Time blocking (AKA diary blocking) involves scheduling your day in advance so that you know exactly what you’re working on and when you’re working on it. Planning time in this way can be highly helpful for improving focus, performance and delivery.

Summary by The World of Work Project

Time Blocking

Time blocking has two components. The first is planning in advance what you’re going to work on over the course of a day. The second is scheduling your calendar into blocks of time to reflect this plan. Essentially what this does is help you plan not simply what you’re going to work on (your to-do list), but also when you’re going to do it and how long you’re giving yourself to work on it.

Benefits of Time Blocking

Time blocking forces us to think about our priorities and how we’ll allocate our most scare resource, our time. In doing this it helps us prioritize and filter how we plan to spend our time. When we see tasks allocated against time, it’s easier to prioritize them. It’s also easier to jettison things that seem like they don’t merit the time we’ve allocated to them.

A to-do list is part of time-blocking
Time blocking is more than a to-do list.

In addition, time block forces us to pre-decide how we’ll spend our time and helps increase our focus. Despite what some people might say, multi-tasking is hugely inefficient. We’re far more productive when we can work on one single task at a time. When we time-block we have more control over our time and our ability to focus and undertake “deep” work. When we work in a more ad-hoc way we have less control, and often achieve fewer of our goals.

If using shared calendars, time blocking also has the benefit of protecting your time from meetings (depending on how respectful of calendars your organizations).

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Blocking Your Calendar

In reality, you can block your time any way you want. Most people who time block develop a system that works for them and stick to it. There are some general things you might want to consider to help you get started though.

For calendar blocking to work, it has to work for you. When designing your approach to approach you should think about the ebbs and flows of your work and life. Are you a morning person? What fixed commitments do you have? Do you need to gear up in the morning? Do you need to make time to exercise in the day? Understanding this overall narrative to your usual day is the first step in shaping an approach to time-boxing that will work for you.

Time blocking works well with shared calendars
You might place your time blocks in your electronic calendar.

Once you’ve worked out this higher level overview of how you spend your time, the next thing to do is to actually block it out in your calendar. To do this, think about your objectives, the tasks you need to complete to achieve them and how long those tasks take, then block them out in your calendar in a way that fits with your overall daily narrative.

It Take Practice!

Remember though that we’re all rubbish at planning time, and that focusing can be difficult. Give this, it’s advisable to overestimate how long things will take, to schedule blocks of time for “unplanned” work and to make sure that you mix your time up between tasks that take really deep focus, and those that are a bit lighter in terms of what they ask of you.

It’s also important to schedule a gap between your blocked tasks, and to set aside time for breaks, lunch and even to mark the end of your working day. You might event want to set aside a day every week or so to catch up, plan and get back on track.

As with everything that we do, we don’t get things right the first time. Working this ways requires an iterative, learning experience. Revise your approach, practice and you’ll improve.

The World of Work Project View

Lots of people extol the virtues of diary-blocking. It can be a hugely helpful way to work. We certainly use elements of it and recommend it as a helpful approach. We also highly recommend the use of time-blocked routines in teams, for many of the same reasons that we support time blocking.

That said, we also know we’re privileged to be able to use time blocking in our work. To be able to really do it, you need a lot of control over your time. It’s much easier to do if you’re a senior leader (or self-employed) than a more junior person, having to reply quickly to the beck and call of your more seniors and betters.

It’s also worth noting that to do it really well, you need to revisit how long you thought tasks would take and improve your planning for the future. This is the same with all approaches to planning.

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The information here on time blocking is based on our experiences in the world of work and conversations we’ve had with others, and we have no further specific reference materials for it. For wider reading though, you might enjoy Cal Newport’s book: “Deep Work”.

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