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7 min read

How to use time blocking for better time management

Feeling overwhelmed? Need more hours in the day? Time blocking can lead to fewer distractions and better time management.
From Team '23

Tempo Team

Everybody deals with time management issues related to their business, professional, or life goals. There just don’t seem to be enough hours in the day.

For many, the solution is simple: time blocking. With time blocking, you can more effectively prioritize the things that matter, set realistic goals, and accomplish them without driving yourself crazy. 

What is time blocking?

Time blocking is a time management technique that forces you to focus on your priorities. It breaks up your day into specific blocks of work where you must stick to one goal at a time. These could be:

  • Meetings 

  • Client work

  • Administrative work

  • Answering emails or phone calls

  • Breaks

  • Prep work for the next day or week

  • Time for unexpected but urgent tasks 

You’re in charge of setting up your day ahead of time and dividing it into blocks that work for you. They might change depending on the project or your personal life. 

Time blocking can be used independently or combined with other methods like the Pomodoro Technique. It’s a flexible system to help you accomplish the most important tasks.

How does time blocking work

Whether you’re trying to eliminate distractions or increase your efficiency, time blocks help you track how well you’re meeting expectations. Here’s how to get started:

1. Prioritize your responsibilities 

Identify the most vital things you must achieve during the day. This task list should include personal and professional goals. Examples include filing your expenses before a looming deadline or laying the groundwork for a long-term project. 

2. Create your to-do list

Use your priorities to map out a daily schedule. Make sure to include major tasks (e.g., finishing the report that was due in January) and lesser ones (e.g., cleaning out the coffee machine before making a new batch). 

3. Create a template for your day 

Make an outline to help you with your to-do lists. These might be shorter blocks for light work in the morning, mid-length for administrative work in the evening, and longer blocks for deep work after lunch. Avoid front-loading the most difficult tasks and burning yourself out, but don’t put off the hard stuff until you’re out of energy, either.

4. Determine your best time

Pay attention to your natural energy – your productivity may vary depending on the task and time of day. For example, if you’re slower in the afternoon, designate that time slot for emails and tackle physical tasks earlier.

5. Set aside time for deep work, busy work, and personal time

Schedule blocks for everything, even personal time. You may be investigating time blocking as a solution for big goals in business, but personal priorities will slip if you don’t treat them with equal importance. You can better focus on spreadsheets in the present if you’ve already blocked out time to take the dog to the park later.

6. Plan for unplanned tasks

Even the best plans face reality at some point. Unexpected calls, subtasks, and meetings are waiting to mess up all your brilliant ideas. Prepare for them by setting aside unplanned time slots in advance to focus on last-minute demands.

Different types of time blocking

Time blocking is a straightforward system that lets you tailor your schedule to your unique work style. Here are several types of time blocking that suit distinct needs:

Task batching

This method involves completing similar tasks together in the same block. If you have a lot of minor administrative tasks, such as replying to emails, you can use this focus time to stay in one gear rather than wasting time refocusing after switching mindsets (aka context switching).

Day theming

This involves building your day around a single theme (e.g., presentation prep on Monday, client work on Tuesday, reviewing employee output on Wednesday, etc.). Day theming can help you focus on one thing throughout the day while building variety into your week so you don’t get bogged down with the same task multiple days in a row.

Timeboxing

This method involves setting specific, measurable outcomes within a given block. For example, you may set a goal to “finish all my presentations for the next month.” Timeboxing challenges you to set SMART goals and rewards you with small wins throughout the day.

The benefits of time blocking

Time blocking offers numerous advantages that will increase your productivity and improve your quality of life.

  • Optimize your time: Avoid distractions and accidental multitasking by designating time to complete tasks. Organizing your work week beforehand helps you focus on what’s in front of you.

  • Enjoy downtime more: Move confidently through your workday knowing you’ve scheduled time for your priority tasks. You can savor your morning bagel knowing you’ve already set aside plenty of time in your calendar app to answer those urgent emails.

  • Maintain work-life balance: A bird’s-eye view of your daily schedule helps you assess your ratio of work time to personal time and maintain your work-life balance. You can always adjust days later in the week if a particular task runs long.

  • Eliminate surprises: Build flexibility and buffers into your schedule so last-minute emergency requests don’t catch you off guard and derail your plans.

  • Eliminate stress: By building time in for breaks and personal tasks, you can keep yourself from getting overwhelmed and taking on too many things at once. An overview of the work week also helps you plan realistically and avoid getting overly ambitious.

What makes time blocking effective?

Time blocking is a simple solution with impressively comprehensive effects. Here are just a few of the elements that make it work so well:

Promotes more focused work

Block scheduling front-loads your day planning. Rather than figuring out your schedule on the fly, pre-planned blocks free your mind to focus on deep work.

Eliminates busywork in your day

Busywork has a way of sneaking in and taking over your work day. The little tasks can suck away all of the space for the large stuff if you’re not careful. Set aside deep work time early to ensure space for high-priority tasks while leaving gaps for the lesser ones.

Encourages mindful time expenditure

Planning out your day ahead of time can help you refocus on what you are trying to achieve. A blocking calendar lets you evaluate how you spent your work hours and assess what tasks felt necessary at the time but turned out to be superfluous.

Promotes critical thinking about tasks

Time blocking offers a zoomed-out view of your workload, but it also forces you to get a little granular. By writing out specific details about your tasks ahead of time, you may think of steps you’d otherwise forget about, allowing you to budget time more effectively.

Best practices for successful time blocking

Time blocking isn’t complex, but these best practices will ensure you make the most of it:

Don’t underestimate time

Anyone who’s worked with an ineffective consultant knows the dangers of underestimating the effort required for a project. You’ll get better at estimates through practice, but it may help to add buffer time at first.

Don’t overschedule blocks

As management guru Jim Collins says, “If you have more than three priorities, you don’t have any.” Setting unrealistic goals is just setting yourself up for disappointment; it could even decrease productivity.

Still, don’t be so cautious that you leave out blocks for essential duties. Schedule the critical tasks and save “nice to haves” for unexpected gaps.

Include breaks

Productive people take breaks. In fact, short breaks have been shown to increase overall productivity. Trying to work at one pace all day is like taking a road trip without stopping for gas. Schedule tasks – and downtime – accordingly.

Be flexible

You aren’t a robot, and you can’t work like one. Unplanned tasks will come up. Things will go wrong. Be open to tweaking your schedule to minimize stress. If your heart rate increases when you look at your time blocking schedule, you’re using it incorrectly.

Schedule everything

Don’t assume you should only schedule blocks for crucial tasks. To build an effective system you want to stick with, you must also set aside time for enjoyable things. If you don’t make time for lunch, you might not get to eat it.

Time blocking with Tempo

Time blocking is a powerful way to manage your time, set priorities, and boost productivity. Tempo’s Timesheets is a program designed to help you plan your time and allocate resources effectively. It offers a scalable solution, whether you’re tracking time, engaging in agile planning, or reporting capacity. Timesheets helps with planning, increasing productivity, recording time worked, and making better cost estimations. By integrating Tempo Timesheets with Capacity Planner and Jira, you can:

  • Prioritize tasks

  • Control project complexity

  • Meet your deadlines

  • Optimize time and resources

  • Adapt flexibly to add value for your clients and organization

Timesheets and Capacity Planner work together to provide a “Planned vs. Actual” report, helping you gain insights and take actionable measures toward more accurate planning in the future.

Tempo’s tools can increase your productivity and help you regain your work-life balance. Start your free trial today.