How to Balance Time Blocking With Lots of Meetings

Women sit around a meeting table with computers

How do you manage your time when your day is packed with back-to-back meetings?

The answer? Time blocking.

Time blocking is a time management technique in which you organize your day by blocking out chunks of time for a specific task or project.

So instead of scheduling your day by the hour and filling that hour with a variety of tasks, you would, for example, block out your morning for creative work, the afternoon for meetings, and the evening for downtime. 

Time blocking is a great time management technique if you’re looking to do deep work or work that requires your focus and concentration. Your attention is fully harnessed within that time block because you’re not switching between different tasks. 

In theory, time blocking is great for scheduling your deep work. But in practice, time blocking might not always succeed if your schedule fluctuates or if you’re in back-to-back meetings. As you may know from experience, it’s really hard to switch gears and be in “focus mode” when you’ve been in meetings all day. 

So how are you supposed to manage your time and make room for deep work?

The good news is that you can still reap the benefits of time blocking even with a hectic schedule. It’s all about doing some organizing and planning up top. 

Here’s how to use time blocking when you have a busy week ahead. 

Know your peak and off-peak hours

When it comes to managing your time, you want to view your calendar in terms of peak and off-peak hours

Much like a train station, your peak hours are the times of day when you’re going to be super busy and your schedule is packed. It might be a morning full of meetings. Or an afternoon with tons of deadlines. Or an evening when you have to get dinner ready for your family and get the kids ready for bed.

You wouldn’t want to schedule your deep work around these peak times. Instead, try to use time blocking around your off-peak hours.

Off peak hours are the hours in which you’re not obligated to report to anybody but yourself. This time is your own. Yes, even if your schedule is filled to the brim, you can probably identify at least one to three off-peak hours each week.

For example, maybe you have 8-10 am free everyday. Or weekend afternoons free. Block off those times and dedicate them for deep work. You can also use your time block to respond to work emails or work on your passion project or do your fitness routine–whatever’s important for you.

You might be thinking: what if I don’t have any off-peak hours? Then zoom out a little more and look at the month or quarter. Which days or weeks are quiet? Block off those quiet times and guard them fiercely. Do not schedule any social obligations or any meetings around those off-peak times. 

Create “themed” days

Another way to use time blocking when you’re busy is to create themed days of the week.

For example, Mondays and Thursdays can be your Meeting Days. Tuesdays and Wednesdays can be your Passion Project Days. Fridays can be your Admin days. 

Themed days are great when you have a billion things going on and you’re not sure what to work on first.  It also allows you to make room for meetings, appointments, errands, and other tasks that can consume your time. 

And if you’re a freelancer or an entrepreneur or someone with a side hustle, themed days help you manage all your different projects. For example, if you’re a freelancer, you can devote Mondays to Client A, Tuesdays to Client B, etc.

A themed day provides a natural structure and organization to your day. You’ll know what task or project to work on and when, and your attention can be honed in on the central theme for the day.

Dedicate a time block to “non-work”

We put our appointments and meetings in our calendar but we don’t always make room for our goals and personal priorities. 

Maybe it’s because things like brainstorming or daydreaming seem abstract. Or maybe it’s because they don’t yield tangible results right away or lead to immediate profit. But it’s so important to treat your non-work as importantly as a meeting or deadline. You need time and space to reflect and brainstorm so that you can produce great work in the long run.

So make sure to schedule time to focus, brainstorm, or even just to decompress. When it’s on your schedule, you’re more likely to honor it. 

Leave room in your time block to address the unexpected 

You can plot out your day with thoughtfulness and care, but there’s always going to be a fire to put out or something that throws a wrench into your carefully laid plans. 

  • Your boss needs you to write a report asap.
  • Your meeting gets rescheduled for later in the day when you have a million things going on.
  • Your train is delayed and now you’re late for work.
  • Your computer crashes and you can’t work on your project

These are just some of the things that can throw your entire schedule into disarray. So it’s always a good idea to leave a buffer in your time block to address any surprises as needed.

For example, if you have an 8-10 am time block to write your report, then reserve the last 10 minutes to respond to urgent emails or clear your head for a last minute meeting or brush up on notes for a one-on-one with your boss. 

Do an audit of your time block

Time management is a learning process. To improve the way you manage your work and your time, it’s essential that you do regular reviews of your time blocking schedule.

At the end of the week, review your schedule and take note.

  • Which days were the most hectic and why?
  • What threw a wrench into your schedule?
  • What needed more time than you had initially assumed?
  • And what needed less time?

The better you know yourself and your preferences, the better you will become at managing your busy days with time blocking.

Written by JiJi Lee

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