The Ultimate Guide to Time Blocking and The Best Apps for It

time-blocking-guide

Are you struggling to achieve your professional goals but your days always feel chaotic?

Do you always fail to achieve your daily targets?

You may want to try time blocking.

It’s a technique that some of the most successful people use to get the most done and still have spare time to spend with their families.

So, what is time blocking, and how can you apply it today?

In this post, we cover the basics of time blocking and share a step-by-step guide on how to start time blocking.

What Is Time Blocking

Time blocking is a time management technique where you break down your day into blocks of time and define specifically how you’ll use each time block.

This method allows people to organize their workdays into clearly defined time frames and dedicate each time block to completing a specific task.

One recent survey found that 82 percent of people don’t use a time management technique. As a result, a lot of time is wasted, deadlines are missed, and tasks are moved to the next day.

With time blocking, all these will be a thing of the past. This method of time management has one major purpose:

To keep you focused on a task and eliminate doubt as to what you should prioritize each day and when.

For example, in an 8-hour day, you can break your time down into 16 30-minute time blocks.

You then assign tasks, like client proposals, meetings, social media, lunch, etc., to each 30-minute time block.

Here’s a time blocking example to inspire you:

Time blocking eliminates the aspect of having to deal with “whatever comes up”.

Instead, you follow a well-structured day, ensure you complete important tasks as scheduled, and limit other things from infringing on your time.

How Does Time Blocking Work?

The concept of time blocking is quite simple and involves four major steps:

1. Choosing in advance activities to work on and prioritizing them

You start by taking stock of what’s coming up the week ahead. Once you review your activities, you mark them as “Not Urgent”, “Important”, or “Urgent”.

You may want to focus on important tasks first and then work on the urgent and non-urgent ones toward the end of the day or week.

You can then add time estimates for each of these tasks.

2. Observe your work habits and define time blocks

Are there repetitive tasks on your to-do list? Maybe you check emails daily or update spreadsheets each day? If you have repetitive tasks, create recurrences in your calendar where you do them at specific times every day.

Now, you’ll need to decide when to block time for each of these tasks and how long each task will take to complete. At first, it won’t be easy and there will be lots of guesswork. But don’t worry. Over time, you’ll get a clearer picture of how long most of these tasks take.

Pro tip: Identify your productivity peak. We all have different approaches to how we work. Some feel more active, focused, and energetic in the early hours of the morning while others can get the most done in the afternoon or evening. Allocate time for the most important or demanding tasks when you feel the most efficient.

3. Schedule events on your calendar and stick to them

Once you’ve prioritized your tasks, defined when to work on them, and their duration, the next step is implementation. You’ll need to create calendar events and name them after the defined tasks.

Once done, start working on the first time block at the specified time and stop working when the time is up. Do this for all the day’s tasks and try to follow your schedule consistently for the entire week.

4. Revise and Update

During the first weeks, you may notice some time estimations weren’t as accurate as you thought. Perhaps you scheduled emails to take 20 minutes, but the volume was high, and you ended up spending 35 minutes.

This phase allows you to revisit some of the tasks (particularly recurring tasks) and their corresponding time chunks and update them accordingly. An easier and more effective way to get more accurate estimates is to use a time tracker like Traqq.

It works in the background, collecting information about your work habits and activities. The data will allow you to schedule tasks more accurately and develop a more effective time blocking method.

Time Blocking Variations

Time blocking can drastically change how you manage your time at work. But it might not be right for you. Luckily, there are other variations of time blocking you can try:

1. Task Batching

Task batching is grouping similar tasks and scheduling specific time blocks to complete them all in one sitting. Let’s say you’re tasked with creating an email marketing campaign for your company. Now, you can schedule the email for 30 minutes, move to a different task for 30 minutes, and then go back to the email campaign project.

With task batching, you group all email-related tasks together so you can complete them all at once. That way, the tasks aren’t scattered around the day, and you don’t have to switch contexts throughout your workday.

2. Time Boxing

Although often used interchangeably with time blocking, they are not the same:

  • With time blocking, you schedule specific chunks of time to focus on a particular task, such as responding to emails, reviewing client feedback, or creating ad campaigns.
  • Time boxing involves imposing a limit on how much time you assign each individual task.

The major difference is that time boxing forces you to work with a limited amount of time within which to complete a task. For example, instead of allocating 2 hours to meet with the design team to go over the design projects, you assign the 2 hours to review just two design projects.

Alternatively, you can divide the 2 hours into two one-hour chunks to review each design project.

3. Day Theming

Day theming lets you block each day based on a different theme. It involves dedicating an entire day each week to one activity or task. It’s suitable for people tasked with handling multiple responsibilities all at once.

Day theming may look something like this:

DayTheme/Activity
MondayCreate Blog Post
TuesdayMeetings and Emails
WednesdayRecruitment Exercise
ThursdayCreate Marketing Strategies
FridayReview Feedback, Social Media Planning
SaturdayTime with Family

Day theming allows you to create a predictable pattern that ensures you address all aspects of your roles. It works well with time blocking planners since you can block each day based on the theme.

Is Time Blocking Effective?

The reason time blocking works so effectively is that it forces you to single-task – focus on one task at a time. This statement captures it best:

“The short way to do many things is to do only one thing at a time.” – Richard Cech

When you schedule every minute of your workday, not only will you be able to focus on high-impact work, you can do your work with minimal distractions. What’s more, when you have dedicated every minute to specific tasks, the chances of procrastination reduce, and hence you get more work done.

If you ever get thrown off your schedule and don’t know what to do next, simply look at your calendar, find the appropriate time block, and get back on track.

Time blocking helps you kill the habit of jumping between tasks and instead focus your mind on one task at a time. Doing so will see you gaining tremendous levels of productivity.

Done properly, time blocking can help you take back control of your time and plan your calendar more effectively. 

Other top benefits of time blocking include:

1. Better Focus

Research shows that 68 percent of employees switch between apps up to 10 times an hour. The problem with context switching is that you end up losing your train of thought, which can affect your focus.

But when you block your calendar to perform one task at a time, you minimize the disruptive context switching. This locks your focus on that task and the appropriate apps.

2. Better Workflows

Did you know that despite to-do lists being helpful, only 41 percent of the items are completed?

Time blocking can help resolve this by providing clear visibility of your workload throughout the day. That is, you’ll always know what’s next on your plate. Visible schedules also ensure you distribute your tasks in a realistic and achievable manner, paving the way for a smoother workflow.

3. Helps You Prioritize

Before you block chunks of time in your workday, you must separate important tasks from urgent ones. This forces you to naturally prioritize tasks. Knowing what you should be working on saves time that could have been wasted doing unimportant tasks.

Plus, you get to accomplish your goals at the end of each day as planned.

4. Minimizes Distractions and Procrastination

There are moments when your phone vibrates, emails pop up, and Slack notifications ping while you’re working. Naturally, you’d want to check them. Since it has been proven to be nearly impossible to properly perform two tasks at the same time, your focus starts to become fragmented.

This ends up creating a build-up of attention residue – where you keep thinking of past activity, event, or task once you’ve moved on to another. And we all know how difficult it can be to refocus after getting distracted.

Time blocking saves you from giving in to the temptations of distraction and procrastination since you have defined start and end times to work on your tasks.

5. Become Better at Time Management

Over time, time blocking will help you gain a better understanding of how you spend time. Since you’ll be doing certain tasks repetitively, you’ll know just how long it takes to complete each task.

This simplifies future scheduling, enables you to improve your work strategies to use even less time, and helps you plan your workday more effectively.

6. Prevents Burnout

Time blocking ensures you block out time for everything you have planned for. From work to family dinners to going to the gym, nothing will be left unscheduled. As such, you’ll only work within the set time frames, reducing the risks of workplace burnout, which is a common challenge in a remote work setup.

Tips to Make Time Blocking Work for You

So far, you know what time blocking is, its effectiveness, and how to use it. But, will time blocking work for you?

Here’s the thing. Planning your entire workday into a strictly controlled schedule can be a bit restrictive. What’s more, you may not have the same schedule every day. Not to mention most of us are bad at estimating how long it will take to complete tasks.

However, introducing even the slightest amount of control over your work schedule can provide the structure you’ve been searching for.

Time blocking will work for you if:

  • You understand your priorities.
  • You know exactly how long you spend on each task. This is where a time tracking tool can prove helpful.
  • Your day is full of meetings such that you can’t focus on what really matters.
  • Your job requires juggling several different tasks, responsibilities, and projects.
  • You’re struggling with work-life balance and time for socializing
  • You want to do more deep work and achieve more of your goals
  • You want to gain control of your time and boost your productivity

So, how can you make time blocking work for you?

Practice Mindful Time Blocking

Remember, time blocking can only be effective if it aligns with your goals and needs. Therefore, design it to be flexible. That way, you have room for unexpected interruptions or unavoidable work that comes up. You can spare around half an hour for this kind of flexibility.

It might take some time and trial and error to find the right strategy. Just keep tweaking your time blocks until they fit your schedule.

Start with Small Time Blocks

Before you get into a routine, consider scheduling short time blocks, like 30-minute blocks on each activity. You might think this time is too short, but it’s a good starting point to learn the habit of single-tasking.

Leave Open Time Blocks in Between Schedules

At times, certain tasks may take longer than planned. Therefore, leave some empty slots which you can utilize for such cases. If you complete tasks within the originally allocated time, you can utilize the extra minutes to tackle some trivial tasks.

Work with Time Blocking Templates

It takes time to create time blocking events on your calendar. To save time and reduce the hassle, consider creating time-blocking templates during one of your downtimes.

TimeMondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFriday
8:00-9:00Administrative work .Administrative work .Administrative work
9:00-9:30 . . . . .
10:00-11:00 . . . . .
11:00-12:00 . . . .
12:00-1:00LunchLunchLunchLunchLunch
1:00-2:00 . . . . .
2:30-3:30 . . .  .
4:00-5:00EmailsEmailsEmailsEmailsEmails

Leave the slots empty so that you can fill them out with tasks at the end or start of each week. Meanwhile, fill out daily recurring activities like administrative work, workouts, lunch, or emails.

Work with a Timer

While your internal sense of time may be excellent, at some point, you’ll forget it’s time to move on to the next task. To avoid such blunders, we recommend working with time tracking software.

Not only will the tool ensure you don’t lose track of time, but also make sure you stay on schedule.

Incorporate Breaks into Your Schedule

Failing to create time blocks for lunch and breaks can lead to burnout, exhaustion, and loss of focus. To maintain maximum performance and effectiveness, be sure to include breaks in your calendar.

Schedule Everything, no Matter How Trivial

You might leave out things like checking social media or replying to emails because you feel they are not relevant. However, recent data from Statista shows that, on average, users spend 147 minutes on social media and 209 minutes on email each weekday.

Therefore, scheduling everything will ensure every minute is accounted for. This way, one schedule won’t bleed into the next.

Let Everyone Know Your New Work Habit

To avoid interruptions and unplanned work, make sure everyone in your circle understands what you’re doing. This will allow for better communication and workload management.

The 8 Best Time Blocking Apps

While you can use pen and paper to block your days, we recommend taking advantage of technology. These tools are convenient and easy to use, and simplify maintaining a weekly or monthly calendar.

Here are some of the top time-blocking apps:

  • TimeBlocks – convenient schedule management on your smartphone.
  • HourStack – visual schedules that are easy to track.
  • Traqq – identify distractions and get accurate estimates of exactly how much time you spend on each task.
  • Clockwise – a smart calendar extension for smarter schedules.
  • Google Calendar – a simple calendar app to customize time blocks.
  • Planyway – team calendar for Trello.
  • Plan – daily planner
  • TickTick Premium – a to-do list app with a built-in time blocking feature and Pomodoro Technique.

Final Thoughts on Time Blocking

We all have busy lives and full calendars. It all boils down to controlling your calendar, so it doesn’t control you. Time blocking gives you a way to ensure you’re always working on the right tasks at the right time. In the end, you get to manage your time and life more effectively.

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