It’s a funny thing, focus.
You’re in the zone one minute, firing on all cylinders and the next? It’s gone.
But what if there was a way to strike while the iron was hot, to get your head down and do more in less time?
There is - time blocking
What Is Time Blocking?
Time blocking is a time management technique that encourages you to schedule dedicated blocks of time for specific activities or tasks. It helps you focus on one task at a time, minimising distractions and boosting productivity.Sounds good on paper.
How Does Time Blocking Work?
Time blocking is all about structuring your day so you're in control of your calendar.
It helps you find focus, eliminating the time spent wondering what to do next.
"Instead of taking the defensive approach to work, in which you're constantly fielding tasks, emails, and requests as they crop up throughout the day, the time-blocking approach to scheduling creates a more deliberate and regimented structure for the workday — so you can get into the flow and deep work with minimal distractions," says Rachel Hakoune at Monday.com.
But what's deep work, exactly?
Productivity expert Cal Newport originally coined this term. It's a state of intense concentration that allows you to produce quality work in less time.
"A 40-hour time-blocked work week, I estimate, produces the same amount of output as a 60+ hour work week pursued without structure," argues Newport in 'Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World'
Based on the idea that the most valuable skill in the modern economy is the time to focus, this space allows us to produce high-quality work efficiently.
Easier said than done, though. Especially in a world where distractions are just a push notification away.
Why Should I Block My Time?
With so much technology at our fingertips, today’s world is pretty distracting.
And there’s evidence to suggest we’re even more preoccupied than we think.
According to Kings College research, UK adults check their phones about 25 times a day - or so the participants believe. In reality, there’s evidence to suggest that the average iPhone user unlocks their phone 80 times per day.
So what effect does this have on productivity?
Well, 50% of the Kings College survey respondents say that they can’t stop checking their smartphones when they should be focusing on other things. On top of that, 47% believe “deep thinking” has become a thing of the past.
Over in the US, attention spans are also wavering. Unsurprising when 47% of Americans consider themselves “addicted” to their phones, with 70% checking their device within five minutes of receiving a notification.
Considering the average US smartphone user gets over 46 notifications a day on their mobile device, that’s a lot of distractions.
That's where time blocking comes in.
Time blocking helps eliminate untimely intrusions, keeping you focused and in the flow. But can it work for your specific workload or lifestyle?
Absolutely, because there’s more than one way to do it.
Some Examples Of How To Time Block
There are many different ways you can use time blocking in your day-to-day. And certain variations might work better for you depending on your role and the hours you've got available. Here's a breakdown:
Task batching is where you group similar (mostly smaller) tasks before scheduling specific blocks to complete them at once. For example, you could schedule two 15-minute blocks to work through your emails (AM/PM) instead of checking your inbox every 10 minutes.
This method saves you from scheduling every individual task on your calendar. Instead, block off chunks of time for specific activities, e.g. emails, meetings, invoices, meal prep, etc.
Ready to step things up a bit? Try this.
This more intense version of task batching is great for people with a lot of responsibility - or multiple things vying for their attention.
So instead of setting aside time blocks for each area you need to focus on, this is about you choosing a specific theme for each day. For example, you could dedicate the whole of Monday to performance reviews and Tuesday to presentation planning.
You can also combine these blocking techniques with other forms of time management.
Timeboxing is a handy way of allocating a fixed (and maximum) amount of time to a task. The self-imposed "timebox" encourages deep working, forcing you to work more efficiently - as you're against the clock. Just be sure to schedule some breaks so you don't burn yourself out. In fact, that's where the following technique is useful.
The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. It involves breaking your work into 25-minute intervals called "pomodoros", separated by short breaks.
After completing four pomodoros, you can then take a longer break. The idea is to work with focused intensity for short periods. In turn, this leads to increased concentration, motivation and productivity.
Apps And Resources You Can Try
Up against it right now? Take a breath. We’ve put together this list of trusty time management tools (so you don’t have to).
Balance Planner - there are lots of handy toolkits inside the Balance Planner, perfect for keeping all aspects of work and life in check. Try using the day view to block out time for high-priority tasks before putting your well-being first with the daily self-care plan.
Clockify - a handy time-tracker that helps you track hours across projects.
GoogleCal - has a suite of features to manage your time, set tasks, keep focused and minimise distractions.