Time Blocking: the savior of productivity
It’s 10am and I’m folding laundry. 12pm I put on Netflix while eating lunch. 2pm and I’m cleaning the kitchen. Oh and it’s a work day, woops. Working from home can be awesome — no commute, comfy clothes, hang out with your pet.
When I started working my first fully remote role almost 2 years ago, my workday slipped into the evening so easily that I end up working 2–3 hours more when I’m at home than when I use to out of an office, and my productivity levels weren’t necessarily as high as they should’ve been because of distractions in my home. It’s only become worse as I’ve started to build a startup while maintaining a full-time job.
I was quickly forced to quickly learn that time management, more specifically time blocking, was key to managing my productivity levels, my social life, and in general my mental health.
For those of you in software development or project management, time blocking is pretty similar to sprint planning. And for those of you that aren’t in either of those fields, here’s a primer on how to get started! Time blocking isn’t just for people who work from home, it’s beneficial to anyone that is juggling a professional life, a social life, and the need for personal time.
Time Blocking 101:
The first aspect of time blocking is to agree on the tasks you want to complete that day, and once those tasks are complete you are “done” with your work day.
A task could include a smaller part of a larger project, a standalone smaller project, or lower priority actions like emails and calls. For larger, more measurable tasks, you should allot a realistic time frame to each (typically 1–2 hours) –
· write a white paper: 1.5 hours
· create infographic first draft: 2 hours
· brainstorming session with team: 2 hours
For lower priority tasks, it’s wise to set aside the same amount of time around the same time of day, every day. That way your colleagues will know to respect that time and (hopefully) won’t schedule any meetings during that. I like to tackle my inbox and get through my calls first thing in the morning, but I suggest playing to your energy levels during the day, like if you’re generally more creative in the morning, block off your morning time for your more creative tasks.
You can expand this practice to weekly planning to better allocate time blocks to each day and to ensure you’ll hit your deadlines. I’m not here yet, but I know some people are and their google calendars are works of art. It’s also helpful when you have some regularity as you can better manage expectations with your colleagues, like if family time is 6–8pm and you’re not checking your phone, your colleagues will know either not to bother you during that time or to not expect an immediate reply if they send something at 6pm.
Not just for your professional life
What I like most about time blocking is that it’s not just for work tasks. I block off time in the evenings for me time, for cooking, for social activities, etc. This is how I make sure that my personal life does not get neglected, and it also ensures that I shut off from work brain regularly every day and prevents burnout much easier. You can block off lunch dates and coffee breaks, to make sure you get the productivity boosts you need without feeling guilty of your down time “during work time”. If you have a dog, schedule walks before and after big productive time blocks as a productivity boost and much needed mental break. I try to block off at least a half hour every morning to ease into my day with some coffee and a good book before even checking my phone.
Powering through distractions
Managing distractions is also key to making time blocking effective. I put my phone in a different room during time blocks I really need to be heads down during, like writing or creative brainstorming. I like to schedule my time blocks in the spaces I feel are going to be the most productive. My morning emails and calls are usually taken from my home, while more intense time blocks I’ll go to a work space outside of my home. I also like working from a work space in the afternoons since if my time blocking is getting sloppy I’ll still have a more distinct end to the day when they close!
What can get really difficult though is meetings, the bane of the corporate bureaucracy.
To keep people from scheduling meetings all over my calendar, I put my time blocks into my calendar itself and make it private. That way people can see that I’m busy during that time and they will have to schedule around it. This will force your colleagues to respect your time more and help you get more stuff done!
I hope that this primer helps you manage your schedule better and re-starts your productivity levels!