WAIT! HANG ON! If you’re just joining us, be sure to read Part 1 of this (epically long, but super useful) post on Block Scheduling. It’ll be worth your time!
In our last post, we talked about how energy-sapping it is to not feel in control of your day. We also talked about why block scheduling is a way to take back that control.
And, we began the process of creating your block schedule, starting with prioritizing your work and figuring out which of your daily tasks is important and which are simply “urgent”.
Now we continue with Step 2:
2) Create your “blocks” of tasks. Make a list of your big categories of tasks like I listed in Step One. These are kind of like your “buckets” that you’ll fit your smaller tasks into. Looked at as a whole, these blocks should represent the work that is most important to you.
3) Figure out when you work best. When are you freshest? When do you do your most creative thinking? For me, that’s from 9am-noon. That’s right after my morning workout up until I start getting hungry for lunch. Try to do your most difficult or creative work when you are especially clear and fresh.
4) Take your first stab at plotting out your blocks of time. I do 2 large blocks of tasks and 3 small ones each day. One large and one small in the morning and one large and two small in the afternoon. The small ones are for my “urgent” items.
5) Build in regular intervals for dealing with the “urgent” things like responding to emails and returning calls. You do have to deal with them, there’s no way around it. But you can do that in a way that still keeps you in control. To do that, block out 2-3 portions of time each day for them, depending on your job. I do this first thing in the morning and then again after lunch and once more before my staff’s work day ends.
Here’s another example, from a Penelope who’s job is sales. You can see she’s organized her time by region, ensuring she spends quality time on each area that is in her sales territory. Previously, she was frustrated that she’d get “stuck” in one area all day and would then worry about another region she hadn’t touched recently enough. This weighed on her every night as she lay in bed. Using block scheduling, she never has to worry that one region gets short shrift.
Let’s talk a bit about email. I get so many questions about this. Should you start your day by diving into your inbox, or ignore it until other work is done? This is the question. Email, for many jobs, is a necessity. You ignore it at your peril. So, my answer is, if your job needs you to stay up on your emails, review it first thing and then filter for the truly urgent items and respond to them. Then, as you go through the different blocks in your schedule, deal with the emails that relate to that particular block. This way, mentally, you’re batching this work.
Sure, if you can, I recommend starting your day with 90 minutes focused only on your most important task for the day and ignore email until that is finished. That’s the ideal.
But, if you have a job like mine, where people rely on your regular correspondence to do their jobs, you need to build in 2-3 times a day in your calendar to review your latest email and deal with those that are truly urgent. The key here is to make sure you limit how much time you spend in these short “blocks” and you only answer emails that are truly urgent. Don’t get drawn off your block schedule by emails.
6) Batch your tasks. This means to put like items together. Go through your daily tasks and put them into the larger block where they belong. This prevents major mind shifts and creates real efficiency of focus. This enables “flow”. (You know “flow”, right? That’s that sense that you are so involved in something that you’ve lost track of time. They say that is actual bliss for the human mind. I believe it.)
7) Formalize your block schedule. Now, transfer these blocks into your calendar formally. This is the time to really refine how long each block of time is. I like larger blocks, but some people like to do just one hour per task-type, because it keeps their day moving and their mind feeling fresh. It’s up to you. The key is to be able to step back and look at your overall week and make sure that you’re giving set time to the kinds of work that are important to you, your job and your values.
Power user tip:build in a 7-minute task each day. I like to do this right before my lunch break (and notice I set an alarm to remind me to do it). It keeps this session short, because I’m hungry, but lets me break for lunch feeling I’ve moved forward on my important work, I’m up to date on my urgent things and I’ve made some small, yet consistent progress on some larger ongoing task. I’m a time-management badass! (AKA: a Penelope.)
Congrats! You’ve now created a fully functional block schedule. You are now putting your time in on the things that really matter to you and you are not being drawn off by the false imperative of the “urgent”. You rock, my friend.
But I feel I must tell you that block scheduling requires an immense amount of discipline. You have to know this. IT IS NOT EASY.
- Not everyone can do this.
- Not every job will allow you to do this.
- It takes practice. It takes practice. It takes practice. It takes practice.
- It requires teaching others what to expect of you. You have to teach your co-workers and family to respect your boundaries, but also to trust that you’ll get them what they need to do their job or have their needs met.
- It takes a full month of having this system in place to see results.
BUT, if you are able to work this time management strategy into your flow, I promise you will feel not only more productive, but more in control.
Your Block Scheduling Cheat Sheet:
your daily To Do list
your calendar (either paper or digital)
Review your calendar and your To Do lists.
What is getting done and what is not getting done?
What tasks, if finished, would fill you with a sense of accomplishment?
In thinking big-picture in your life or your work: what result are you looking for? What really matters to you?
Make a new list that reflects this new priority and strips away anything that you’ve just been doing out of habit or obligation.
Make blocks of time devoted to those truly important things.
Commit to one month of working this block schedule and make sure the people involved know what to expect from you.
Time-Management Tools I Use:
30/30 app :
This incredibly intuitive, easy app is a great way to force my focus when I’m feeling distracted. I can tell it I want 30 minutes for some task and it’ll count me down and let me know when that time is up. Then it seamlessly moves me onto my next project. It’s easy and keeps me in line. Here’s a link to my review of the app
Concentrate for Macs
I like this tool because it removes my decision-making and limits distractions. When I start the timer, it closes out any applications I’ve asked it to close and opens any I’ve asked it to open. This means clean, clear, distraction-free time to write or edit or plan. Peace.
I hope that you will try Block Scheduling and see its benefits. If you already do it, let me know in the comments and share any tips or tricks you use to keep yourself on track.