← Guides & Templates

System

Time blocking

October 28, 2022

If you struggle to get things done throughout the day and end up multitasking but not having a lot to show for it, this guide is for you. We'll show you how time blocking can help you maintain focus and be more productive.

What is time blocking?

The time blocking system consists of scheduling chunks of time throughout a day for predetermined purposes. In other words, planning what activity or focus a chunk of time will be dedicated to.

Instead of going through a list of todos without considering how long each will take - time blocking asks us to estimate the duration of the activity and choose a specific time during the day to do it.

One thing to note is that time blocking is not the same as time boxing. While both put a set amount of time aside for an activity, the reason behind it is completely different. Also, time boxing is generally meant to be used sporadically with activities you might spend too much time on and isn't normally used for every activity like time blocking.

There are multiple benefits to scheduling a day with this method.

The first is that by setting aside a certain amount of time for doing something, it's much more likely we'll actually work on that instead of getting distracted. This is especially true for activities we don't enjoy doing, we consider uninteresting, or that we simply tell ourselves we'll get to later, but somehow never find the time to do. We're essentially removing the lack of time as an excuse for ourselves.

The second benefit is that we get a much clearer picture of what type of work is taking up the majority of our time. Said another way, what do we consider to be most important based on the amount of time we're giving it. We might find that we're spending a lot of time on activities that don't really align with our goals, or that we're barely spending any time on what we consider to be most important.

Third, time blocking generates an artificial pressure for us to try and get as much done during the block as possible. By having a set start and stop time, we're more likely to push ourselves to complete the activity within the allowed time. If on the other hand we simply start working on something with no set stop time, it's likely we'll fall victim to Parkinson's law which states "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion".

Fourth, by chunking activities - we greatly reduce the need for multitasking. Multitasking is generally less efficient than focusing on a single type of activity and is also proven to lead to less precise work. By grouping similar activities during a block, for example, handling all emails, doing all your writing, having all your meetings, calling all your clients - you reduce context switching and make the most efficient use of your time possible.

How time blocking works

The setup

To use time blocking, we first need to have a list of tasks or activities we want to work on. At the start of each day, we'll come up with a list of items that we'll then fit into our daily schedule.

Next, we'll decide how much time we want to give each activity, and in what order we'll work on these tasks. We'll take each block of work and put it in our agenda or calendar so we can clearly see what we're supposed to be doing every minute of the day. The idea is to not leave any gaps in between tasks. By scheduling them in chunks, one after the other, we're more likely to remain focused and on task because we only have a set amount of time to complete each one.

While there are no set rules for how long each block should take, it's a good idea to stick to increments of 30 minutes. For activities that would take less than 30 minutes, consider grouping them with other similar tasks and putting them in a 30 minute block.

During the day

Now with your day completely planned, you would follow your schedule and work on each activity according to your plan.

Changes in your plan are completely normal and will happen. Sometimes it will be when an activity takes longer than expected such as a meeting goes over time or you simply didn't block enough time to complete something. When this happens, you should adjust your schedule. That might mean reordering some blocks, completely eliminating some or even giving more time to others.

As Cal Newport puts it, "You don't get a prize for accuracy, you get a prize for intention". Updating our schedule as life comes at us and forces us to adjust it is fine. As long as we stick to the system and adjust our schedule around the day's surprises we'll be in good shape to have a productive and meaningful day.

How to do time blocking with Workflowy

While the time blocking system was originally developed for use on paper, doing it in Workflowy offers significant advantages.

To save you the time of creating your own agenda, we've gone ahead and created a simple template for you to use. It's based on a kanban board layout where we have a column for each day of the week and a card for each hour from 5AM to 8PM.

At the start of each day

Each day you open the board and zoom in on the current day of the week. Next you figure out what the main activities for the day are going to be. Once you've decided, write them under the hour where you plan to do them. Since we're using blocks of 30 minutes, you can put a maximum of two items under an hour marker.

Here's an example of what a typical Monday could look like for someone to give you an idea of what the board looks like when filled.

Note how we're using the '---' to visually divide the hour into two 30 minute chunks where there are two activities happening in an hour.

As time passes and you complete blocks, complete them using the bullet menu or the keyboard shortcut to cross them off your schedule. This also help you visually keep track of what you should be working on currently.

If a change comes up and your schedule needs to change, simply move your bullet items around to accommodate the change and carry on. Remember that the key to the time blocking system is to keep in mind what you're trying to accomplish at the current moment. As long as you're updating your schedule and being intentional with the time you have available - you're doing it right.

Since this is Workflowy and not a paper notebook, you can add additional details, resources, links and even the entire document you're working on under the task on your schedule. By working directly in Workflowy whenever possible, you can then benefit from features like global search, bookmarking, sharing, and templates, to name a few.

Conclusion

Time blocking is a great system for scheduling your days. Especially if you feel you're trying to juggle too many things at once or can't seem to keep yourself on task. By taking the time to plan ahead and decide what you're going to work on - you're charting a path to be productive and intentional with your time rather than reacting to whatever shiny thing pops up throughout the day.

View the template to copy it and get started

← Guides & Templates