How to take control of your time.
It’s nearing the end of the day, you’re tired, your mind is fried and all you want to do is close your eyes. Your body feels like you’ve achieved so much, but then you stop to question yourself and ask, “what exactly did I achieve today?” Sound familiar? How about this one. You feel so overwhelmed with your to-do list that you don’t know how you’re going to complete it by the end of the week. I know I’ve experienced this a few times. Okay, last one. You’re so focused on one task that you lose track of time and no longer have time to do anything else. Believe me, I’ve been there before too.
The problem isn’t that you’ve got too much on your plate, the issue is that you’re not taking control of your time. All of the problems stated above can be remedied if you're able to embrace the productivity hack of time blocking. What is time blocking and how can it benefit you? That’s exactly what I’m going to answer in this article.
How I’ve used time blocking in my life?
In simple terms, time blocking is a method of advance planning. You schedule time on your calendar to complete everything that you need to do. Not only can this method be used for work, but it can be used to plan personal activities like hanging out with friends to scheduling all of your appointments.
For example, let’s say you want to learn a new language. Before you even get started on Duolingo, you should open up your calendar and figure out the optimal time and duration for you to dedicate time to learning. This means you will block-off space in advance and commit to what you have written down on your calendar. Once you’ve scheduled something in advanced, it generally tends to get completed. This is why you should try to schedule in time for work, play and rest periods.
This is exactly what I did when I gave myself the task to surprise my girlfriend with a new language within 3 months. Knowing that I had a 90-day deadline to learn a new language I knew I had to commit to at least 10 hours a week of intense studying. I then went to my calendar and blocked off 2-hour slots for learning. Everyday excluding Tuesdays, from 7 pm to 9 pm I would be at my desk learning Swedish.
Not only do I block off time for learning, but I also do this for all aspects of my life. This includes how much time I should be spending on my business, when to check emails, as well as when I should be going to the gym. I’ve even taken it to the extreme and blocked off time for when I should be reading and going on walks. Obviously, you don’t have to do the same, but you understand the concept. It took me a while tinkering with my calendar and I’ve made quite a few changes throughout the months, but I now feel that I have a balanced schedule thanks to time blocking.
The rigidity of time blocking calls for a lack of spontaneity and some people can’t function with too much order. I’m not saying that once you schedule it, it is now set in stone. I’ve learned to embrace being flexible with my calendar. There are countless times where I have shifted blocks around during the week, as things that I didn’t have control over forced me to make a change or two. Time blocking helped give me structure and clarity in my life. For all you free-spirited folk out there, even if you think time blocking is not for you let me share a few benefits and hopefully encourage you to take more control over your time.
Being aware of the hours ticking away.
It is said in an eight hour work day you’re only really productive for roughly three of them. What happened to the other five? Well, a study shows that those five hours are lost in reading news websites, checking social media, talking with co-workers and much more. It’s crazy to think how much time we waste when we lose track of it, but with time blocking it’s difficult to do so. By scheduling time to complete your tasks in advance, you realise that you no longer have the luxury of constantly checking your social media feeds and other unnecessary activities. This awareness of time and a constant reminder of what to do next allows you to become more productive with your time.
Once you’ve allocated a specific amount of time to your task, you’re able to schedule it in and block it off. Knowing that you only have ‘X’ amount of time to complete the task, you become more focused. Which brings me to my next point.
Laser eye focus.
I used to brag about how many different projects I had going on at the same time, it was only until recently that I realised how counter-intuitive it was to juggle too many at once. Being self-employed and growing my own business, I thought it would be a good idea to diversify and get involved in another industry and form another business on top of my current one. The idea of having two different revenue streams was great and for a while it was. However, I soon realised I couldn’t keep up with the workload. My main business was taking a hit from bouncing between two different projects. I had to make the decision to stick with one and step away from the newly formed business. In hindsight, if I had spent my time wisely and focused 100% on one rather than being split between two, I’m confident that my main business would have been far more successful than the two combined.
The ability to multitask is a myth, stretching yourself between two different activities can cause the level of quality to drop, eventually leading to neither task being completed. With time blocking you to block off your time to dedicate to one thing and one thing only. Need to clear out your inbox? How about dedicating one hour of your day to just that? Want to spend time learning a new skill? Why don’t you try blocking off 90 mins in the evening for that? Being laser focused on one task in mind allows you to be more productive and get more done, with just one hour of deep work you can see huge results.
Ever since I’ve implemented time blocking into my life, I realise how it has given me order and has helped my overall well-being. If I were to look at an empty calendar now, it’ll just bring a wave of anxiety and worry over me. The idea of not having anything planned in advanced makes me vulnerable to missing out on appointments, tasks and important meetings. Being able to know exactly what I’ll be doing for the week allows me to not get overwhelmed. By planning ahead I’m able to make time for any occasion and allocate the necessary amount of time I need to spend on it.
For some people, being free and having an open calendar works for them, but as I mentioned before it doesn’t for me. This is not to say that every hour is planned out on my calendar. It’s not like I schedule in when I should be using the toilet, or figuring out an ideal duration of time for talking with my girlfriend on the phone. I use time blocking to help me create some order and stability in my life.
Every day I block out time for myself to do anything I want with no regret, this can be from playing computer games to anything I want. I’ve realised that rest is just as important as getting work done, so I make sure I dedicate time for that too.
How to start.
Let me give you some insight into how I like to schedule everything into my calendar. Before I even begin to look at a calendar, I write down a few tasks that I would like to achieve by the end of the week. This can include work-related tasks, catching up with friends to working out at the gym. Once I’ve completed my to-do list for the week I look at my calendar, I then decide on when I can realistically work on each task and give it an appropriate amount of time for me to dedicate to. Once I’ve done this for every task, my calendar should be filled up with different coloured blocks. I use different colours to help label different tasks, that way I can tell what needs to be worked on at a glance. For a little bit of inspiration here’s my colour code:
Grey: Personal habits (Journaling, Reading and etc..)
Purple: Work on low-level work.
Orange: Meetings and emails.
Green: High-level work.
Red: Rest periods
Teal: Work on the blog.
Purple: Learning something new.
I generally keep my days the same throughout the week, that way I know what I’m doing at any time of the day. Of course, life throws curveballs and I’m forced to shuffle things around if need be. It’s because of this, I recommend adding everything to an electronic calendar like Google calendar. That way you can access it anywhere as long as you have your phone, tablet or laptop with you. However, if you’re old school and you prefer a journal, you do what you’re most comfortable with.
It’s important that you be realistic with your time. Don’t block off five hours to work on a project when you know full well that you can only commit to one. Make sure you schedule in rest periods as well, do not overlook this. Burning the candles on both ends is going to get you nowhere. Rather than having my email inbox open on another tab, I dedicate a couple of hours of the day solely for returning or composing new emails. That way I’m less distracted and I can focus on the task at hand. One other thing that I’d recommend, is to schedule all the difficult or more creative tasks earlier on in the day. Generally speaking, we’re most creative in the mornings, so get that out the way as quickly as possible. I say this, but everyone is different. There are people who find the stillness of the early morning their most creative time. Make sure you experiment with your schedule and move around your time blocks where necessary. It took me a few revisions before I settled for something that worked for me, but it could change again next month.
Depending on my work, time blocks tend to move around, and it’ll continue to move around the more I continue with my life. I know for sure that I can’t maintain a schedule like this once I move in with my girlfriend, nor can I continue like this whilst I’m away on holiday. However, since I’m getting used to blocking time out now, it’ll be easier to adapt and continue the practice of time blocking as my life progresses. In the words of Lao-Tzu, “Do what is difficult, when it is easy.”
Whether you’re a free spirit or someone who loves order just like me, give time blocking a go and see if this technique is for you. Not only has this technique improved my productivity, but it has also helped me with my well-being, and this is something that I cannot put a price on. I’d love to hear your experience with time blocking, whether you found it difficult to stick too or found it annoying to plan, let me know what you get up to and how you plan to schedule your life.