How to Protect Your Time with Time Blocking

Do you have more things to do in the day than time to do it? We only have 24 hours of time every day and planning to use it the right way has to be our biggest priority. Because how we spend our days is how we spend our lives.

Published on
4 May

Failing to plan is planning to fail. So to live our best life, we have to plan the best days, every day.

Unfortunately, less than 1 in 5 people (18%) have an effective time management system. According to Parkinson's Law, "Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion". That means if you say it’ll take you a month to finish that design proposal, regardless of whether you can do it faster, you’ll subconsciously take up the whole 30 days getting it done.

To-do lists can’t help with that. Instead, you need to integrate goal-oriented time management techniques: time blocking, time batching and timeboxing.

What is Time Blocking?

The theme of time blocking (or its close cousins: timeboxing and time batching)  involves allocating fixed time periods to activities. In other words, you divide your day into concrete blocks of time, you dedicate each block to a specific task or group of similar tasks, and you follow a schedule that plans out what you’ll work on and when.

Time blocking inherently requires you to prioritize your to-dos, to predict how long the task will take you, and to plan when you’ll get it done. With days’ time blocked in advance, you regain control of your chaotic life and increase your confidence that you are meeting your goals because you made time for it. By scheduling out every part of your day, you don’t have decision paralysis or other time wasters because looking at your schedule will realign your attention on the right priority at the right time. This mindset shift means that you know if something is not on your calendar, then it’s never going to get done.

Time Blocking vs. Timeboxing vs. Task Batching—Key Differences

How does time blocking compare to its adjacent productivity systems of task batching and timeboxing?

Let’s say you have to write a scope of work (SOW) for a client, Acme.

  • Time blocking: I’ll spend two hours writing the Acme SOW tomorrow between 9am and 11am.
  • Task batching: I’ll spend two hours writing scopes of work tomorrow between 9am and 11am.
  • Timeboxing: I’ll finish writing three SOWs tomorrow between 9am and 11am.

Task batching takes the planning process to the next level: group similar activities together and do them all at once, ultimately improving your focus, speed and productivity. Shifting between different tasks can cost as much as 40% of your productive time. Reduce context switching by batching tasks of the same type together, so that you might benefit from the state of flow achieved and maximize eliminating wasting time.

Timeboxing is the strategy of setting clear goals to be achieved during a fixed period of time for an activity. So when your time is up, you stop working on the activity and assess whether you’ve reached your goal or not. Timeboxing adds self-accountability and urgency by imposing an artificial deadline. It also forces you to ignore perfectionism and instead get it done. The Pareto principle (the 80-20 rule) explains quantitatively how perfect is the enemy of the good: 20% of the full time needed to complete a goal completes 80% of a task, while the last 20% takes 80% of the effort and time to complete. Strive for progress, not perfection, and setting goals marks a minimal viable completion point.

Getting Started with Time Blocking

If you follow the following steps, then you’ll have incorporated all three time management techniques. The foolproof way to to plan your best day, every day:

  1. Capture all your tasks in one place.
  2. Prioritize everything. Mark items as urgent or important or both.
  3. Create tags so items can be batched together.
  4. Set time goals for how long items should take you.
  5. Schedule when you will do different individual tasks or batches of tasks.
  6. Assess if you met your time goals. Use this knowledge to improve estimates next time.
  7. Re-prioritize and re-schedule your list and agenda when the unexpected happens.

Making Time Management Easier

At first glance, time blocking, batching and boxing may seem like the perfect productivity system, but most people give up on these techniques after a few weeks. Why? Because it’s hard work to maintain this time management mindset. You have to manually prioritize and time block for each day. Time batching requires shifting and re-organizing your list over and over again. Timeboxing takes mental strength as you keep holding yourself accountable and re-assessing your abilities when you don’t meet your goals.

Between the manual re-planning and the constant reflection on self-improvement, these three techniques become tedious and fall by the wayside.

How to Leverage Automation for Time Blocking

Smarty automates the tedious parts of time blocking, batching and boxing so you can focus on reaping the rewards.

  1. Brain dump into Smarty and capture everything on your mind.
  2. Tell Smarty the urgency and priority and Smarty will keep track of the deadlines for you.
  3. Batch similarly tagged items and projects automatically with Smarty.
  4. Record estimates with Smarty and monitor your goals over time.
  5. Manually schedule or auto-schedule tasks with Smarty. Know exactly what to do next.
  6. Analyze with Smarty the hours spent in meetings or on tasks. See where your time goes.
  7. Rebuild your schedule with Smarty/ so you’re always focused on what’s most important.

Try these techniques today!

Manually planning your days and weeks in advance can become overwhelming and tedious. But scheduling your days and weeks in advance front-loads your decision-making on what needs to get done and when, giving you confidence about your days while saving you time and mental energy.

Take back control over your calendar and achieve your goals with this research-backed productivity system.

Smarty makes time blocking, batching and boxing even easier. So you can do what you do best, and Smarty will do the rest :)

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