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What Is Time Blocking: A Quick Guide

"A 40-hour time-blocked work week, I estimate, produces the same amount of output as a 60+ hour work week pursued without structure." -- Cal Newport, Author of Deep Work.

What Is Time Blocking: A Quick Guide

We have previously touched upon other topics related to productivity, such as how to increase efficiency, time management, and deadline management. Delving deeper, another technique that can be utilized to up your game at work is time blocking. If you are not familiar with the ins and outs of time blocking yet, you will learn everything you need to know here. What is it exactly and how does it work? Plus, we will go over some of the common pitfalls to avoid.

Table of contents:

What is time blocking?
Time blocking variations
Why is time blocking effective?
Common time blocking slip-ups and how to avoid them
Time blocking vs. to-do list
Conclusion 

What is time blocking?

Time blocking is defined as a time management technique used to schedule time in your calendar for every separate task you do. This includes lunch, personal matters, meetings, work projects, and so on. Scheduling your whole day into time blocks will help manage your time while aligning tasks that take more time to complete, with those that can be optimized.

Time blocking can prove to be useful when managing one or more projects. The idea of time blocking is thoroughly discussed in the book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport. In his book, Newport reveals the concept of deep work, making multiple distinctions.

Deep work

According to Cal Newport, deep work means you completely concentrate on a cognitively demanding task without getting distracted. It's a competence that helps you process complex information faster while producing better results in less time. Deep work will enhance your performance, no matter what you do, while bringing a stronger sense of fulfillment too.

Shallow work

The minor duties that can be performed in a state of distraction are described as ‘shallow work’, and are usually non-cognitive tasks. It is highly recommended to group low-priority shallow work activities together and block time in which you perform them all after one another. This way, you will make sure they won’t interfere with more important tasks.

Time blocking variations

Some variations of time blocking exist. To help you distinguish between them, the following examples are given.

Time blocking

Dividing the day into blocks of time, each dedicated to a particular errand or activity.
Example: Planning to write a blog from 10 am to 1 pm.

Task batching

Batching a group of similar tasks together and doing them all at once, instead of just spreading them sparingly throughout the day.

Time boxing

Blocking time that you'll spend on a certain task in the future. The difference between time blocking and time boxing is that the former includes strictly reserving time for an activity, while the latter includes limiting the time you spend on it.

Day theming

More suitable for bigger projects and more complex tasks is day theming. This involves devoting an entire day to working on one specific initiative. As the name suggests, all the tasks you will be working on throughout the whole day will have the same theme. Content creation for example, or doing research.

Time blocking variations

Why is time blocking effective?

There are many benefits associated with time blocking:

  • It encourages you to focus on deep work

  • It helps you get shallow work done more efficiently

  • It keeps you aligned with your goals

  • It makes you aware of how you spend your time

  • It makes you less of a perfectionist and more of an ‘effectionist’

Common time blocking slip-ups and how to avoid them

Every technique comes with pitfalls, and time blocking is no exception to this rule. Of course, there are also measures you can take to avoid them.

Underestimating your time

No matter how much time we allocate to a given task, it’s simply human nature to do everything at the last minute. Even if you are among the most efficient people, you might underestimate the time needed for certain activities. Sometimes this will interfere with upcoming projects.

Over time, you will get better at estimating how long tasks will take to complete. To mediate this hiccup, try blocking more time than you initially think you need to be on the safer side. Also, add extra time to your schedule for transitioning between tasks. As time passes by, you will get to know your abilities and become more accurate at scheduling.

Being too rigorous

Be flexible. Things don’t always work out the way as planned. There will be meetings or other unplanned activities that spontaneously come up, ruining your plans. But keep in mind, your schedule is a guide to help you focus your attention on what’s important, not a binding contract. Look at your time blocks as a flexible way to challenge yourself. Not a strict means to punish yourself for falling short.

Overscheduling your relaxation time

Part of time blocking is also scheduling outside-of-work activities like playing tennis or simply having a few minutes to relax. Overdoing it, however, can have a damaging effect on the overall enjoyment of your activities.

A better way to manage your leisure time with a schedule is to simply block time to relax or disconnect, without having a very rigid plan for how you will spend that time. This gives you the flexibility to be more spontaneous without feeling the pressure to continue doing something you no longer want to do. A feeling that definitely defeats the purpose of relaxation.

Time blocking vs to-do list

Most of us use planners or to-do lists to organize tasks, but both of these approaches have a major flaw. They don't actually tell you what you need to do right now, at the very moment. Instead, they tell you what you eventually need to get done, which often leads to procrastination and last-minute cramming.

This is what makes time blocking such a great time management strategy. Unlike to-do lists, which only tell you what you need to accomplish, time blocking also tells you when.

Conclusion

Now, you can make a great leap towards becoming more productive and efficient at work. If you haven’t made use of time blocking before, we highly advise you to give it a chance. Try it for at least a week to see how it works out. Project managers are known to be experts in time-tracking. For example, by using tools such as project planners that map out the time a certain project management task should take. 

Being more efficient means less stress and better well-being. What better way to achieve your goals and have a good work-life balance?

Would you like to find out how Rodeo can contribute to this? Set up a free demo or start a free trial to test out the planning and time-tracking features, along with all the other functions for optimizing your workflows.

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