In the past week, you’ve probably reprioritized your tasks, rescheduled your calendar, and maybe even worked late to get something done. You’re not alone. According to recent research, 87% of knowledge workers are working two hours later every day compared to 2019. Yet over one-quarter of deadlines are missed each week. Every day, we juggle competing demands on our time and, as a result, experience more chaos than clarity.
Luckily, there’s a solution: time blocking.
With time blocking, you can regain control of your calendar in order to focus on what truly matters. Time blocking can help you align your attention with your intentions, so you always prioritize the right work at the right time. With this time management strategy, you can also dedicate time for your personal time, downtime, lunch, and other essentials that often get left out in our “always-on” working world.
Time blocking is a time management strategy where you schedule out every part—and we mean every part—of your day. With time blocking, you’re effectively breaking the work week into bite-sized time slots where you check your email, work on projects, take a break, or even exercise.
Like most time management strategies, time blocking is a way for you to reclaim your day and get a better sense of where your time is actually going. According to the Anatomy of Work Index, 71% of knowledge workers reported feeling burnout at least once in 2020. Additionally, 32% of those people cited not being able to switch off or disconnect as the top factor fueling their burnout. By scheduling blocks of work, you can not only ensure you’re completing your important tasks, but also make sure you’re setting aside time for rest and self-care.
To create a time block, group like tasks and schedule a block of time to work on those tasks. There are two main fundamentals of time blocking:
For example, you might start by creating a one-hour timeblock at 9am to answer emails. Then, you’ll create a timeblock from 10am to 11:30am to work on your main project for the day—for example, reviewing and finalizing a GTM deck. At 11:30am, you’d create another one-hour timeblock for lunch—and so on.
By time blocking your calendar, you’re not only setting aside chunks of time for critical work—like responding to emails or finishing tasks—you’re also reducing context-switching. How often do you catch up on emails between tasks and try to tackle a larger project in between other work? Instead, time blocking allows you to set specific times for important tasks so you can effectively focus on your high-impact work.
Timeboxing is another helpful time management strategy, but it works slightly differently than time blocking. Here’s how they differ:
If you look at a time blocked calendar, you’d see large blocks of time dedicated to batched tasks. For example, you might have a block from 3pm to 4:30pm to “Review design feedback” across multiple designs you’ve created. A timeboxed calendar, on the other hand, would have each task scheduled out. So you might have a task from 3pm to 3:15pm to “Review design feedback on Facebook banner image,” and another task from 3:15pm to 3:30pm to “Revise home page image based on design feedback,” and so on.
Timeboxing your calendar can be particularly helpful if you need to complete work within pre-set time constraints, or if you frequently struggle with perfectionism and want to increase productivity.
Task batching is an element of time blocking. When you batch tasks, you collect and connect any similar tasks so you can work on them at once. These tasks often take up much more time than we think, but because they’re so quick to complete, we don’t actually track how much time we’re spending on them. Task batching can help you reduce the amount of time you spend on stray tasks and ad hoc work. Instead, task batching encourages you to be intentional about where your time and attention are going.
For example, say you manage your company’s social media content calendar. Every Monday, you need to triage that week’s posts, share a recap of the past week’s posts, and check in with the design team to make sure they’re on schedule for next week’s work. Typically, you do this work whenever you can, and it tends to be scattered around the day.
By batching these three tasks together instead, you’ll be more productive and focused on completing your work for the day. The final step is to schedule that work in your calendar—which then becomes a time block.
Time tracking refers to the process of recording the time you spend on projects—usually for billing purposes. Typically, time tracking is more of a business function than a time management strategy. Time tracking is common for teams and organizations, such as creative agencies, law firms, and teams with freelance or contract workers, that bill by time spent on their services. If you’re looking to get started with time tracking, there are a lot of great tools and integrations to help with time tracking.
Time blocking can help with time tracking since it gives you clear insight into how long you spent on each initiative—just make sure you’re sticking to your time blocks, or updating them if something changes.
Time blocking won’t be effective if your calendar is mostly filled with meetings, but if you frequently have chunks of open time on your calendar, you can use this strategy to better manage your attention and focus. As Parkinson’s Law states, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”—so time blocking is a great way to take back control of your calendar and intentionally schedule work.
Time blocking is particularly useful if:
As you get started with time blocking, think of each block as an uninterrupted chunk of work where you can tackle critical projects and get into deep work.
The term “deep work” was coined by Cal Newport, one of the biggest modern proponents of time blocking. Though time blocking has been famously used throughout history—with Benjamin Franklin as one of its earliest adopters—Newport was the first to connect time blocking to deep work in the digital age. According to Newport, time blocking can help you schedule large blocks of distraction-free time where you can dive into deep, uninterrupted work.
Time blocking is simple in practice, but it can be a tricky strategy to implement—and stick to consistently. With these seven tips, you can take charge of your calendar. Plus, get insight into the pitfalls you might run into at each stage of the process.
Like most time management strategies, the first step is to identify what you actually need to get done on a given day or week. If you don’t already, practice keeping and updating a to-do list with all of your important work.
Keep in mind, you don’t just need to know what to work on—you also need to know what to prioritize. Make sure you understand what your most important tasks are so you get them done that day. Ideally, look for a tool that allows you to add details and context to your work—like the priority of a specific task, any important attachments or documents, relevant collaborators, and more.
Even with time blocking, there may be days where you can’t get to all of your work. If you don’t know what work to prioritize, you won’t have a clear sense of which tasks you must finish today and what you can defer until tomorrow.
When you create a time block, you’re scheduling a period of time to tackle work—whether that’s answering emails, attending meetings, checking off to-dos, or something else. Time blocks are helpful on their own, but you can increase the effectiveness of a time block by tailoring the work to your productivity preferences.
If you don’t already know, think about when you feel most productive. Do you feel energized in the morning? If so, consider scheduling the work that requires the most energy—whether that’s focused work or meetings—before lunch. Do you feel sleepy in the early afternoon? Schedule smaller tasks—like answering emails—so you can maintain productivity. Do you get a second wind in the late afternoons? Save your important tasks for that period, and make sure to minimize distractions that could interrupt your flow.
After you’ve been time blocking for a few days, evaluate how you’re feeling at the end of the day. Are you feeling drained? If so, you may have misjudged when you’re most productive during the day. Try to reschedule your work blocks to see if that helps.
Meetings are another place you can put your preferred productivity times into practice. You may have meetings scattered throughout the day, which could be hampering your productivity. At Asana, we call this a swiss cheese schedule! Scattered meetings can impede your productivity and make your daily schedule really hard to work around. Instead of having time for focused work and free time, you’re constantly being mentally interrupted by meetings.
Just like tasks, you can also time block meetings. Instead of scattering them throughout the day, aim for a block of meetings that are relatively close to one another—with a few breaks in between so you can rest and recharge—so you have more time for focused work. Or, consider investing in a tool that will automatically monitor this for you, like Clockwise.
There will be instances when meetings are scheduled outside of your ideal meeting time block. That’s ok. Time blocking is a strategy to help you be intentional about your time—but it won’t make your entire day fit into a perfect schedule. To succeed with time blocking, try to be flexible with your calendar, and reschedule things if necessary.
Once you know when you’re most productive, and you’ve had a chance to time block your meeting schedule, it’s time to schedule and set the rest of your time blocks. Think through the priorities you have for the day, and schedule dedicated focus time for each batch of tasks in your calendar. It’s ok if you want to come back to tasks more than once in a day—for example, you might want to schedule two or three time blocks to check and reply to messages.
We recommend scheduling your time blocks so you can see them and hold yourself accountable to that commitment. But if all of the time in your calendar is fully scheduled, it can be difficult for team members to schedule last minute meetings or get a hold of you for important chats.
To avoid this, we suggest labeling each time block on your calendar. For example, you might have “Focus time” in the morning, “Personal time” during lunch, and “Do not schedule—work block” in the afternoon for some deep work. By clarifying what type of time block you’ve scheduled, team members can feel more empowered to schedule over certain blocks if necessary.
Time blocking isn’t just a way to schedule your work tasks—you should also schedule downtime every day. Just like scheduling dedicated time for work, creating a time block for personal activities can help you stick to them. In addition to scheduling lunch, give yourself quick breaks for personal time, everyday activities, or any other daily tasks you need to get done, like picking your kids up from school or working out in the early afternoon.
Not every personal time block needs a purpose. Consider leaving a personal time block open so you can decide on the spot if you want to take a walk, check social media, clean your apartment, or call your mom. Without a set purpose for that personal time block, you can do whatever feels the most replenishing during that time—there are no wrong answers (we won’t tell your mom).
Time blocking fails when you don’t have room to navigate any surprises in your day, like unexpected tasks that have to get done as soon as possible or last-minute meetings that get scheduled during an important block of focus time. You want to be able to engage with these—but you also don’t want them to totally derail your day.
If these situations frequently come up at work, we suggest dedicating an afternoon time block to flexible time. That way, you already have a time block for any unexpected tasks. Or, if something happens to interrupt one of your morning time blocks, you can move the interrupted work to your flexible afternoon block.
Make sure any new task that crops up is higher priority than what you’re currently working on. Oftentimes, unexpected work feels urgent, but that doesn’t mean it’s more important than what you were initially working on. Always remember what your work priorities are, then rearrange your schedule accordingly.
Even the most effective time blocker will lose time during the day. Inevitably, you’ll need to check a Slack message or email that seems high priority. You might get a phone call you have to answer. If you’re working from home, you’ll definitely get distracted by a roommate, child, or pet. This is natural—and ok!
Consider dedicating certain time blocks for focus work and others for deep work. When you’re checking your email and going through your daily tasks, you can be interrupted without that distraction setting you back. But if you schedule a time block for deep work, consider snoozing all notifications and turning on “Do not Disturb” mode.
It might take a while to figure out the best strategy to help you minimize distractions. Keep adjusting and readjusting your time blocks as necessary. Over time, you might find that you lose less time with this time management technique.
Like all time management strategies, you should tweak and adjust your time blocks until they feel right for you. You won’t have a perfect day the first time you try time blocking. Give it time, and do what feels right. Remember: this strategy is only effective if it meets your goals and needs—so optimize for what works and discard any strategies that don’t help you feel more productive.
If time blocking isn’t your style, that’s ok too. Try another time management technique, like timeboxing, a goal-oriented time management strategy where you assign every task a start and end date. To learn more, read our guide to timeboxing.
Every person’s calendar is different, so every time blocked calendar will be slightly different, too. But if you implement the seven strategies above, here’s what your calendar might look like:
Time blocking can help you be more intentional about your time. By dedicating specific blocks of time to important work, you can focus on getting things done instead of losing time and energy to multitasking and procrastination. But like all time management strategies, time blocking is only effective if you have a clear sense of what you need to do and by when.
For more tips about how to organize and manage your work, check out our article on making a to-do list that actually works.
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