Boost Your Productivity Using Block Scheduling
By Becky Mollenkamp, ACC
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Block scheduling be a powerful method for maintaining focus and improving productivity. While no one system works for every person, there’s no way to know whether time block suits your personality unless you give it a try.
What is Time Batching & Block Scheduling?
Time blocking is essentially “batching” your like tasks and then assigning each batch its own time slot in your calendar.
First, group your work into buckets. As an example:
- Client work (meeting with clients, working on their projects
- Admin (invoicing, replying to emails)
- Content (researching, writing blog posts)
- Social media (creating graphics, scheduling posts)
(Other ideas for buckets: sales, marketing, meetings/calls, email, reading, education, down time, planning)
Then, create blocks on your calendar for each bucket of like tasks (typically, a minimum of an hour).
Option 1: You schedule time each day for each bucket, spreading the work out over the week. So, Monday through Friday, you might spend 1 hour on admin, 2 hours on content, 2 hours on client work, and 1 hour on social media each day.
Option 2: You dedicate each day of the week (or perhaps half days) to each of your groups of work. So you might do admin work on Mondays, client work on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, content on Thursdays, and social media on Fridays
Whichever approach you take, the goal is to carve out concentrated chunks of time that are each dedicated to a single type of work.
Why Use Batching & Block Scheduling?
This approach helps you focus and be more productive by reducing distraction.
It takes 15-30 minutes to get back in the zone after we’ve been distracted from a task. That adds up, and dramatically reduces how much you can accomplish in any given week.
When you know exactly what you are supposed to be working on at any given time, you automatically reduce the start-up and slow-down time (or mental drag) that comes with constantly shifting gears.
Also, the longer you work on a single task (or type of task), the more you can get into “flow.” That’s the undistracted state of mind where work becomes meditative and begins to feel easy and fast.
Finally, this process simplifies your days. Instead of checking email throughout the day, every day, you are doing it once a day. Instead of wondering when you’ll ever get to that next blog post, you know exactly what day and time you’ll be writing it.
If you love understanding the psychology behind things, read about the Zeigarnik effect. Basically, uncompleted tasks weigh on us, leading to stress and procrastination. Placing all of our tasks into specific time slots gives us peace of mind. We know everything that we can get to everything that needs to get done.
Batching & Block Scheduling in Action
Creating a batch-block schedule is only the first step. It only works if you actually implement it. In this regard, it’s helpful to use a digital or paper planning system. This allows you to see your schedule in black-and-white, and can help hold you accountable to the blocks you’ve planned. You can use a planner (here’s a list of my favorites), or a time-blocking app like Toggl.
Also, you may find it helpful to use the Pomodoro method. This is a period of focused work, usually 50-60 minutes (or the same as your time block), followed by a brief 5-10 minute break. You may like using a Pomodoro timer to enforce these times.
A few other things to consider as you put batching and blocking in action:
- Prioritize your tasks and block in order of priority. Whenever possible, make your most important batch of tasks the ones you do either earliest in the day or the first part of the week. Life happens and, even with block scheduling, you may find yourself distracted and delayed. You want to be sure you get to the most important work first so it’s least likely to fall victim to interruptions and problems. “My motto is: Until my number one priority is done each day, all else is a distraction,” Gary Keller (author of The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results)
- Consider your energy levels. Are there certain times of day when you tend to have the most energy or feel most creative, or times when you feel sluggish or uninspired? Times when you are most likely to face interruptions? Whenever possible, assign your blocks accordingly. Don’t schedule tasks that require focus when you’re most likely to have interruptions, those that require creating when you are least inspired, or those that are the most difficult when you are the most tired. “Wishful thinking can’t change the reality of your schedule,” Cal Newport (author of Deep Work).
- Humans underestimate how much they can accomplish in the long term and underestimate what they can do in the short term. Tasks are likely to take more time than you anticipate, so allow yourself about double the amount of time you estimate for each batch/block. This will keep you from constantly feeling behind—and if you manage to finish things early, you may actually be able to get ahead!
- Plan for personal time, too. A block schedule works best when it is all-encompassing, not strictly used for business (as we know, personal is professional when you own a business). Create blocks for things like workouts, cleaning, hobbies, meals, family time, social events, etc.
Every two weeks or month, audit your block schedule. Compare what you planned to what really happened. Where may you need to make changes (allowing more or less time to certain tasks, adding in more “flex” or “free” time, swapping days/times for various activities, etc.)?
Treat this like an experiment. Give it a real try before deciding whether it works for you. Also, remember that nothing in life is set in stone. I’ve provided some general guidelines and best practices here, but you can and should adapt this concept to suit your needs. Keep what works and ditch or tweak what doesn’t.
Want to learn more? You may enjoy the book “168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think” by Laura Vanderkam.