Whether you work a nine-to-five job, telecommute, or stay-at-home with the kids, everyone needs an effective method for managing their day. After all, perfectionism, procrastination, and the myth of multitasking are all very real dangers that can keep even the most productive people stuck in one place. So, how do you take control of your schedule and really get things done?
According to people like Elon Musk and Bill Gates it all comes down to taking control of your time and your schedule. For them, they use "micro-scheduling," which involves scheduling their day in five-minute increments. While that type of detail might not be needed for the average person, there is still a lesson in there for all of us—taking control of your time by scheduling or breaking it into chunks or blocks makes you more productive. And, the easiest and most effective way to do that is through "time blocking."
Why Time Blocking Works
Sometimes referred to as "monotasking" or "time chunking," time blocking is a time management technique where you block off a period of time to complete a particular task.
For instance, instead of checking your phone every time you get an email or a social media notification, you block off specific times throughout the day to return phone calls, respond to emails, and check social media accounts.
You're essentially setting aside specific blocks of time to complete important tasks or projects. In the end, your schedule is broken into chunks of time where you are focusing on one task or project at a time.
This type of time management not only makes your to-do list more manageable, but it also gives you more control over your day and helps you prioritize your tasks. Time blocking also improves focus and deters procrastination. And, at the end of the day, you will feel like you actually accomplished something.
The Argument Against Multitasking
Many people believe that they can do multiple things at once and do them all well. But research shows that only about 2.5% of people are able to multitask effectively. The rest of the population only believes they are multitasking effectively.
In fact, trying to do more than one thing at a time—like texting and driving or writing an important email while returning a client's phone call—compromises your ability to complete both tasks well.
Meanwhile, a 2013 study at the University of Utah found that people who try to juggle multiple tasks at once are more easily distracted, less productive, make more errors, and score lower on recall tests.
Likewise, switching quickly between two projects also can impact the results. We complete tasks much more effectively when we give them our full attention. What's more, neuroscientists caution that trying to do several things at one time, or dividing our attention, is impacting our ability to perform even simple tasks.
What this means is that the more we multitask, the less we are able to accomplish. The reason is simple. We are losing our ability to focus, which means projects take longer than they should.
How to Use Time Blocking
Time blocking, or monotasking, allows you to focus on one project at a time. Not only will this approach cut down on mental errors, but it also can help you unleash your creativity, especially because you will be funneling all of your energy and attention into one task within its given time block. Here is an overview of how you can incorporate time blocking into your life.
Develop Your List
Start by making a list of all the things that need to get done for the week. List all your work projects, your family commitments, even your exercise goals. The goal is to include everything from the telephone calls you need to make to the meals you need to prepare.
Put stars next to the things that absolutely have to be completed like projects for work, meetings with clients, and doctors' appointments. Usually, this task is done on a Friday after work or on a Sunday evening before the workweek begins.
Determine Your Priorities
Once your list is developed, go through it and put stars by the projects that are your top priorities for the week. Try to limit it to about two to three things per day. The goal is that you will give your most important tasks the prime slots in your time-blocking schedule. You also should plan to allow time each day to respond to emails, return phone calls, and check social media.
Create a Daily Blueprint
Your next step is to think about how much time you have in a day and how much time you want to allow for each task on your list.
Start by creating time blocks for the things you do every day like your morning routines and evening rituals, exercising, your commute to and from work, meals and meal preparations, help with homework, and so on.
A sample blueprint for someone who telecommutes might look like this:
- 6:00 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. Morning Ritual/Exercise
- 7:30 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. Take Kids to School
- 8:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Respond to Emails/Check Social Media
- 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Priority Project (insert one of your priorities)
- 10:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. Break/Return Phone Calls
- 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Priority Project (insert one of your priorities)
- 12:30 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. Lunch Break
- 1:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. Respond to Emails/Check Social Media
- 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Priority Project (insert one of your priorities)
- 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Kids Return From School/Talk About Day
- 4:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Prep/Eat Dinner/Clean Up
- 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Priority Project (insert one of your priorities)
- 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Free Time/Help With Homework
- 9:00 p.m. 9:30 p.m. Respond to Emails/Check Social Media
- 9:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Evening Ritual
Of course, this is a very simple blueprint and would not be suitable for everyone. The key is that you develop a blueprint for your typical day with blocks of time where you can focus on your important tasks or projects.
If you work for a company that has team meetings, regular trainings, or weekly conference calls, you need to account for those as well. And, don't forget to allow for travel time if you have meetings or appointments that you need to attend during the week. You also may need to develop a different blueprint for the weekend.
Some people will need to develop new blueprints every week. Other people have a very structured work environment and can use the same blueprint week after week. Do what works for you. You are in control of your schedule and can adapt and change it to fit your needs and priorities.
Block Off Your Entire Day
Ideally, once your blueprint is complete, you will be able to block off each day of the week. Start with your top priorities and go from there. For instance, if your top priority for the week is to write an extensive activity report by Friday, think about how long it will take you to put it together.
Consequently, if you think it will take you four hours to complete the report, you could schedule two hours on Monday and two hours on Tuesday to work on the report. Then, on Wednesday plan another hour to proof it, make changes, and finalize it. By planning set blocks of time early in the week to complete the report, you not only prevent procrastination, but you also are setting aside the time you need to focus on developing the report.
Protect Your Time
Once you have your schedule completed, protect your time as best you can. Of course, unexpected things will come up and you will need to be flexible. But resist the urge to give up your priority project time for something that can wait.
Communicate to co-workers and family members when you will be unavailable. Then, treat those blocks of time as if you were meeting with a very important client. No one would think to interrupt you during a meeting. Likewise, the goal is that you are not interrupted during your protected priority project time.
A Word From Verywell
Effective use of time blocking can help you take control of your day, focus your attention, and ward off procrastination. At first, it may take some trial and error to create a blueprint that works for you, but with a little practice and a small dose of patience, you will be a pro in no time.