How many different hats do you wear in your life? Mama? Wife? Friend? Employee? Business owner? Volunteer? Housekeeper? You’re busy, and it’s hard to keep all those plates spinning and don’t let one area of your life slide while you’re busy with something else. Some time management strategies can feel like a full-time job in themselves. I know I’ve sometimes listened to people explaining their organisation systems and time management tactics, and found it overwhelming just hearing about it. Time blocking is different though, it’s simple, flexible, and doesn’t require any lengthy setup.
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What Is Time Blocking
Time blocking is exactly what it sounds like. You break up your time into chunks, or blocks, and planning what you’ll do in each of them. You can do this on a weekly or daily level, depending on what works for you.
I love time blocking because it gives me a realistic picture of what I can actually achieve in a given length of time. No more over-long to-do lists that I don’t have a hope in hell of achieving. (Actually, I still write lists like that, but I call them brain dumps rather than to-do lists).
Start by scheduling the immovable stuff, then add the important stuff, and then put all the mundane busy-work of life into the gaps. Time blocking is a great tool for helping you to make time for the things that are really important to you. (Not that laundry‘s not important, but maybe it doesn’t always need to get top billing in your day).
Benefits Of Time Blocking
You’ll love time blocking because:
- It makes your life easier by removing some in-the-moment decisions. You can see from your schedule what you’re supposed to be doing right now.
- Using a time-blocked schedule forces honesty about how much time you’re really spending on things. That, in turn, helps you to shift your priorities where needed.
- It confines tasks to a set amount of time, making it less likely that you’ll lose hours on Facebook or stuck in the ‘research’ phase of a decorating project (*cough* Pinterest).
- It helps you make sure the important stuff happens – if you block it in, it gets done.
- Time blocking helps you say ‘no’ when you need to. Laying your week out like this makes it easier to avoid over-committing yourself.
- Time blocking helps you get more done, more efficiently. It leaves you more time for the new things you’d like to bring into your life.
Getting Started With Time Blocking
While time blocking offers a pretty quick setup experience, I think it’s important to take a step back and really look at the activities you’re filling your days with. What’s the point in a new routine that includes all the same stuff, and doesn’t create space for anything better?
Start With A Time Audit
Look at how you’ve spent the last few days, and try to make a rough note of the activities you’ve done and how long you spent on them.
If you want accuracy, you could take notes of what you’re doing every hour for a few days. That’s a good way to do it, and it can be really eye-opening, because we’re often not honest with ourselves about how we spend our time.
Don’t let it hold you up though. The beauty of time blocking is that it’s flexible, so you can make changes and tweaks as you go along.
You don’t need to stress about getting it perfect the first time around. Life rarely works that way.
Think About Things You’d Like To Include
Once you’ve looked at what you’re actually doing with your days, consider what you’d like to include in your schedule.
This isn’t the time to go crazy and decide you’re going to tackle everything you’ve ever wanted to do. Take it slow. Time blocking can help you get more done, but one of it’s biggest benefits is that it forces you to acknowledge your limitations.
The magic is in streamlining your work as much as possible. It’s about giving yourself more free time, and learning to use that free time well. Creating time for things that will push you towards your goals.
A quick note on work: My definition of work is pretty broad. I’m definitely not just talking about paid work, or your job. To me, all the stuff you do to keep your household ticking over, that’s work. All the organising and logistics around getting your child to the right place, at the right time, with the right equipment, that’s work too. Side hustles, small businesses, cooking dinner, taking part in PTA activities … all of that counts as work to me too.
So, pick something, one thing that you think would move your life forward right now. Choose something that’s related to a goal you have, something that feels important to you at the moment.
Maybe you’re trying to lose weight, but it’s hard to find time to exercise, or to batch cook the healthy lunches that will help you stay on the wagon during the week.
Maybe you want a vegetable patch, but have no clue where to start, and no time to do it in anyway.
It doesn’t matter what you pick, just pick something.
Putting It All Together
So, you have a huge list of all the minutiae of your current routine, and you’ve got this one idea you’d like to make time for in your life.
Now you need to make yourself a schedule.
You can absolutely do this just with a pen and paper. Don’t delay just because you don’t have the right equipment. My favourite way to tackle the task, especially the first few times, when there’s likely to be a lot of chopping and changing, is with Post-it notes.
These are my particular favourites. They’re sticky almost over the entire back of the note, so they stick down nice and flat rather than flapping around.
If you’re going the Post-it note route, then allocate different colours for different kinds of tasks. Doing that helps make the whole time blocked schedule easier to understand, visually.
1. Define Your Available Time
You might choose to try time blocking your whole day, which is the approach I normally take, or you might just want to block specific chunks of time, like your working day, for example. I’ll assume you’re blocking the whole day, but the process is the same however you choose to do things.
Decide how much sleep you need to feel properly rested. (This is a different number from the bare minimum of sleep you can get and still appear to be a functioning human being).
From there, figure out how many hours you have available to you each day.
2. Create A Blank Schedule
Now grab your planning tool of choice, and start mapping out your day.
If you don’t yet have a planning tool of choice, here are a few suggestions:
- A large piece of paper, either to write directly on, or to stick your Post-it notes to.
- A journal or planner, opened to a fresh two-page spread.
- A whiteboard, again, either for writing on or sticking Post-it notes to.
I love the visual appeal of coloured Post-it notes stuck to a big whiteboard. I know, though, that if planning is to work well for me, I need to be able to carry it with me. That’s why I do my time blocking in my bullet journal.
I think it’s best to block out a week at a time, but to keep a flexible approach. Don’t try to get too detailed, and don’t hold too tightly to this first attempt at block scheduling.
- Split your page into eight columns, one for each day of the week, plus an extra one.
- Label the columns as shown below.
- Put your wake-up time at the top of the first column, and your bedtime at the bottom. (If you’re using block scheduling just for a portion of your day, the time you’re at work, for example, then you’ll want to indicate the start and finish times of that portion).
Obviously you’ll need a whole lot more lines in your table, but hopefully that give you the basic idea.
3. Add Immovable Items
Immovable items are the things that need to happen at a specific time. There are two main categories:
- Fixed daily items – things like mealtimes, children’s bedtimes.
- Appointments – where you have a commitment to be at a specific place at a specific time.
Mealtimes And Personal Commitments
Make sure you’re factoring self-care into the decisions you make throughout this whole process. Right now, that means making mealtimes some of the first immovable items you put into the schedule.
I eat breakfast and lunch at the same time each day, so I can block those items in right away. For me, breakfast is part of a morning routine that really doesn’t change from day to day, so I can mark that first hour on my schedule off right across every day in the week. Dinner’s a little more variable, depending on where everyone is, so I’ll usually mark that down later on.
This is also the time to add the other fixed daily items that won’t change from day to day. If the rest of your day revolves around being at home for your children’s bedtime, then that needs to go on the schedule now. If you always exercise at 7:00 in the morning, then that needs to be added as well.
Now check out the week on your calendar, and figure out what needs to be scheduled in. Look in all the places you might have made notes about this stuff. Check the wall calendar, your phone, the scraps of paper bursting out of your bag. Look inside your bullet journal, dig up all the letters and emails from school. You want to be completely sure you’ve got everything.
Don’t write anything yet.
Time blocking can simplify your life, and make more time for the things you really want to do. It’s an awesome tool, but it’s not going to work miracles.
How many ‘immovable’ items have you got piled up waiting to be added to your schedule?
This is your chance to take back a bit of control.
Play a game with yourself, and see how many of those items you can delete before they ever make it onto your schedule. Try to get rid of anything that isn’t making your life better in some way. I know that’s a bit vague, and we’ve all got obligations we’d like to ditch but can’t. If this new approach to planning is going to work for you, then you need to exercise some editing power over the things you’re allowing to take up space in your block schedule.
Once you’re sure you want to keep what’s left, then go ahead and write them onto the schedule. If you’re going down the colour-coding route, then choose a different colour for these items.
4. Add In The Important Stuff
That enormous list of activities that you started with? Now’s the time to find space for them in your block schedule.
Please don’t start with the laundry though.
Remember that one thing? The thing you added to your list because it’s something that will move you forward with one of your goals?
That’s what’s going onto the schedule first.
So, how much time do you need, and how often do you plan to do the activity?
Remember that we’re trying to be gentle on ourselves, so deciding to fill all available spaces with writing, and aiming to have a novel drafted by the end of your first week, probably isn’t the best plan.
I’m reading Stop Saying You’re Fine by Mel Robbins at the moment, (actually, I read it at lightning speed, and am now rereading, more slowly, so as to actually take action), and one of the things that jumped out at me was her statement that, “Frequency is more important than intensity or quantity.” When you’re creating change in your life, look at the things you can do little and often, rather than focusing on a need for huge blocks of time that are likely to be easily derailed.
I recommend that you pick a small action to take every day this week.
If writing a book is your big goal, then commit to writing 100 words each day, or 500, whatever feels doable in a slightly-stretching kind of way.
If you have a lot of weight you’d like to lose, then block in time for a half-hour walk or run each day.
Schedule these actions in now, before you start playing Tetris with all the other details of your life.
Top habit-forming tip: piggyback the NEW habit onto an already established habit. Write your 500 words while drinking your first coffee of the day, exercise right after brushing your teeth.
5. Find Space For Everything Else
Take a look at the space you’ve got left.
That’s the amount of time you have for squeezing in all the other stuff.
Now’s a good time to look at your list and see whether there’s anything you can safely delete or delegate to someone else. Once you’re sure that all the remaining activities are things you really need and want to do, then go ahead and fit them in.
- Play around with when and how often you do things, and see what works best. For some people, one laundry day a week works better than doing laundry daily, which is my preference. Maybe batch cooking will help free up more time during the rest of the week. Don’t be afraid to keep trying different things until something works.
- Don’t beat yourself up if your first few attempts at scheduling aren’t successful. There’s a definite learning curve to creating a successful time-blocked schedule.
- Be honest about how much time something will take, and don’t forget to factor in travel time.
- Leave some empty space to act as a buffer for when things overrun or don’t go to plan.
- Schedule time for reviewing how your block schedule worked, and for planning the upcoming week.
- Take a few minutes in the evening to review your day, and make adjustments to the next day if necessary.
- Allocate a larger block of time at the weekend for planning the week ahead.
Stick To The Plan
You need to find a balance between being flexible, and flowing with what life throws at you, and sticking to the plan. Be honest with yourself about whether life really derailed things for you, or whether you’re making excuses for yourself.
Time blocking is just one type of scheduling. It works well for me in some seasons of life, and less well at other times.
Any kind of planning is only as effective as your ability to stick to it.
With patience and consistency, time blocking will show you which areas of your life are eating up far too much time, and where you can streamline things to give you more room in your day.
It’s important to have something in mind to fill that extra time. You’ve taken the time to work on time blocking and figuring out how you want your day to go. Make sure you keep up the commitment to yourself to do the important stuff.
Bonus Tip: Have a plan in place for when things go off-piste.
Know what your priorities are for the day so that you can easily see which things to ditch and which to cling on to.
I like to put an asterisk next to anything that’s really important, to make it easier to make in-the-moment decisions if I realise that I can’t get everything done.
Give Time Blocking Time To Work For You
Finally, give this a fair go.
You’ve tried other planning and organising methods before, I’m sure. It’s no good just trying something for a day and then giving it up as a lost cause.
A week is the bare minimum for getting properly comfortable with time blocking, or any time management method. A month would be even better.
Give yourself the gift of sticking with it for long enough to see results.