What flies but has no wings? Yes, it’s that thing you never seem to have enough of – time. With so much to do and not enough hours in the day, staying on top of your workload can seem impossible. That’s where time blocking comes in. Like a roadmap for your day, time blocking provides a clear path to completing your tasks and achieving your goals. But how do you apply it? And is it the right method for you and your team? Read on to find out – and start using it today.
According to a UK-based study, office workers spend just under 3 hours per day working productively. From procrastination and distractions to mental-block resulting from workload-related stress, there are plenty of reasons you and your team might end up in a productivity black hole. It’s no wonder that there are over 1.5 thousand monthly Google searches for “time management techniques”. In this post, we’re honing in on one: time blocking. You’ll discover:
- What Is Time Blocking?
- What Are the Benefits of Time Blocking?
- How To Apply Time Blocking.
- How To Integrate Time Blocking Into Your Existing Productivity Workflows.
- How Is Time Blocking Different From Time Boxing?
- How Is Time Blocking Different From Task Batching?
- When Is Time Blocking Helpful – And When Is It Not?
- 5 Time Blocking Pitfalls To Watch Out For.
- 3 Alternatives To Time Blocking.
What Is Time Blocking?
Time blocking is a technique which involves scheduling blocks of time for your tasks throughout the day. Blocking time in your calendar for your to-dos helps you give your workday structure, making it easier to focus and get things done. It also encourages you to prioritize your tasks. For example, you might decide to carve out two hours on Monday morning to prepare for an important presentation on Tuesday. You will give this your full attention and deal with Slack messages, admin tasks, and everything else later. By fully committing to the task at hand – and doing it in good time – you give yourself the best chance of achieving great results.
A full, time-blocked day in your calendar might look like this:
What Are the Benefits of Time Blocking?
The time blocking method ensures your day is well-planned so you can transition smoothly from one task to the next. It helps you to:
1. Get Started.
Big tasks can be daunting, and a seemingly endless list of to-dos can cause stress and inhibit your ability to focus. Organizing and assigning a specific time to start or complete your tasks reduces task-related anxiety, which makes your workload feel more manageable. When you’re able to reduce overwhelm for yourself and your team, it’s easier to get the ball rolling – and meet those deadlines.
2. Stay Realistic.
Time blocking forces you to really think about how long tasks take, and to reevaluate your estimations as you go along. The more you use time blocking – and time tracking – the more accurate your planning becomes. When your team tracks their time and shares how long tasks typically take, you can use this information to create realistic roadmaps and divide work fairly across the team.
3. Prioritize Your Tasks.
The key to productivity is working on the right things at the right time. Time blocking helps you allocate enough time to priority work, so you don’t end up rushing to complete important tasks or wasting time on low-impact tasks. Prioritization improves with experience – but experience is often a luxury. Time blocking can help junior team members level-up their prioritization skills quickly.
4. Control Your Workload.
Time blocking helps you prevent your workload spiraling out of control. With your tasks planned out in your calendar, it’s easier to spot when deadlines aren’t realistic and when priorities need to be rearranged. It can also help team members identify prioritization conflicts early on – and reach out to you for support before issues become critical.
5. Avoid Procrastination.
Are you – like 20% of the US population – a chronic procrastinator? An MIT study shows that self-imposed deadlines (rather than leaving tasks to the last minute) can have a positive impact on performance. It’s easy to procrastinate when the whole day is stretching out ahead of you, but when you know you only have two hours to write a report, you’re more likely to focus and get it done.
6. Stop Context Switching.
Regularly switching between tasks – i.e. context switching – increases stress and costs as much as 40 percent of your productive time. Time blocking prevents your attention being pulled in too many directions. When you decide that “for the next hour, I’m going to work solely on strategy development”, you commit to ignoring distractions and fully engaging with the task at hand. This leads to better quality work (and a better mood at the end of the day).
These benefits apply as much to your team as they do to you, so why not encourage everyone to try time blocking? Even if your team members are already doing excellent work and meeting deadlines, it could alleviate some pressure and make it easier for them to achieve great results.
Take The Stress Out of Task Management.
Help Your Team Work More Productively With MeisterTask.Learn more
How To Apply Time Blocking.
You can block out time in your calendar on a daily or weekly basis. If you have enough control over your schedule to be able to plan a week in advance, do it on a Friday afternoon or Monday morning. This way, you know exactly what to focus on for the week ahead. The process is simple:
- Step 1: List your tasks. Get all of your tasks out of your head and into a list. This includes everything you need to do, such as meetings, project work, administrative tasks, even breaks and exercise.
- Step 2: Prioritize your tasks. Not all tasks require the same attention. Some are more important or urgent than others. Identify which tasks are critical and which are less so – and plan your time accordingly.
- Step 3: Estimate how much time each task will take. This is a crucial step and one where people often run into the ‘planning fallacy’, which is the tendency to underestimate how long a task will take. Find out more about the planning fallacy here.
- Step 4: Block out the time in your calendar. Simply add the tasks you want to work on and set a time period. Making your calendar public to your company will allow everyone to see when you’re busy. This helps them to plan meetings and make requests in a way that is considerate to your schedule.
- Step 5: Stick with it. Now it’s just about following your schedule. Close irrelevant tabs, put your phone on silent, and get focused. When a block of time is up, move onto the next task. If you don’t finish a task in its designated block, reschedule it to a future block.
How To Integrate Time Blocking Into Your Existing Productivity Workflows.
You probably already use a task management tool to manage your team’s workflows, and a calendar app for scheduling and joining meetings.
Here’s why you should use a task management tool.
Some task management tools, such as MeisterTask, integrate with calendar apps such as iCal and Google Calendar so you can create calendar events from tasks and vice versa. As such, you can see what is due and when, and plan your blocks around those task deadlines. Find out how to set up the integration here (it’s easy).
With the MeisterTask-Google Calendar integration you can sync your calendar:
- With all tasks in a specific project. This gives you an overview of every task which is being worked on in a project, no matter who it’s assigned to. This is helpful if you want to plan your team’s work around all project-based deadlines and dependencies.
- With all tasks assigned to you in a specific project. This gives you an overview of your own tasks in individual projects. Syncing your projects as individual calendars – and using Google Calendar’s color coding – helps you to see at a glance which of your tasks belong to which projects.
- With all tasks assigned to you in all projects. This gives you an overview of all of your tasks in MeisterTask. With all of your tasks in one concise Google Calendar, you can narrow your field of view, analyze your schedule, and start planning your time around your task deadlines.
Your team can use the integration too, so their tasks appear on their own calendars. The ability to see each other’s schedules and deadlines via the integration makes scheduling meetings and making time for collaborative work much easier. Plus, as a manager, you can simply check your team’s calendars for an overview of their workload or availability.
Prioritize your weekly to-dos in MeisterTask. Pin the tasks you want to focus on to your Agenda – then simply turn them into calendar events using the MeisterTask-Google Calendar integration.
When it comes to actually doing the work you’ve scheduled, your task management system features trackable tasks with context on what needs to be done – saving you time when you’re ready to start. Likewise, it’s a platform to collaborate on team tasks, which is useful for more complex tasks, or those which require input from stakeholders. A task and project management tool like MeisterTask will help you to keep an overview of your team’s tasks and easily track their progress, so your team stays organized, aligned and productive.
How Is Time Blocking Different From Time Boxing?
While time blocking involves allocating time for a set of tasks, time boxing involves allocating a specific amount of time to individual tasks at a more granular level.
If you were taking a time boxing approach to your work, your calendar would include more tasks, but those tasks would take up less time individually. They would also be more specific. For example, in a time blocked calendar, you might have “Prepare for presentation with legal” from 9:00 – 11:00. In a time boxed calendar, you would have:
Time boxing is helpful if you have a lot of smaller tasks to complete within a tight time frame. On the other hand, it can also add extra pressure, causing you to rush through your work unnecessarily. If multiple looming deadlines make you panic, this method probably isn’t for you.
How Is Time Blocking Different From Task Batching?
Task batching is a subsect of time blocking. It involves grouping similar tasks together and working on them in “batches”, rather than moving between them sporadically throughout the day. You can group tasks by:
- Task type (e.g. administrative tasks, strategic tasks).
- The amount of concentration or effort they require (e.g. low-effort, high-effort).
Let’s say that, this morning, you have to:
- Reply to 8 emails.
- Review 3 contracts.
- Set up multiple tasks as part of a new team project.
Rather than flitting between emails, contracts and task creation, you structure your time to work on the same type of tasks within a set timeframe. As a result, your calendar looks like this:
You start with emails because you know some of them are urgent and require a quick response. You leave setting up project tasks until later as you know this requires more concentration, and you can focus better mid-morning (after a quick coffee). Task batching helps you optimize your time and work more efficiently, as you’re not constantly switching between contexts.
When Is Time Blocking Helpful – And When Is It Not?
Time blocking is a useful method for project managers and team leads as these roles often involve balancing a variety of tasks and – occasionally – managing others’ schedules. However, the beauty of time blocking is that it can be applied to a wide range of industries to boost workplace productivity. See the examples below.
✅ The Manufacturing Sector.
Richard is working in the manufacturing industry as an Administrator. He uses time blocking for tasks such as inventory management and quality control. This helps him to manage his individual workload and meet departmental deadlines. He also recommends the method to Deja, the HR Manager, as a useful way of organizing her limited focus time around all the interviews and meetings she attends.
✅ The Finance Sector.
Hannes is a senior manager in the banking sector. He uses time blocking to manage the many tasks he has to juggle, from client meetings and portfolio management to drafting documents. The method helps him allocate time for deep work, which is essential for complex analysis and strategic planning. With time set aside for continuous learning, he can stay on top of industry legislation, laws, and market trends.
Not all professions will benefit from time blocking. If your job is extremely reactive by design, and you don’t work in a digital environment, time blocking in the traditional sense isn’t a practical solution. See the examples below:
❌ The Manufacturing Sector.
Liza runs a production line. Time is of the essence, and one delay can cause more down the chain, affecting the overall delivery schedule. This is why she has defined set levels of time for task completion for her team. However, because the work is physical, with each step sometimes taking only seconds, blocking out time in a calendar isn’t logical or enforceable.
❌ The Finance Sector.
Ellis is a Teller for an international bank. Their day-to-day work involves working face-to-face with customers, receiving deposits and loan payments, cashing checks, and issuing withdrawals. How they spend their time depends on customer interactions and can’t be planned in advance. Therefore, time blocking isn’t going to help them work more efficiently.
So, Should You Use Time Blocking?
Ultimately, whether time blocking is for you depends more on your profession and working style than your industry. However, if you do decide to give it a go, there are some typical time blocking pitfalls you should avoid…
5 Time Blocking Pitfalls To Watch Out For.
As beneficial as time blocking can be, the following pitfalls could scupper your plans for a productive week. Here’s how to avoid them – and stay on track to success.
1. Falling Into The Planning Fallacy Trap.
The planning fallacy is the process of underestimating the time and resources required to complete a task, despite knowing similar tasks have generally taken longer than planned. This is due to an overestimation of our own abilities and a tendency towards wishful thinking.
One way to avoid the planning fallacy is to track exactly how long your tasks actually take, rather than simply guessing. Having the cold hard data will help keep your planning in check. And the more you track the time spent on a particular type of task, the better you’ll be able to plan for it next time.
Encourage your team to use MeisterTask’s Time Tracking feature and see out how much time everyone is spending on each type of task. This will help you to improve your departmental planning and improve cross-team collaboration.
Studies reveal that the planning fallacy doesn’t apply when you’re forecasting how long a task will take someone else. We’re overly optimistic with our own abilities and more realistic with others. So, when embarking on a new type of task, instead of thinking “how long will this take me”, ask yourself “how long would this take my colleague”.
2. Being Too Rigid.
While discipline is necessary, being too rigid can be counterproductive. Consider the following tips to strike a balance.
- Leave some “buffer” time between blocks for unexpected interruptions.
- If you’re feeling particularly inspired, use it! Don’t let your creative juices go to waste on mundane administrative tasks.
- Don’t turn down unexpected opportunities just because you’ve already blocked time for something else (unless it’s urgent and important).
It can also be difficult to time block if new tasks are coming in or priorities are always shifting. However, this is indicative of a wider problem within your organization and should be addressed with your leadership team.
3. Overbooking and Neglecting Breaks.
When planning your blocks, it’s essential to factor in time to transition between tasks. If you overlook this, you can easily find yourself behind schedule. Of course, when you have lots to do, it can be tempting to cram your calendar full of tasks and meetings. However, regular breaks can actually improve focus and help you to work more productively. Being realistic about what you can achieve in a day – without sacrificing your health – will help you to avoid burnout.
4. Ignoring Your Energy Levels.
Feeling a bit “meh”? You’re only human, which means your energy levels will fluctuate throughout the day. Aligning demanding tasks with your peak energy levels will help you to do your best work. If you have an important task to complete by the end of the day, and you know you always have a post-lunch slump around 3pm, don’t put it off until the afternoon. In fact, that task should probably be the first thing you do.
5. Failing To Make Adjustments.
Like any strategy, how you implement time blocking should be reassessed regularly. If a particular block consistently gets pushed to another, or some tasks take longer than expected, adjust your schedule accordingly. Remember, daily time blocking is meant to enhance your productivity and organization, not cause additional stress. Use it flexibly and adjust as needed to make it work for you.
3 Alternatives To Time Blocking.
Perhaps you want to keep your options open and test a few different productivity methods before settling on “the one”. If so, consider putting the following to the test:
- Eat The Frog. Do you tend to put your most crucial tasks off until the last moment? “Eat the Frog” is a time blocking alternative which helps you to get your most important work done first. Enjoy a ribberting read on the method here.
- Getting Things Done. This method does what it says on the tin. With GTD, you’ll get all of those overwhelming to-dos out of your head into a structured system, so you and your team can work more efficiently – without the pressure of remembering every little detail.
- The Pomodoro Method. The Pomodoro method is to productivity what Gucci is to fashion – and both just happen to be from la bella Italia. Find out how working in 25-minute blocks – or “pomodoros” – can help your team work smarter, not harder.
Time: Blocked. Productivity: Unlocked.
Time blocking can help you take control of your workday, replacing chaos with structure so you can get more done. By carving out dedicated time for your tasks and prioritizing them accordingly, you give your work the attention and energy it deserves. Not only will this help you feel more fulfilled, but it can also help you achieve better results. If you pay attention to the potential pitfalls and make sure to revisit and readjust your approach as you go along, there’s no reason time blocking can’t work for you or your team. Now all that’s left to do is try it out. Good luck!
What Is Time Blocking?
Time blocking is a technique which involves scheduling blocks of time for your tasks throughout the day. This helps you turn your to-do list into an actionable plan, making it easier to focus and get work done.
How Do I Know If Time Blocking Is Right For Me?
Time blocking can be applied in a range of contexts and professions. Whether the method is right for you depends more on your working style than your industry. If you’re looking for a way to maintain control of your workload, manage your time more efficiently and increase your productivity, give it a try!
What Are The Key Benefits of Time Blocking?
The time blocking method helps you:
- To get started on your tasks.
- Plan efficiently and optimize your time.
- Prioritize your to-dos.
- Stay in control of your workload.
- Avoid procrastination.
- Stop multitasking and stay focused.
How Do I Use The Time Blocking Method?
The time blocking method is incredibly easy to implement. Simply follow these steps:
Step 1: List your tasks.
Step 2: Prioritize your tasks.
Step 3: Estimate how much time each task will take.
Step 4: Block out the time in your calendar.
Step 5: Follow your schedule.