Table of Contents
Time Blocking 101 Explained 2021 (FREE printable and fillable template download)
Last Updated on January 21, 2021, by Brentney Parks
It doesn’t matter who we are; we are always looking for ways to work smarter and not harder. One of the easiest ways to achieve that task is to find ways to become more productive. I was struggling to find the best productivity method for my personality.
I found myself doing a Google search, which led me to time blocking to be more focused and productive. I didn’t just find time blocking on my search, but I found all types of different articles that could send you down a rabbit hole. I know, I did it! I was trying to increase productivity and not overwhelmed with everything else like Pomodoro, 52/17, apps, templates, printables, schedules, and everything in between. Not only was I confused, but I also needed the cold hard facts of how this method could make me as rich and productive as Elon Musk. Just kidding…well, sort of!
Elon made time blocking a popular method for effectively managing time so that you can block out all the things important in your life. He saw a problem, and he found a process to solve the problem. Honestly, my work-life balance was suffering, and I figured blocking my time would help me move the needle in my business and home.
So, I did the research and testing then created this Ultimate Guide: Time Blocking 101 Explained. I even included a free fillable and printable template so you have choices if you want to use it digitally or if you’d rather write it out.
If you are looking to see how this method can increase your productivity and help with clarity and focus, check out what were are going to discuss:
What is Time Blocking?
Time Blocking as known as “Time Boxing,” “Monotasking,” or “Time Chunking,” is a method of time management where you take your entire day and divide it into several blocks of time, and each block is dedicated to accomplishing a specific task.
Think of your days like a whole pizza or a pie. Each slice is like a block or chunk of time tied to a task. You can’t consume the entire pizza or pie at the same time. You have to break it down into slices or tasks. Moreover, you don’t gobble the whole slice at once either; you’d take small bites (action steps) until you finished the entire pizza, pie, or task.
Just like eating a slice of pizza or pie, time blocking is a brilliant time management method where you dedicate a particular time slot or slice to a specific task in your day.
For example – Instead of checking your emails or social media throughout the day, you dedicate a specific time slot like 10:00 AM to 10:30 AM to respond to your messages and clear your inbox. Then 10:30 AM to 11:00 AM to be active and engaging on social media.
Once this task is complete, then you move on to the other task. Specific tasks like responding to emails and social media can be time-sensitive and time-consuming.
You may want to schedule time at the end of your day as well. However, it doesn’t have to be for the same length of time, and maybe it’s only 15 minutes.
The key to make this method work is prioritizing each task specifically.
Think what’s your one top priority of the day, and then focus on the tasks or action steps required to reach your goal while maintaining balance with the rest of your life for the day as well.
What are the Benefits of Time Blocking?
By blocking adequate time for essential tasks in our lives, we can track and complete our priority tasks. Blocking time encourages us to commit to a specific task and prevents us from multitasking. Or eating multiple slices of pizza at once. It allows us to have a single-minded focus on what we are doing at a specific time to accomplish more in less time. According to Productivity expert Chris Smith dividing chunks of time into a particular task, you are promoting deep-focus work.
2. Encourages Healthy Work-Life Balance
Maintaining a balance in life is crucial for staying motivated and productive. Yep! You can assign slots for family, friends, hobbies, etc. By blocking time, we can dedicate a specific time for ourselves and our family, strengthening our relationships and increasing work-life balance. Time blocking allows us time for the things we think we don’t have time to do.
3. Prioritize the Right Task
Research shows that 41% of to-do list tasks are never completed.
Productive people live from their calendar, not their to-do list. New York Times best-selling author Kevin Kruse explains in Forbes that to-do lists don’t account for our time. When we have a long list of tasks, we dive in on the easy tasks and can be completed quickly. Major tasks are often left undone. Kruse also argues that lists don’t differentiate between the essentials and the urgent.
Think of it like eating all the pizza you love first, but you’re out of time to get satisfied. You’re still hungry and unsatisfied. Not to mention the most critical, but the least delicious part of your meal (the salad) is still sitting on your plate.
4. Gain Clarity and Prioritizing Task
Time blocking helps you to see and determine which tasks are most critical. With time blocking, you can decide which tasks will get your undivided attention and the amount of time you will dedicate to each task. When you have clarity, you can set the action steps needed to reach your goals.
5. Removes Decision Frustration
Constantly deciding what to work on creates decision fatigue and frustration; as decision fatigue rises, your ability to think decreases. Time blocking keeps you from asking yourself, “what should I be doing?” Because you know just what you should be working on at any given moment.
6. Less Overwhelmed
Time blocking helps you to distribute your to-do list into more manageable parts. It’s broken down into small chunks. This way, you’ll be less overwhelmed because you’re only focusing on the next step, not everything.
7. Helps to minimize multitasking and context switching
Computer scientist and psychologist Gerald Weinberg says, taking on additional tasks simultaneously can destroy up to 80% of your productive time.
When you get distracted while working, sometimes it’s challenging to return to the task at hand. That is why context switching, also known as multitasking, is so disastrous for productivity.
With time blocking, you are more productive, but you always have an artifact on your calendar to look back at where you were before you got distracted.
8. Combat Perfectionism and Procrastination
A good plan today is better than a perfect one tomorrow – General George Patton
Perfectionism and procrastination are two of the biggest challenges of the management process. Done is better than perfect! Sometimes we procrastinate because we have high expectations of what we want the outcome to be or tied to an emotion we don’t want to experience. I know I’m a recovering perfectionist. However, without getting it done, we are only guessing at the results. With time blocking, you can schedule your most challenging task first and just focus on completion, not perfection.
9. Builds consistency
Success isn’t always about greatness. It’s about consistency. Consistent hard work leads to success. Greatness will come. – Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
Consistency helps fuel momentum by building a routine. It’s not a “you either have it, or you don’t” skill. It can be cultivated!
A time blocking schedule helps build consistency, which gives you a measurement of how far you’ve come. That measurement gives you accountability for your goals. Reaching your goals increases your reputation, which makes you relevant. Relevancy builds your connection and ignites an unstoppable flame!
How Time Blocking Can Increase Productivity
Get started so you can get finished!
We all know we can’t get finished unless we get started.
Here are some ways time blocking increases productivity so you can accomplish more.
Time Blocking promotes deep focused work.
When focusing on one task or similar tasks, also know as batched tasks, your brain develops a deep level of concentration related to the task, which means you have more mental bandwidth to devote to that particular task; this is referred to as ‘in the zone.”
When you identify your priorities, you dedicate the time to them; it makes you less likely to spend time doing wasteful tasks. Business owners waste up to a third of their week through low-value activities.
It teaches you how to spend time
Most of the people out there are not very good when it comes to time management. Time blocking forces you to commit yourself to current priorities and commitment. It encourages you to get serious about how you’ll spend your limited time. With each new commitment, you have to find a home for it in your calendar, and thus, the opportunity cost of saying ‘yes’ becomes more concrete, and it will be much easier for you to say ‘no’ to tasks you aren’t able or willing to commit to doing.
It makes you more Goal-Oriented
Creating a proper plan encourages people to go through essential tasks. Researchers Dr. Todd Rogers and Dr. Katherine L. Milkman reviewed several studies supporting the idea that a concrete plan “helps people follow through with their intentions.” People are more likely to follow their intentions when they write down the specific place, date, and time for that particular activity. Astrid Eira, an expert of FinancesOnline.com, says that humans process visuals 60,000 times faster than imagined concepts. Time blocking encourages you to make goals and ensure that you are working every day to accomplish them.
An unplanned schedule is the worst enemy of your productivity. It will be difficult for you to excel in your work if you don’t have a concrete goal-oriented plan. Time blocking helps you by imposing your tasks’ time limits; that way, you’ll achieve your goals more quickly.
To-Do List vs. Time Blocking
Who’s got time for a to-do list when you have the option of time blocking?
When it comes to time blocking versus a to-do list, several highly successful people choose time blocking or a variation. Kevin Kruse, New York Times bestselling author and LEADx Founder, says, “Ultra productive people don’t work from a to-do list, but they do live and work according to their calendar.”
I use the time blocking method daily in combination with the ‘2-minute rule’ to stop wasting time by procrastinating and staying productive throughout my day.
- Shannon Miller (“7-time Olympic medals winner from 1992 and 1996 U.S Olympic gymnast team“ now turned into a successful entrepreneur and an author)
During training, I balanced family time, chores, schoolwork, Olympic training, appearances, and other obligations by outlining a very specific schedule. I was forced to prioritize…To this day, I keep a schedule that is almost minute by minute.
- Dave Kerpen (cofounder of two successful startups and a New York Times bestselling author)
Says, If it’s not in my calendar, it won’t get done. But if it is in my calendar, it will get done. I schedule out every 15 minutes of every day to conduct meetings, review materials, write, and do any activities I need to get done. And while I take meetings with just about anyone who wants to meet with me, I reserve just one hour a week for these “office hours.”
- Chris Ducker ( Entrepreneur, Author, and The Host of The New Business podcast)
When asked, Chris said his success and productivity secret; I simply put everything on my schedule. That’s it. Everything I do on a day-to-day basis gets put on my schedule. 30-minutes of social media–on the schedule. 45-minutes of email management–on the schedule. Catching up with my virtual team–on the schedule…Bottom line, if it doesn’t get scheduled, it doesn’t get done.
Now coming back to time blocking vs. to-do list, here are some valuable points.
A To-do List Don’t Account For Time
When we have a long list of things to do, we usually pick up the easy ones first, and sometimes during this process, the crucial tasks remain incomplete. It’s no surprise why the company iDone found in their research that around 41% of our to-do list items aren’t completed!
There’s No Difference Between Urgent and Important With To-Do List.
The Eisenhower method is a matrix of determining what’s urgent versus what is important. It’s valuable not to spend time on things that aren’t important and low urgency.
To-do lists can be stressful
We all are well aware that incomplete tasks give us intrusive and uncontrolled thoughts.
Time blocking is more about using time towards something more than just completing a To-Do list. The idea behind it is making sure that you are moving on bigger and reaching your ultimate goal and not just getting today’s work done.
If done right, time blocking helps you maintain a scope of all things that demands your attention instead of getting stuck in a single difficult task that will eat hours of your day. Raise your hand if you know what I’m talking about!
Are you ready to start blocking your schedule?
Here are some simple thoughts to keep in mind to quickly set up your own time blocking schedule.
1. Determine the most and least productive times of the day
Although this depends on person to person, you have to choose the time in which you feel most productive. For some, it’s in the morning; others; it’s in the evening. Which time slots are you able to best focus and have fewer distractions?
Once you decide the time slot is that’s most productive, it’s time to schedule all your high priority tasks into this time slot. This way, you’ll be more productive while doing these tasks, and you’ll come up with more ideas and be more creative.
Keep in mind other people’s schedules that would be conflicting. My most productive time of the day was always just before it was time to pick up my son from school. Try to snag your most productive time, even if you have to shift some schedules. Sometimes it’s worth after school care, even if it’s for a few days or a good time for afterschool clubs. Be creative but, if your most productive time slot is already taken, go for the next best space.
Now, I find I rock early in the morning before everyone is awake.
2. Allocate more time for priority tasks
Priority tasks require more focus and are usually more time-consuming. By putting them in bigger time slots, you make sure that you are giving enough time to them because these high-level priorities and goals will shape your schedule and how you block out your day—locked in focused work without distraction called Deep Work.
I have had some tasks that I grossly underestimated. If you notice you have minimized those same type of a task, too often try this:
- Look for automation – What can you automate, what software can talk to one another?
- Look for help…enlist your kids, friends, an intern, or hire a VA.
- Re-evaluate the need – Think about the time-consuming task and evaluate your ROI. For example, sometimes we spend hours promoting our business on social media, but the return is small.
- Use templates whenever possible, so you don’t have to recreate the wheel.
- What apps can you use to simplify?
- Frame the day
Create a bookend template for your whole day. A bookend for your day is creating a morning routine and an evening routine. Create a template mentioning your high-priority tasks, goals, and work routine instead of jumping straight to your work routine. Grab your FREE Get Stuff Done Template and start your day the night before.
3. Schedule time for Shallow work
You know your top priority, what next? Schedule time for swallow work!
What is Shallow work?
Shallow work is a concept taken from Cal Newport’s book Deep Work.
Cal says it’s “non-cognitive, logistical, or minor duties performed in a state of distraction.” They are tasks that you can complete without full concentration. It could be walking and listening to a podcast, or responding to emails, messages, commenting, liking on your social media, etc. It’s the work we allow much of our subconscious mind to handle. You know the drive home when you don’t remember the drive?!
4. Schedule and stick to it
After your schedule is complete, stick to it, and try not to get distracted during your productive times.
Ok, so let’s discuss the elephant in the room.
LOL! You’re probably yelling at me. I can hear it right now. Brentney, how am I supposed to eliminate distractions with a baby crying, a kid who is distracted during homeschooling, construction outside, loud coworkers, humans or pets, and that’s not the half, all at the same time?
Believe me; I get it. The goal is to set yourself up for success, not perfection. You may not always be able to control your outside distractions; however, control what you can.
First, determine when you’re working; are you “Busy” or “Productive”?
So which are you? Busy or Productive?
If you are busier, then you’d like not to worry. This article is full of tips to help you become more productive.
Make sure to turn off the distractions like emails, phone calls, messages during this time. If you have a small child at home, try to schedule nap times around your deep work time. Put a sign up if you work at home for onsite, letting distractors know you are in the zone. Include a return time, so they learn to respect your boundaries.
Suppose you can limit your distractions. Your level of focus will be multiplied through the roof!
Make small gradual changes that work naturally for you. See what works and be willing to pivot but, don’t give up.
Experiment with this for a few weeks, and comment below or send me a DM on how productive you’ve been! Make big commitments slowly, your body will adapt to the routine, and you’ll feel more productive and happier than ever.
Sometimes it helps to see an example! Be sure to check out my example in the Productivity Sheets.
Easy Step by Step Time Blocking for Beginners
Be sure to download the free Time Blocking Template. If you want to see an example of one of my days’, it’s a free bonus with the Productivity Sheets.
Here’s a simple step by step guide on how you can start practicing time blocking in your daily schedule.
- Create Time Blocks
Start by creating time blocks for the things you have scheduled for the day. This could be anything like working, commuting, morning routine, pick up, drop off, meal prepping. Dedicate a specific amount of time to different tasks.
- List three important task
- Create blocks for both deep and shallow work
Set up a time for highly concentrated “Deep” work that moves the needle. With your priorities in the bag, it’s time to block “Shallow” work that includes tasks that are not that important but still need to be done, like responding to emails, calls, folding clothes, etc.
- Schedule during the right time
Schedule your day according to your energy levels. I usually schedule shallow work or planning after meals. There’s no way I could concentrate after stuffing my face! Some schedule their entire day to the minute, others not so much. The important thing is to move forward towards your goals continually; this way, you’ll be able to make progress at the end of the day.
- Don’t forget to schedule a little extra time.
Schedule some extra time for yourself to move things around and be flexible as needed. Include blocks for planning, transitions, and creativity. Of course, don’t forget to block out time to relax or to do something fun!
Additional ways to boost Time Blocking
Since we are diving deep into the time blocking method, we should discuss a few other concepts in the same family.
What is the 52/17 Rule?
The 52/17 rule is a purposeful working method that helps to increase productivity as well. Here’s how it works, you set a timer for 52 minutes, work your butt off in full focus, and then take a 17-minute break and altogether remove yourself from the work you’re doing. Think of it like HIIT (High-intensity interval training) for your mind. This method is highly effective in increasing productivity.
According to research done by The Muse (an online-based career platform), 10% of users were able to get more work done by doing short bursts of work while taking more breaks.
Another technique that fights procrastination that’s very similar to the 52/17 rule is called the Pomodoro Technique.
What is the Pomodoro Technique?
The Pomodoro technique, named after the “Italian” word for tomato, is another time management technique developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. Francesco used a tomato-shaped timer during his university years. This technique uses a timer to break down the time into specific intervals. Generally, each interval is 25 minutes long, separated by short breaks in between. Each interval is called Pomodoro.
The Pomodoro Technique Steps:
- Decide the task to complete
- Set the timer to 25 minutes and work your butt off
- End work when the timer is off and put a check on your list
- Take a Short break (relax your body and mind, grab a cup of tea/coffee or meditate for 3-5 minutes, and return to the next task.)
- After every 4 (intervals) Pomodoro’s, take a more extended break of around 15-30 minutes.
The 52/17 and the Pomodoro techniques are similar. If 25 minutes is too short, and a timer going off is a distraction. 52/17 may be the best alternative. However, if it takes a while to refocus or you don’t like forced breaks. Neither one of these methods would be helpful for you long-term without modification.
Conclusion: Why should I time block?
Time Blocking allows you to schedule your entire day and multiplies your focus. Focusing on a single task at a time makes you 80% more productive than splitting your attention across multiple tasks.
Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, also mention this quality of time blocking:
“Sometimes people ask me why I bother with such a great level of planning. My answer is simple as it generates a massive amount of productivity. A 40 hour time blocked work week, produces the same amount of output as a 60+ hours work week pursued without structure.”
- You’ll be able to accomplish the high priority tasks of your day more quickly and thoroughly because you are devoting 100% of your focus specifically to a particular task.
- Also, you’ll be handling all those less critical tasks more effectively because we are not multitasking. By combining or batching all the similar tasks together, you are using the same area of your brain instead of jumping from task to task.
- Time blocking is really helpful to people who happen to be easily distracted or live in reactive mode.
- By the end of the week, you’ll look back like, whoa! Look at what I accomplished! Or you’ll say, look mom, I cleared my entire plate, including the veggies!
I’ve pretty much covered the deets you need to know to start time blocking successfully. I will continue to update this post with the latest time blocking techniques.
So tell me, what do you think about time blocking?