Table of Contents

Table of Contents

What is time blocking?

Time Blocking or Time Boxing is a method used by people like Elon Musk and Bill Gates to get more out of their time. Quite simply, it is a method of allocating fixed amounts of time for tasks and integrating the resulting time blocks into your schedule or calendar. You might be thinking that this is a bold claim but I think it has some merit. Cal Newport estimates that he gets as much done in his 40 hour week as someone who works 60 hours week without this system. Here is Cal Newport’s article on “the importance of planning every minute of every day”.

Why Should you use time blocking?

Time Blocking allows you to visualize your tasks on your calendar and it also makes planning your days and weeks easier. If you know that a task is likely to take me 90mins, you can see how that will have an impact on your day knowing that you have to do several other tasks on top of that.

Introducing the Planning Fallacy

People, and I use this word in it’s most generalist sense possible – are susceptible to something called “Planning Fallacy“.┬áThis means that we are bad at planning. Humans are inherently optimistic with their planning. This translates to us being really bad at estimating how long a task will take. For example, I may estimate that going to the gym takes me 50mins but actually with the drive, finding parking, waiting for the treadmill and bench press and then driving home it could take as long as 90mins. This would be the worst case scenario, but this is exactly what the planning fallacy hinges on. We always assume a task will take as little time as possible, when it very rarely does. So what does this mean? We often try to get too much done in a day. Which leaves us feeling dejected at the end of the day because we didn’t get through everything.

Increase Productivity

Time Blocking adds more structure to your time, and because there is more structure it adds a layer of intensity especially to work that requires high levels of focus. Have you ever noticed how when something is due in 1 hours time you suddenly have more motivation to work on it? Time blocking allows you to tap into the same level of intensity by implementing soft deadlines.

Planning Clarity

Another thing that stops us from getting work done is trying to decide what to work on. This is called decision fatigue. When you know what you need to work on at any given time in advance, you’re setting yourself up for success. As the old saying goes: “Failing to plan, is planning to fail”. Often something that can lead to overwhelm is not knowing which of our 100’s of tasks we need to work on next.

How do you do time blocking?

There are a couple of ways you can do time blocking but I am going to focus on two for this article. The first one is Note Book time blocking for people that prefer to use diaries and the second way is to do Calendar time blocking for people that prefer to use digital calendars and todo lists (like me).

Note Book Time Blocking

I personally have never used note book time blocking extensively, I’ve tried it briefly but I have a digital bent and prefer using software for all things productivity. Cal Newport is one of the pioneers in hard copy time blocking.
This is an example taken from Calnewport.com of how Cal uses a notebook to do time blocking
The basic idea is to sit down the evening before and plan out your next day. Create a list of tasks that need to get done.

Steps

  1. Make a list of all the tasks that you need to get done
  2. Schedule the most urgent ones first, allocating a generous amount of time to each task.
  3. Schedule Important things next, things that aren’t urgent but definitely need to get done, Why procrastinate?
  4. Do the things.
  5. It’s ok to reschedule through out the day.
Pro Tip: Cal Newport recommends making 2 – 3 columns on your note book so you can reschedule and shift things around when you need to. Rescheduling and shifting things around is ok and you will need to do it. Cal also often allocates time called “reactive time” that allows him to do things he didn’t allocate enough time to.

Calendar Time Blocking

Google Calendar Time Bloc
I am heavily involved in my local church, balancing Church, A full time Job, Studying and Girl Friend has always been a challenge but here is a sneak peak into a typical week.
The concept of time blocking remains much the same with software. I find it easier however, since you are able to shift things around more.

Steps

  1. Make a list of all the tasks that you need to get done
  2. Schedule the most urgent ones first, allocating a generous amount of time to each task.
  3. Schedule Important things next, things that aren’t urgent but definitely need to get done, Why procrastinate?
  4. Do the things.
  5. It’s ok to reschedule through out the day.

Planning Fallacy Fix

As I mentioned before Humans suck at planning and this is something we call the planning fallacy. To get around this I suggest that you allocate more time than you will need then add 30min on to that. For example: gym usually takes me 60mins, I would allocate 90mins. You will find that you will quickly fill that extra time with things like taking a shower and travel.

Common Objections and questions

  1. It removes freedom and flexibility
I understand this concern, it was one of the concerns that I had when I first learned about this system. By planning your day this meticulously you will end up creating time for you to just do nothing. And you can do that, schedule “nothing time”. I have done the opposite, I’ve worked out what makes me happy. Things like Exercise, time with my girlfriend and reading make me happy. By planning my day meticulously I make sure I get time for the things that I enjoy doing too.
  1. It reduces creativity
Interestingly enough I’d argue the opposite, again, by structuring your time this rigidly you actually create time to be creative. Your brain will also learn to be creative on demand which is an incredibly valuable skill that will allow you to produce more creative work faster. By “downloading” your brain onto a plan like this it relieves some of the stress of trying to remember every thing you need to do an if you have enough time for it. This means that you can actually be more creative when you need to be creative.
  1. What about work that I can’t plan?
Allocate time to doing work that you can’t plan. For example I have allocated the first hour in my work day to answering emails and making sure that each collegue that needs that information gets it. I don’t enjoy doing it so I do it first.

How I do time blocking

You can read more about my personal productivity system. My favourite reason for using time blocking is that it allows me to visualise my day accurately. If a friend asks me to meet at a certain time, I will be able to decisively and accurately give them and answer based on my schedule and quickly suggest a more appropriate time. My method is slightly unorthodox. I believe that recording incoming information as quickly as possible is important so that you don’t get stressed about it and that you don’t forget about it. For this I use an app called todoist. This allows me to capture information and tasks as quickly as possible and then later schedule them on my Google Calendar. Todoist also has an awesome integration that allows you to essentially stipulate how long a task will take from todoist so it will show up with that time allocation on Google Calendar.

Step one: Capture

todoist inbox

Step two: Plan

I am heavily involved in my local church, balancing Church, A full time Job, Studying and Girl Friend has always been a challenge but here is a sneak peak into a typical week.

Step three: Execute

This is pretty self explanatory, Just do the stuff that needs to be done and change accordingly.

Conclusion:

Time Blocking is great at allowing you to visualise your tasks for a given day or week instantly. It’s important that we always allocate more time than we expect we will need (+30mins). Time blocking puts rigid structure into our days so we can actually focus more on things that matter to us. Open ended freetime is the biggest contributor to procrastination. Knowing that you can’t do that fun thing because you need to first do that unfun thing is a great motivator.