With our phones constantly buzzing, emails pouring in non-stop, and various other distractions about, it can be hard to cross items off of our to-do lists. In fact, your to-do list could add more frustration than structure to your day. It’s important to list everything you need to accomplish, but you also need to prioritize tasks and then schedule adequate time to complete those tasks. One technique, called time blocking, helps you accomplish more by keeping you on track and minimising distractions. When you assign tasks to specific blocks of time, you avoid falling into the trap described by Parkinson’s Law, which states that work will expand to fill the time available for its completion. If you set a definite start and end time for each task, your work will take up less time and allow you to get more done.
To get started, you’ll need to spend some time planning out your week. Decide on 3-5 tasks to prioritize as “most important,” and then list all other necessary tasks. Then, take your workday (ideally 7 or 8 hours) and split it into chunks dedicated to specific tasks. Every so often, schedule hour-long blocks where you’ll turn off your phone and disconnect from all email and social media accounts. You can devote this time for “deep thinking,” or undivided attention on a particular project. Outlook or Google Calendar will work well for blocking your time, but a pen and paper are just as effective.
Be careful not to schedule too much for one day, especially while you’re learning how quickly you’re capable of working. Take note of when you feel most alert and when you tend to accomplish the most, so in the future you can schedule the most important tasks during those time periods. It helps to keep your time blocks vague to avoid setting yourself up for failure. For example, if you’re planning an event and need to find a guest speaker, block 30 minutes for organising your event (rather than for booking a speaker). This way, if you end up with a shortlist, you’ve still made progress. Make sure to block in leisure time to keep up morale and avoid overworking yourself. You should also block off planning time - whether it’s 15 minutes at the end of each day, an hour at the end of the week, or a combination of both. Spending time to get yourself organised will save you time down the road.
Those who spend much of their day answering emails, taking phone calls, and helping colleagues or clients who drop in can benefit from time blocking as well. Instead of checking email throughout the day, try scheduling 30 minutes every 2 hours for answering emails. If you have to take phone calls throughout the day, try forwarding your phone to voicemail during your “deep thinking” time blocks and schedule time to return those calls later in the day. If you work in an open office space or have colleagues who frequently drop in, you can book a conference room for a “meeting” where you’re the only attendee.
Time blocking will stop you from bouncing back and forth between multiple tasks, making you much more efficient and providing a sense of accomplishment with each completed task. It also provides more control over your schedule, reducing stress and allowing for better focus and creativity. To see time blocking in action, check out the video below: