There is something particularly overwhelming about a blank calendar.
You have dozens of things to do in a day and somehow your daily or weekly calendar just doesn’t seem to do your busy schedule justice.
There’s a solution though: Time blocking. It’s probably the best way to fit as much as you can into a schedule that can otherwise be difficult to arrange.
Before becoming uber organized, I’d write down the big things I had planned for a day in my planner. A coffee meetup at 10 a.m. An editorial meeting at 2 p.m. A deadline by 6 p.m. But in between those events I always have a lot of little or more abstract tasks: replying to emails, brainstorming, research and writing. Those are things I didn’t think I could easily put on my calendar because I tend to fit them into my schedule when I can throughout the day, even though they usually take up the bulk of my day.
That, I found, is just not sustainable when I’m working on multiple projects with multiple teams. So instead, I’ve started using the time blocking method.
How Does it Work?
The reason why time blocking works so well, even for busy professionals, is because it’s combining organization and a sort of audit of your work. First, list our your top priorities. What do you want to accomplish this year? This month? This week?
You can use those priorities to start building your schedule. If your goal this year is to write more, start building that time into your calendar daily or weekly. If it’s to produce more in-depth products, schedule more time for research.
By looking at the space in you calendar, you can really begin to incorporate the tasks that help you reach your goal.
Next, make sure to include your weekly musts, like that editorial meeting or coffee meetup. These are the events that we basically have to mold our schedules around.
Finally, build your schedule. You can do this daily or weekly, depending on what kind of flexibility you have in your schedule. If each day can be completely different, it might be a better plan to build work out your time blocks each day (or the night before).
Here are some questions I ask myself when I’m time blocking my schedule. I do it each day.
- What deadlines do I have today? What’s coming up that I need to be aware of? Does it require any extra time now?
- What worked well last week? It’s good to reflect!
- What is a realistic amount of time for this task? (It’s always a good idea to allocate more than you initially think you'll need — just be sure you have a list of backup tasks in case an event falls through or you finish a project earlier than anticipated).
Now that you’re ready to build your schedule, start with either when you wake up or when you start working. I like to build my personal tasks into my work schedule, so I keep myself accountable for working out or making time for self care or seeing friends. I think these types of events on your calendar help create balance. Otherwise, I’d probably just be working 15 hours a day, and my rate of burnout would substantially increase.
I won’t put in every exact detail, like a face mask after my shower. But I will think about when I’m wrapping up my day. I might put my bed time at 11:30 p.m. and finish scheduling things at 9 p.m.
In between the events, analyze how much time you have there and what fits well. If you have a half hour between getting ready and your commute, maybe that’s a good time to squeeze in responding to emails. That way when you get to work, you’ll already have that out of the way and you can be on to the next task.
Overcoming the Distraction
It’s important to focus on each task that you’ve written down separately. Being really busy or having a lot of responsibilities usually translates into doing a little bit here and a little bit there. When I’m checking emails, I don’t log on to social media. When I’m scheduling social media posts, I’m only doing that. And when I'm researching and writing, I shut everything else down.
Busy people are susceptible to lots of distractions. But time blocking really helps to cut down on that because it’s task-oriented and goal-oriented at the same time.
These are a few tips I found helpful when I started time blocking:
- Start big. There are certain events or deadlines that can’t be moved. Those should be the things you put in the calendar first.
- Include recurring events, too. I know I have an editorial meeting every Wednesday at 2 p.m. I probably won’t forget that ever, even when it’s not on my schedule. But I include it to get a better picture of my day. It might mean that I have a free hour before. I can fill that with another task, like brainstorming.
- After a while you’ll start seeing natural patterns in your schedule and it’ll become easier to pack more in, like maybe scheduling meetups in the afternoon work best and you can schedule them back-to-back.
- Look for natural fits. This is particularly helpful with achieving goals. For example, if you have a goal of reading more, put “commute/audiobook” on your schedule. It will remind you to hit play when you’re in the car. Sometimes all we need is a little reminder.
It doesn’t take much to implement time blocking, but does require some analysis into your schedule and some determination. If you’re a natural procrastinator, time blocking is a big help in staying on track, especially for big deadlines. If you have lofty goals, it’s also a great tool to stay focused.
One tool that we love at Ink+Volt to help with time blocking is the Ink+Volt Today Organizer Pad.
This at-a-glance daily notepad will help you maximize your daily productivity by helping you visualize what is most important. The Today Organizer features hourly time blocks to manage your schedule through time-blocking, a task checklist to organize your important to-dos, and a "tomorrow" section for future tasks. And of course it's important to stay hydrated while you're being so productive, which is why this pad includes a water intake tracker too.
Time blocking is a tool that helps you take small steps to accomplish big-picture goals by forcing you to work smarter (not harder) and recalibrate your focus each day. We can't wait to see what you accomplish!