Every six minutes, the average employee checks their messages, according to RescueTime research. While these frequent interruptions might seem harmless, a study from UC Irvine found it can take nearly 23 minutes to resume work after an interruption.
Emails and Slack messages aren’t the only sources of distraction, however. Workflow can be derailed by meetings, chatty coworkers or family members, social media, and a noisy environment.
With numerous distractions, it’s easy to finish the work day without accomplishing everything you hoped to. Many people have turned to time blocking to gain back the time they’ve previously lost to distractions. In this article, find out how time blocking works so you can manage time effectively and take control of your work day.
- Time blocking is a productivity technique where you divide your day into blocks of time and assign specific tasks or activities to each block, reducing distractions and improving productivity.
- The American Psychological Association says multitasking can hurt your productivity by 40%.
- Use task batching, day theming, and time boxing in combination with time blocking to improve efficiency.
- Color-coded time blocking can help you live your values.
What Is Time Blocking?
Time blocking is a productivity technique where you divide your day into blocks of time and assign specific tasks or activities to each block. This technique is also often called block planning or block scheduling. The goal is to manage time more effectively by focusing deeply on one task at a time, removing distractions, and deciding in advance what to work on and when. The time blocking method is great for people who want to improve their ability to focus and be more intentional with their time and energy.
Pros and Cons of Time Blocking
Time blocking has the potential to transform your workday, but some people might find it’s not for them. Before you get started, make sure you know the pros and cons of this time management technique.
- Improve productivity: When you avoid distractions and stop multitasking, you’ll be able to accomplish your responsibilities more quickly each day.
- Enjoy your job more: According to Udemy research, regular interruptions make 34% of employees like their jobs less. Block planning can decrease those distractions and improve your enjoyment at work.
- Shift your locus of control: Time blocking helps individuals create an internal locus of control, meaning they feel they control their lives rather than external forces. Even if you don’t have control over the types of tasks you have to complete, time blocking allows you to go through each task on your own terms.
- Requires upfront time and effort: Time blocking requires an upfront investment of time and effort. While creating your time block schedule, you may feel it’s an unnecessary use of time. It’s only after you’ve lived on a time-blocked schedule for a while that you see the results.
- Does not account for unpredictability: Time-block scheduling is all about planning in advance. However, that’s not very useful if your day-to-day is difficult to predict. If your job is highly unpredictable, this might not be the right time management tool for you.
- Limited flexibility: A time-block schedule can be fairly rigid. When one thing on the schedule is altered, it can affect every other part of your schedule. While it’s possible to minimize this possibility by planning some flex room into your schedule, there will likely be times the schedule falls apart.
How Time Blocking Works and Why It’s Effective
“To produce at your peak level, you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction. Put another way, the type of work that optimizes your performance is deep work.”Cal Newport
The time blocking method is based on a concept called “deep work,” a term coined by author Cal Newport in the book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. According to Newport, “deep work” occurs when you deeply concentrate on one thing for long periods of time without allowing other things to pull your attention away. This allows you to use all your mental resources on one thing, improving your productivity and efficiency.
Time blocking is a way to commit to periods of deep work. Newport, who lives by this time management strategy, says, “Sometimes people ask why I bother with such a detailed level of planning. My answer is simple: it generates a massive amount of productivity. A 40-hour time-blocked work week, I estimate, produces the same amount of output as a 60+ hour work week pursued without structure.”
The opposite of deep work is multitasking. Although the American Psychological Association says multitasking can hurt your productivity by 40%, roughly 99% of people say they multitask sometimes. When you use time blocking to quit multitasking, you can get to a state of deep work more frequently.
How to Begin Time Blocking Your Schedule
Two of the most prominent advocates of time blocking are billionaires Elon Musk and Bill Gates, who are known for scheduling their days down to five-minute increments. But highly successful people have been using time blocking as far back as Benjamin Franklin, who explained in his autobiography that he split every day into six-time blocks and assigned activities to each block. To start managing time as effectively as these leaders, here’s what you need to do:
1. Identify Your Priorities
Author and businessman Stephen Covey said, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” One example of a person who does this is Deepak Chopra, a bestselling author and believer in alternative medicine. He always makes time in his schedule for well-being, saying, “I, of course, meditate for two hours every morning. It’s part of my schedule; I wake up at 4 a.m. every day and I love it.”
Actor Will Arnett makes time for gratitude and reflection each day, stating: “Every single morning, I write a gratuity list. I write down ten things I’m grateful for every day—and it always starts with my kids.”
To successfully time block your schedule, it’s important to understand your priorities. If you don’t yet feel like your priorities are clear, follow these steps:
- Make a list of all the tasks, goals, and activities you currently spend time on. This could include work, hobbies, relationships, and other commitments.
- Evaluate each item on the list and consider how important it is to you. Ask yourself if it aligns with your values and if it brings you fulfillment.
- Rank the items in order of importance. Identify the top three to five items you want to focus your time and energy on.
- Consider the impact of your priorities on your life as a whole. Think about how your priorities may affect your career, relationships, health, and personal growth. Be willing to adjust your priorities as your circumstances and goals change over time.
2. Estimate a Time Frame for Each Activity
Be realistic about how long each task will take, and ensure you give yourself enough time to complete each task. After you’ve been time blocking for a while, you’ll be a pro at this, but while you’re still a beginner at estimating time frames, err on the side of estimating too much time for a task. This will help you avoid getting off schedule and having to rewrite your whole plan.
3. Create a Block Schedule
Using your estimated time frames, assign each task a block of time. Make sure the activities at the top of your list of priorities have sufficient space on your schedule.
Tip: Identify times in your day when you have the most energy and when you are prone to fatigue or distraction. Schedule more difficult tasks during your high-energy times and simpler tasks for your low-energy times.
4. Schedule Breaks
Don’t forget to schedule breaks throughout your day. Cal Newport explained in his blog that deep breaks are just as important as deep work. He writes, “Anyone who regularly succeeds in long deep work sessions is almost certainly someone skilled at deploying deep breaks to keep the session going without burning out or losing focus . . . when it comes to deep work, you shouldn’t feel like you’re required to maintain peak concentration for hours on end. (If you try to, you’ll fail.)”
Newport’s deep breaks include activities like short walks, daydreaming, doing an activity with his children, or completing a household chore. Your breaks could include anything that is relaxing and does not pull your mind back toward your work.
A series of studies found that scheduling time for hobbies and fun activities decreases the enjoyment people experience during their free time. Because people associate schedules with work, free time feels more like a chore when it is scheduled.
To counteract this effect, schedule open time throughout your week, but leave the free time undefined and unplanned. During those breaks, you can decide what type of activity would be most relaxing or enjoyable in that moment, allowing for more spontaneity.
5. Stick to Your Schedule
Once you have created your time blocking schedule, try your best to stick to it. Treat each block of time as an appointment that you cannot miss. Of course, there may be times when unexpected things come up, but do your best to get back on track as soon as possible.
6. Evaluate and Adjust
At the end of each day or week, evaluate how well your schedule worked. Did you accomplish everything you wanted to? Did you feel productive and focused? If not, think about what changes you can make to improve your schedule for next time.
Tip: Don’t worry when your planned schedule doesn’t look like how your day turned out. Time blocking takes practice. Including time to evaluate and adjust helps you improve. The longer you do it, the more often your schedule will go according to plan.
Time Blocking Variations to Consider
Time blocking is one of many time management techniques that helps you improve your focus and productivity. Some of these alternative strategies can combine with time blocking to create a highly efficient and productive schedule.
Task batching is the process of grouping similar tasks and completing them in a single work period rather than attempting to do each task individually and separately. Batching tasks allows you to concentrate on a specific type of work for a longer period of time, allowing you to develop rhythm and momentum.
By combining task batching with time blocking, you can create a highly efficient and productive schedule. To do this, identify the different types of tasks you need to complete, group them into batches, and then block off times for each batch on your schedule.
Day theming involves assigning a theme or focus to each day of the week. For example, Monday might be focused on meetings and administrative tasks, Tuesday might be for client work, Wednesday for marketing and promotion, and so on. By assigning specific themes to each day, you can create a clear structure for your week and ensure you’re making the best use of your time and energy.
To combine day theming and time blocking, start assigning a theme or focus to each day of the week, as with day theming. Then, within each day’s schedule, create time blocks for specific tasks related to that theme.
Internet entrepreneur Jack Dorsey used day theming to manage his schedule when he was working full days as CEO at both Twitter and Square. He says, “On Monday, at both companies, I focus on management and running the company . . . Tuesday is focused on product. Wednesday is focused on marketing and communications and growth. Thursday is focused on developers and partnerships. Friday is focused on the company and the culture and recruiting. Saturday, I take off, I hike. Sunday is reflection, feedback, strategy, and getting ready for the week.”
Time boxing is a technique where you set a timer for a specific amount of time and work on a task exclusively during that time. Once the timer goes off, you take a break and then repeat the process for the next task. This technique helps you stay focused, manage your time better, and get more done in less time.
While time blocking typically has larger chunks of time blocked out, a time-boxed schedule would break up each chunk of time into smaller chunks. For example, If 1:00–2:15 p.m. is scheduled for “Planning Upcoming Sales Event,” a time-boxed schedule might look like this:
1:00–1:30 p.m.: Delegation check-ins—reach out to each person in charge of an aspect of the event to make sure things are on track.
1:30–2:00 p.m.: Email time—respond to clients, vendors, and other people involved in the event.
2:00–2:15 p.m.: Approve posters—check final designs from the graphic design team and send to the printer.
Tip: Time boxing is a great strategy for anyone who struggles with perfectionism and wants to ensure they finish a project within a specific time frame.
5 of the Best Time Management Tools
While some people prefer to use an old-fashioned paper and pen to write out their time-blocked schedule, time management apps can make your life easier. Here are a few tools to try:
- Trello: This project management tool allows you to create boards, lists, and cards to organize your tasks and projects. You can assign due dates, set priorities, and collaborate with others on your team.
- RescueTime: This task management tool gives detailed reports on how you spend your time on your computer or mobile device. It helps you identify where you’re wasting time and what activities are taking up the most of your day.
- Google Calendar: This calendar app allows you to create multiple calendars, set reminders, and share your calendar with others. It also integrates with other Google tools, such as Gmail and Google Meet, making it easy to schedule meetings and collaborate with others.
- Evernote: Evernote is a note-taking app that allows you to capture and organize your ideas, tasks, and projects in one place. You can create notes, to-do lists, and reminders and tag and categorize them for easy reference.
- TickTick Premium: While this app isn’t free, it’ll cost you less than $3 a month and makes it possible to time-block your day while also offering a timer for those who want to try time-boxing.
Use Color-Coded Time Blocking to Live in Alignment With Your Values
Color-coded time blocking creates a visual representation of your values. If you color-code your schedule with different values that matter to you, with just a glance, you can see if you are spending enough time on your priorities.
If you value personal relationships, career growth, and health, assign each of these a color on your calendar. When you look at your time-blocked week, do you see enough of each color? If not, rewrite your schedule to ensure your values are properly represented.
If you’re still working to identify your values and priorities, try the following:
- Reflect: Reflect on past experiences and identify moments when you felt most fulfilled or satisfied.
- Brainstorm: Make a list of values that resonate with you. Consider which ones you would be willing to make sacrifices for or which ones you feel define who you are as a person.
- Consider the future: Ask yourself what you want to achieve in each area of your life, and consider how your values and priorities can help you get there.
To learn more about developing your values, check out: “Here’s How Essentialism Creates Personal Freedom.”
For more insights on improving productivity at work, read “6 Work From Home Productivity Tips.”
Leaders Media has established sourcing guidelines and relies on relevant, and credible sources for the data, facts, and expert insights and analysis we reference. You can learn more about our mission, ethics, and how we cite sources in our editorial policy.
- MacKay, J. The State of Work Life Balance in 2019 (According to Data) – RescueTime. (2019). Retrieved 12 April 2023, from https://blog.rescuetime.com/work-life-balance-study-2019/
- Mark, G., Gonzelez, V., Harris, J. No Task Left Behind? Examining the Nature of Fragmented Work. (2023). Retrieved 12 April 2023, from https://www.ics.uci.edu/~gmark/CHI2005.pdf
- 2018 Workplace Distraction Report. (2018). Retrieved 12 April 2023, from https://research.udemy.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Workplace-Distraction-Report-2018-2021-Rebrand-v3-gs.pdf
- Newport, C. (2016). Deep work: Rules for focused success in a distracted world: Rules for focused success in a distracted world. S.l.: Grand Central Publishing.
- Multitasking: Switching costs. (2023). Retrieved 12 April 2023, from https://www.apa.org/topics/research/multitasking
- Americans Multitask More Than Any Other Country – Suppressing Their Creativity and Inspiration. (2019). Retrieved 12 April 2023, from https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/americans-multitask-more-than-any-other-country–suppressing-their-creativity-and-inspiration-300951710.html
- Sahu. S. Elon Musk, Benjamin Franklin, Bill Gates, Jack Dorsey uses this method to manage their time. (2022). Retrieved 12 April 2023, from https://medium.com/productivity-side/elon-musk-benjamin-franklin-bill-gates-jack-dorsey-uses-this-method-to-manage-their-time-a49be5d30606
- 65 Schedule Quotes On Success In Life – OverallMotivation. (2021). Retrieved 12 April 2023, from https://www.overallmotivation.com/quotes/schedule-quotes/
- Morning Rituals of Tony Robbins, Oprah, Steve Jobs, Lady Gaga and the Most Successful People in the World. (2015). Retrieved 12 April 2023, from https://projectlifemastery.com/morning-rituals-of-tony-robbins-oprah-steve-jobs-lady-gaga/
- Newport, C. (2016). On Deep Breaks – Cal Newport. Retrieved 12 April 2023, from https://calnewport.com/on-deep-breaks/
- Scheduling leisure activities makes them less fun. (2016, December 08). Retrieved April 12, 2023, from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/12/161208125816.htm
- Kruse, K. (2016, August 03). The Jack Dorsey Productivity Secret that enables him to run two companies at once. Retrieved April 12, 2023, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/kevinkruse/2015/10/12/jack-dorsey-productivity-secret/