Anyone who has ever tried to get through a to-do list knows that it can be a challenge to stay focused, increase productivity and get everything done. If you are like me, there are so many items on a to-do list that I need a to-list to keep track of all of them.
And it seems that I keep adding more to my list than I ever delete. You know you have an organizational problem is you list “create Christmas clip art” in October and it’s still on the list in February.
So I heard about time blocking from a friend and thought I could use this system to help me keep track of my projects. This is a habit that you identify specific task you need to accomplish and block off time to complete that task.
I actually made my schedule for the week in and Excel sheet. I downloaded a weekly excel calendar from WinCalendar and then blocked out the times that I am unavailable (time left after work, coaching, meetings).
My Big Revelation
At the beginning of this year, I knew that I needed to find some method to increase productivity. I felt that I was wasting a lot of time, I indulged in a lot of negative self-talk. I had a lot of items on my list that I never got done.
But once I created my excel spreadsheet and could visually see how much time I actually had to devote to my business, my attitude changed.
In my mind, I had a lot of time that was being wasted. But the reality was that by the time I arrive home after being gone 10 hours, there are only a few hours available.
Most of my available time is on the weekend. And you will note that I don’t have meals, grocery shopping, and housework on the schedule. I fit any shopping in on the way home from work and any household tasks when there is extra time in the blocks.
Why Time Blocking Is Effective to increase productivity
This type of blocking has been shown to be an effective strategy because it eliminates procrastination (Yes, I am not totally reformed, but a huge improvement) and other time wasters.
Before I began using this system, I came home from work and sat thinking about all that I needed to do –instead of getting it done. Now I list my tasks for the week in one column and then use available time to block off when I will work on those ideas.
This system also increases motivation as well as increasing productivity. It is easier sit for a specific amount of time–say an hour to write emails than sit for several hours. And I like to color code everything red when finished, so it is highly motivating to see the blocks red at the end of the week.
We all have different styles of working but most will agree that the quantity of work completed diminishes the longer we work.
What Type of Time Blocks Work Best
I naturally block my time in hour long increments and some tasks take 2-3 hours, but 15 or 30 minute increments work just as well. As long as you are dedicating the time for the task assigned.
Time Blocking works because you are not “multi-tasking” and dividing your concentration. Note: even when I allocate 2 hour blocks to finish a task, I take a 5-10 break each hour during that time to get a drink, pet the cat and do quick chores.
And each of us are different. If you need frequent breaks, try working for 25 minutes then take a 5 minute break. Or if you find that you lose concentration after 20 minutes, then block your time for 20 minute blocks. The idea is to increase productivity by being able to concentrate.
And different tasks may required different blocks. If I am creating products, I get immersed in what I’m doing and completely forget about time. But if I’m doing laundry–it’s a different story.
Do I get sidetracked? Sure do, but I have been more productive in the last three months in the last year.
How to Get Started and Increase Productivity
Start with a calendar, planner or Google sheets/Excel. Put in your unavailable time first. Block those hours so you can see what time you actually have in your schedule to work on your to-do list.
This was an eyeopener for me. Once I could see my available time, I realized it was more about managing expectations and increasing productivy. Be realistic about how much work you can get done.
Deciding on Time Needed
You probably already have an idea of how long it takes you to finish certain tasks. So start with those that you know. Then, for any new tasks you will have to assign some time and then see if you need more or less.
I frequently allow an extra 10 minutes for tasks. And, if I run out of time on an assigned task, I will come back to it at a later time when I have available time.
Mistakes to Watch For
1. Being too rigid: Some things will happen outside our control. We cannot predict a power outage, a household emergency or unexpected opportunity. Some things can be resolved quickly, like an phone call but I have had power outages that last for over an hour.
Accept that a person with a partner and family has different priorities and time constraints than a person who lives alone. And also accept that sometimes, you will take the weekend off to visit friends or entertain.
2. Having too much on the to-do list. If you do not have the time to complete 10 tasks on your to-do list, adding 15 tasks will be impossible. It will increase a sense of failure and be deflating.
Try setting up priorities for items on your to-do list so that the important things get finished. Working to increase productivity is about doing more in less time, not just doing more.
3. Allowing procrastination to continue. I am a procrastinator but I usually procrastinate on things that either I am not comfortable doing, need more training, feel like my skills are lacking or in some way do not feel confident. Do those items first and the rest of the list will be easy.
I heard someone say once that we are what we do 90% of the time. So no one is perfect at scheduling their time, staying on task, accomplishing their to-do list or even being productive 100% of the time.
There have been days when I schedule a nap or TV time and nothing else. But those down times are necessary to relax, recover and regain a sense of creativity.
If you are looking for a method to increase productivity, give time blocking a try to see if it could work for you. Start small, and try one week first to see if you notice a change. If you are looking for more ideas on productivity, check out these blog posts: 8 tips to be productive during holidays and 9 Tips for Increased Productivity.
I would love to hear your experience. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below.