’s important to you, including getting more work done each day, having more focus time, eliminating distractions, or another reason. Next, identify your responsibilities and prioritize them. Setting your priorities before you start will help you decide what tasks to schedule and how much time to give to each one.
- Create Your To-Do List – Keeping your priorities in mind, make a list of the tasks you’d like to accomplish, both at work and home. Keep in mind that this list is subject to change, depending on your template for each day.
- Create a Template for Your Day – Here’s where you’ll schedule routine tasks that happen every day. These are usually shorter blocks at the beginning and end of each day. These are usually the same each day, but they might change, depending on the work you’re doing, your schedule, and your priorities. You’ll also want longer blocks, usually in the middle of each day, for deeper work.
- Determine Your Best Time – Everyone has a time of day when they are most productive. It’s the time when you have the most energy, focus, and are least likely to be bothered. This “best time” should be set aside for important, high priority tasks and deep work. Try not to do busy work or unplanned tasks during this time.
- Set Aside Time for Deep Work, Busy Work, and Personal Time – Schedule blocks for these each day. Having blocks for each type of work helps you find a balance to maximize productivity and use your best time for more important tasks, yet still have time for the busy work that occurs each day.
- Plan for Unplanned Tasks – In spite of your careful planning, you know that at some point, an urgent email, phone call or meeting will come up that you have to deal with today. You can schedule one or more blocks of time that are set aside to react to unexpected demands on your time. This helps keep your most productive time free for important, high priority tasks.
A time blocking example
Once you’ve set your priorities and created your daily template, it’s simple to get started with time blocking. For an early example of time blocking, take a look at Benjamin Franklin’s daily schedule.
You can also use a simple spreadsheet to create your time blocking schedule. This example includes daily busy work, times for unexpected tasks, and breaks.
Though pen and paper or a spreadsheet can work for time blocking, it’s far more effective to take advantage of software tools, such as Tempo Timesheets and Tempo Planner, that are designed specifically for time planning and tracking. These tools make it easy to see your schedule at a glance, make changes if needed, and track your results over time with the integrated reports.
No matter which time blocking method or variation you use, over time you should see an increase in focus and productivity and a decrease in busy work and distractions.
Time blocking mistakes to avoid
Time blocking is a relatively simple and flexible method to increase your productivity. However, there are some pitfalls that can disrupt your best attempts at scheduling your day. Watching for these common mistakes so you can avoid them and get the most out of your time blocking schedule.
- Underestimating Time – When you first start time blocking, you’ll do your best to estimate how long each task should take. You won’t always be correct, but the more you practice, the better you’ll get at this. You can take an additional step by adding a block of extra buffer time between tasks to allow for underestimating your time.
- Overscheduling Blocks – Though some highly productive people do schedule every 5 minutes of their day, it’s not necessary for the rest of us. In fact, overscheduling can cause stress, distractions, and lead to a loss of productivity. A better option is to leave some wiggle room, especially for downtime or busy work. At the same time, resist being too general in your time blocks. Instead of having a two hour block for “miscellaneous administrative tasks,” list out the tasks you’re working on, like accounting, payroll, and filing.
- Not Including Breaks – Remember that the most productive people take regular breaks, in addition to a lunch break. You should, too. Don’t just leave lunch to chance. Schedule breaks and down time accordingly, to get the most out of your day.
- Following Time Blocks Too Strictly – Think of time blocking as a guide, rather than a rigid schedule set in stone. Things will come up during the day, and you won’t always be able to stick to your exact schedule. Plan ahead for this by scheduling time for unexpected tasks. Depending on your work, you might need one or two blocks a week, an hour every day, or time each morning and afternoon. If unexpected tasks come up and need your immediate attention, adjust your schedule during the day. Your daily schedule is there to help reduce your stress, not add to it.
- Not Scheduling Everything – Time blocking works best when you use it throughout the entire day, not just for scheduling the most important tasks. Only scheduling big tasks can cause you to forget about smaller tasks and busy work. Not allowing enough time for your daily busy work can set you up for distractions and underestimating your time.
Time Blocking with Tempo
Time blocking is an effective way to get a better handle on where your time goes during the day. It also helps you set your priorities, avoid distractions, and be more productive throughout each day. The simplest way to incorporate time blocking into your day is to use Tempo Timesheets.
Tempo Timesheets are designed so you can plan your time and allocate resources. They offer a scalable solution whether you’re tracking time, agile planning, or capacity reporting. Tempo Timesheets help in recording time worked, planning ahead, increasing productivity, and better cost estimations and budgeting.
Combining Tempo Timesheets, Tempo Planner, and Jira gives you the tools you need to add value to your organization by:
- Prioritizing tasks so you can decide where best to put your effort
- Controlling project complexity to keep control of your work
- Staying on top of projects so you can meet your deadlines
- Managing teams for optimal use of time and resources
- Having the flexibility to adapt as needed to best add value to your customers and organization
You can also use the built-in reports to get the big picture of your work and feedback on your planning. By combining Tempo Timesheets and Tempo Planner, you can take advantage of the insights in the Planned vs. Actual report. This report takes data from both tools and lets you see your time planned compared to actual time worked. You can use these results to see where you actually spend your time, build more accurate plans for future projects, and help limit unplanned events.
Are you ready to take your daily productivity to the next level, while creating a better balance between work and personal time? See how Tempo Planner and Tempo Timesheets can help you with time blocking for better planning and increased productivity in all aspects of your life. Speak to a Tempo product expert today and book a personalized demo.