We’ve all experienced the feeling of looking at our to-do lists, only to have panic in. We start to think, “how am I going to finish everything?” and “but there’s not enough time in a day to get it all done!”
Once we move past the panic phase, we start to think about how we can prioritize our tasks and stay organized without losing our sanity in the process.
This is where time blocking comes in. To learn more about this productivity hack, we spoke to several mental health experts. Here's what they had to say.
What is time blocking?
Time blocking is a technique to help you manage your time and be more productive.
“It’s a method designed to help a person prioritize tasks and achieve goals more efficiently,” says Jason Drake, LCSW-S, BCN, Lead Clinician & Owner of Katy Teen & Family Counseling. “Time blocking is being intentional on how to schedule and use your time. Instead of being in reactive mode throughout the day and week, time blocking requires a person to think and plan ahead for the upcoming week.”
“We all have varying priorities for the upcoming week. Time blocking asks that a person set some time aside to identify those priorities and schedule blocks of time to focus on them,” Drake explains. “For example: There are a variety of moving parts in owning and operating your own business.”
Tasks that need to get done may include:
- Writing blog posts and website content
- Posting on social media
- Marketing and networking
- Meeting with clients
- Responding to emails
All of these are important and vital tasks, when using the time blocking approach, you intentionally set aside a specific day and time for each activity.
Here's an example of time blocking:
Monday through Friday:
- 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m: Writing blog posts and website content
- 11:00 p.m. to 12:00 p.m. Posting on social media
- 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. Lunch
- 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Seeing clients
- 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Responding to emails
“While this is an oversimplified example, it provides a general idea of the principle of time blocking. You may choose to prioritize certain tasks over others and devote more time to that task than others,” says Drake. “This schedule can change from week to week or remain the same. The idea is to identify your priorities, goals, and objectives for the coming week and be intentional in devoting blocks of time to those items.”
How time blocking makes you more productive
Time blocking is effective because it's designed for focus.
“Since you are scheduling out your day, you are guarding yourself from distraction and multiplying your ability to focus,” Holly Schiff, Psy.D., licensed clinical psychologist, explains. “Single-tasking makes you more productive since when you schedule a block of time to work on a single project or task, you are using are your mental resources on that one thing instead of across several tasks. You can get deeper into your work and focus more easily.”
It also helps you check off shallow tasks more efficiently.
“By setting clear time limits on how much time you will dedicate to it; and grouping similar tasks together makes it easier so you don’t have to be switching back and forth constantly. Time blocking makes you more aware of how you spend your time and also imposes time limits on things, which counteracts your ability to become perfectionistic and spend endless time on a task. Time blocking can also help you follow through on your goals since you are forced to make concrete plans and schedule your tasks out.”
Many of us approach our work with less planning and more finding time to fit the other things in. This is where time blocking can be beneficial.
“Being intentional in planning out the week and blocking time for specific work priorities can streamline our efforts,” Drake states.
Multitasking may be our go-to approach, but it’s actually hindering our productivity efforts.
Dr. Natalie Bernstein, clinical psychologist and life coach, explains, “by repeatedly switching tasks, your day becomes scattered and you may be left feeling anxious or frustrated. With time blocking, you may respond to emails at the beginning and end of the day, schedule all your phone calls after lunch, and designate two hours of interrupted time for your projects. In this way, your brain is able to focus more completely on one task, rather than be consumed by others.”
It can also reduce stress, resulting in more emotional and intellectual energy being available.
“Not rushing through the day trying to find time to fit things in frees us up to focus more fully on the tasks we choose to work on,” Drake explains.
If you’re a perfectionist, you’ll find time blocking to be especially helpful.
This is due to the fact that “perfectionists never see their work as being good enough. This results in extra time and effort being taken to attempt to get it ‘perfect.’ As perfection is unattainable all this really results in is wasted time that could have been used on other priorities,” Drake explains.
Time blocking provides a cap on time spent on that particular item.
“Once the block of time is up, it's time to move onto the next priority and return to the previous one during the next block set aside,” says Drake. “This is a handy tool for the perfectionists.”
How to incorporate time blocking into your daily routine
Drake shares a step-by-step guide to help you get started:
1. Set a date to start and commit
For some, this is a new concept. When we have been used to doing things one way for some time and then think about changing the way we do things can be a challenge.
“Set a date for when you will start and commit to that date. Choose a day before the next week starts where you can sit down and think through the priorities of the following week,” Drake explains. “Once you have thought through the week with the associated tasks, responsibilities, and priorities, start blocking. Identify the best days and periods of times for those tasks and write it down.”
Don't overthink it! Look at it as a document that will change and shift over time. Just get started.
2. Adjust where necessary
Now that you have done your best to plan out your week and block off time for your priorities, you'll put it into action and find out what works and what may need some tweaking.
“You may find that you've done a great job up front and that the blocks of time work great for your week. Often, you will find that you may have allotted too much time in one area and not enough for others,” Drake states. “That's okay, this is a work in progress and as you implement time blocking, you will refine the schedule and the blocks of time as you go. As you do this, you will eventually settle on the right time blocking schedule suitable for you.”
3. Give it time
You may take to time blocking right away and see the benefits right off the bat. Yet for many, we have gone about time management a certain way for much of our lives.
“Practicing a new approach to managing our time and priorities during the week may take some practice. It's much like breaking an old habit and developing a new one. When we develop new habits, it will take time for that new habit to feel as comfortable as the old one used to,” says Drake.
When you implement time blocking, give it some, well, time.
“Developing a new habit can take a number of weeks,” Drake explains. “Keep practicing time blocking until you get to the point where you feel you have fine-tuned your blocks of time to meet the needs of your priorities. Once you're at this stage and feel your schedule is finely tuned, continue with the finely tuned schedule for a number of weeks. This is where you will largely start to see the benefits of time blocking.”
Be mindful and look for ways in which time blocking helps. For example:
- You may find that the quality of your work has improved.
- You may find that you feel less rushed or pressured throughout the day.
- You may even find that you are sleeping better at night.
How do you plan to utilize time blocking in your daily life? Share your thoughts in the comments below! And while you're at it, make sure to subscribe to Silk + Sonder today.