Productivity has always been a tricky subject. We’ve all seen the articles do the rounds on the internet; how to work, when to work, where to work—you name it.
We know by now that the same rules don’t apply equally to everyone. So chuck the productivity roadmap for CEOs out the window and let’s talk about a practical technique that can help enable productivity: we’re talking about the time blocking method, of course.
Sounds basic? That’s because it is. The secret to boosting productivity and starting your weekend early comes down to a solid time management strategy that you can apply both at work and at home.
In this article, we’ll show you how to do just that using time blocking.
What is time blocking?
Time blocking (sometimes referred to as time chunking) is exactly what it sounds like. It’s when you “block off” a set amount of time in your day to dedicate to specific activities, like tasks, deep work, or meetings.
Think about the way you typically plan ahead and set aside time when you need to coordinate meetings with teammates. Now, imagine setting aside time the exact same way for every other part of your job—catching up on emails, responding to Slack messages, reviewing work, or focusing deeply on tasks for a specific project.
The idea is simple: stay focused on one task (or one type of task) at a time.
Let’s say you manage a small content team. At the start of each week, you hold a weekly planning meeting, making sure there are no blockers and the content engine is humming. At the end of the week, you report on campaign performance to key stakeholders in the company, such as the VP of Marketing. Pulling all the relevant data usually takes about an hour.
Let’s also imagine that you like to start your day by reading and responding to emails. Next, your team has its daily standup. You’ve also discovered that you’re the most focused in the afternoon, so you block those off for focus time and deep work, leaving windows open for meetings in the morning. At the end of each day, you’ll do one final sweep of the inbox and Slack to make sure you haven’t missed anything crucial.
With that in mind, your calendar might look something like this:
This is a high-level overview. But during that focus time, you’d want to determine on a more granular level which tasks you’re tackling based on priority. More on that later!
Time blocking timeframes
You can use various different timeframes to block your time, depending on your working style and the type of project you’re working on, for example:
Different time blocking techniques will also influence your chosen timeframe.
Now, let’s talk about benefits!
The benefits of time blocking for productivity
The biggest benefit of time blocking is that it helps you manage your time and remove distractions so that you can be more productive.
That productivity comes from three core aspects of time blocking: deep focus, planning, and less context switching. But before we get into the benefits of time blocking, who can use this technique? Is time blocking for everyone?
Who should use time blocking?
Time blocking is for anyone— you can use it as an individual or as a team. What does matter is whether it’s a good time management strategy for you based on your personal productivity patterns. For some people, it’s simply not a good fit.
Benefits of time blocking for productivity: How the time blocking method works
1. Focusing on a single task improves work quality
Time blocking encourages deep work by helping minimize potential distractions. The fewer interruptions there are, the less room there is for error.
Trying to tackle new tasks as they come up or as you think of them forces your brain to switch from one topic to another. And the more often you do this, the slower and less accurate your work is. Instead of trying to multitask, you can maximize productivity by blocking off time on your daily calendar so you can concentrate on tasks that require your undivided attention.
That’s because sitting in an excessive number of meetings increases the odds that you’ll tune out and start to think about the work you’ll have to catch up on later. As a result, you’re more likely to miss something important because you weren’t 100% focused, which could create problems down the line.
2. Planning gives you control over your daily routine
Basing your work schedule around your work preferences can boost your productivity by as much as 24%—and time blocking is a great way to create a routine that accommodates your work preferences.
Everyone has different biological rhythms that impact how they like to work. That’s why some people are early risers that like to hit the gym at 5 a.m. before starting the workday. But others prefer to start by reading their email while they drink their morning coffee.
Time blocking helps you identify and prioritize the tasks on your to-do list and determine when you want to do them. Then, you can easily create a plan that improves your productivity by structuring your workday around your personal rhythm.
Let’s say you’re one of the early risers. Because of this, you know you’re more likely to tackle the toughest challenges at the start of the day.
Now, let’s imagine you currently work as a software developer, and you’re building a new app. To maximize your productivity and set yourself up for success, you might block off an hour each morning for deep work, like solving bugs, conducting research, and writing new code. And after lunch, you can shift your focus to shallow work, like responding to emails.
Because you’re working with your own natural rhythm, you’re able to get your challenging tasks done when you’re most likely to be focused. And when the afternoon rolls around, and you’re feeling drained, you can use that time to catch up on less-grueling tasks.
3. Limiting task-switching reduces burnout
The more priorities you have to juggle, the harder it will be to give any of them your undivided attention. According to psychologist Jeff Comer, this doesn’t just increase the likelihood that you’ll make a mistake; it also creates stress and contributes heavily to burnout. (And we all want to prevent team burnout.)
Evaluating how you spend your time each day can help you identify work that needlessly eats up time and energy. And you can reclaim 18% of your collaboration time as a result. That will help reduce burnout by lowering your stress levels and making it easier to focus on individual tasks.
For instance, remote workers can block off time for deep work like research and development. And by turning off their messaging notifications during those time slots, they can limit the number of interruptions they experience throughout the workday. But if they respond to messages as they receive them, the interruptions will hinder productivity and increase collaborative overload.
But what about project teams? In addition to the above, there are a few benefits of time blocking that project teams can enjoy (if done right).
4 benefits of time blocking for project teams
For project teams, there are a number of benefits that come with time blocking that can help them get to project success faster. For example:
- More accurate project scheduling: Project managers can plan people’s time and allocate resources in more efficient ways through time blocking. By seeing who’s busy when, they can plan work in a more structured way. Plus, when reporting on resource utilization, you can see if the time blocks allocated were enough to complete the tasks. So… better project scheduling? Yes, please.
- Improve task prioritization: Project managers and project teams often juggle multiple tasks. Time blocking helps them prioritize each task on their to-do list so nothing falls through the cracks.
- Enhance collaboration: Time blocking can help project teams work more collaboratively by providing a clear understanding of each team member’s schedule. This can help them coordinate their work more effectively and reduce the risk of overlapping or conflicting schedules. (Conflicting schedules can also be avoided with a clash management tool.)
- Facilitate progress tracking: Time blocking can help project managers track the progress of each task or activity. By monitoring how much time is being spent on each task, they can identify areas where the team may need additional support or resources. For example, at the end of the week, you might want to take a look at the project report and review time spent on it compared with task completion.
Now, this all sounds great, doesn’t it? But let’s look at the flip side. (Because there always is one.)
Why time blocking doesn’t work (for some people)
For some, time blocking can triple their productivity. But for others, time blocking might not work, and that could be because it’s not being done correctly. If you’ve tried time blocking but can’t seem to find the focus you need, it may be for a number of reasons:
- You have too many tasks on your list
- You don’t know when you’re the most productive
- You don’t know what or how to prioritize
- Your calendar is already jam-packed (you can’t time block, if there’s no time to block off!)
- You’re not minimizing distractions around you (such as noise, Slack notifications, etc.)
- Time blocking might just not be your thing! (And that’s totally fine.)
If you’re struggling to make time blocking work for you, try the tips below.
How to time block your day by following these 6 easy tips
To effectively block your time, you’ll need to select the technique that works best for you and the job you’re in.
We’ve compiled a full list of time-blocking techniques and methods below, complete with examples to help you decide which is the best fit for you. Then, you can create a plan that guides when you’ll work on which tasks by following the basic steps for standard time blocking.
1. Figure out when you’re the most productive
We weren’t created equal. Different people are focused and productive during different times of the day. Early riser or night owl? Doesn’t matter. What matters is that you know when you’re alert, attentive, and ready to go.
So how do you determine when you’re the most productive? Keep an eye on your daily routine, energy, and focus levels. You might have noticed a pattern already, but if you monitor yourself more closely, you might just be surprised!
You can get some more clarity by finding out your chronotype. Your chronotype is your biologically pre-determined sleep schedule that decides when you prefer to get those Zs in (with little to no regard for deadlines). Knowing your body’s ideal sleep schedule will help you optimize your time block planning.
2. Identify the tasks you need to complete
Create a list of responsibilities that you can reference as you plan. This includes everything you’ll need to do throughout the day, week, or month, based on your chosen timeframe and blocking technique.
The most basic way to do this is with a pen and a piece of paper. But if you’ll need resources like research or graphics for the tasks on your list, it’s a good idea to use an electronic system so you can link to all of your necessary resources for easy access. One of the simplest ways to do this is with an Excel spreadsheet, which you can use to create your own calendar and add hyperlinks to documents and other resources.
3. Assign a priority level to each task
Evaluate everything on your list and prioritize each task based on its importance and deadline, so you can quickly identify which projects you should tackle first. Label each list item with a number to represent its priority, or use your own system, like color coding.
Be sure to consider items like meetings, which will have a predetermined block of time that you’ll need to factor into scheduling.
4. Allocate time for each activity
Consider the amount of time you’ll need to complete each item on your task list. While this may sound like a simple task, it’s incredibly easy to miscalculate how much time to set aside. So, it’s a good idea to use a time tracking app that will help you monitor typical time commitments to regular tasks, like responding to emails.
Tracking your workday activity before and after you start time blocking will also help you catch small, one-off tasks that you might otherwise have forgotten to list, like sending a quarterly e-newsletter. And the more realistic your estimates are, the easier it will be to execute your time management strategy.
5. Review your plan
Double-check your to-do list and ensure you haven’t forgotten any important tasks and that everything is prioritized. It’s important to ensure you haven’t overlooked things on your personal calendar, like lunch breaks or doctor appointments that interfere with your normal working schedule.
Don’t forget to block off “flex time” throughout the day so you can stay on track even when things don’t go according to plan. No matter how good your plan is, there’s always a chance that a task will take longer than expected. And if your plan doesn’t have built-in flexibility, you could end up rushing through tasks that need more time. And when things do go to plan, blocks of extra time can help prevent burnout by acting as built-in breaks in the workday.
6. Implement your own time blocking schedule with your preferred tools
The simplest way to implement your plan is by doing it manually with a physical calendar or planner and a pen (the good news is that you can turn any piece of paper into a time blocking planner). Then, set a timer for each block to help you stick to your schedule. You can also use a free, virtual tool, like your computer’s calendar app, to block off time.
We’ll talk more about time blocking apps later in the article, but now, let’s take a look at 7 time blocking techniques (and perhaps find your favorite).
From task-batching to day-theming: 7 time blocking techniques (+ examples)
There are plenty of time blocking strategies to choose from. At the end of the day, it’s about finding one that works for you. Here are seven fan favorites, each accompanied by a time blocking example.
1. Basic time blocking: Split your day into productive chunks
Time blocking in its most basic form separates the day into different time slots based on your preferences. For example, you could divide your daily schedule into 8 one-hour blocks. Then, you assign a specific task for each time block.
For example, a social media manager might plan to create new social media posts from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. and conduct research from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.
2. Day theming: Devote your day to specific initiatives
Day theming is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. You devote an entire day to one specific initiative rather than focusing on a single task for a shorter period of time. Because it uses larger chunks of time for each block, day theming is often a good time management technique for those who work on long-term projects and big-picture planning.
For example, a company executive might plan to work on marketing activities on Monday, dedicate Tuesday to accounting, and hold meetings with other executives on Wednesday.
3. Task batching: Tackle your tasks in groups
When you do task batching, you assign groups of tasks to blocks of time rather than a single, specific task. By grouping similar tasks together, you can minimize context switching and improve your workflows. In return, that means you can maximize productivity, even when working on monotonous tasks.
Let’s revisit our social media manager example—rather than creating posts each day, they could block off the morning to create all of the month’s Facebook posts, then block off the afternoon to create all of the month’s Twitter posts.
4. Time boxing: Set a specific time for your tasks
Time boxing is a technique that limits the amount of time you spend on individual tasks, rather than blocking off time to complete a task, time boxing works by setting a period of time to dedicate to working on a task or project.
Boxing off a couple of hours for taxing activities can speed up progress and minimize burnout. That’s because setting a hard deadline for when you’ll stop working creates internal motivation to focus and get things done. It also helps you avoid missing other deadlines by predetermining a stopping point that allows you to work on other projects for the amount of time you’ve estimated you’ll need.
Time blocking vs time boxing
If you’ve ever found yourself wondering, what’s time boxing? You might have jumped to the conclusion that it’s the same as time blocking (after all, they sound pretty much identical).
While they both involve allocating fixed time periods to specific activities, there’s one significant difference between them:
- Time blocking dictates when you’ll work on what, while
- Time boxing focuses on how long you spend on a task
Time boxing is about restricting the amount of time you spend on something, rather than when you choose to spend time on something.
5. Elon Musk’s 5-minute time blocking strategy
Elon Musk has been difficult to ignore lately. Just like with many other things, it’s no surprise that his time management technique is, well, intense. He uses a time blocking technique that divides the day into 5-minute time slots. And even though it requires more planning time than other methods, former Insider contributor Stephen Jones says the 5-minute strategy really does boost productivity. When Jones used the technique to plan his workday, he typically allotted multiple 5-minute blocks to one activity.
For example, he allocated 12 consecutive time slots to an interview. As a result, Jones minimized distractions and got more accomplished each workday than before using the strategy.
But with such a restrictive time limit, it might not be possible to get into a flow state.
6. The Eisenhower Matrix: Prioritize your tasks
When you use The Eisenhower Matrix, you assign tasks to time blocks based on priority level—the highest-priority tasks are completed first, then lower-priority activities. This method helps minimize stress by ensuring there’s always ample time to complete projects, even if they take longer than expected. For example, college students often use the Eisenhower Matrix to prioritize their assignments by their deadline. This helps them avoid procrastination and ensures they never miss a deadline that could hurt their grades.
7. The Pomodoro Technique: Use a timer for focus and breaks
The Pomodoro Technique uses a physical timer to set focus time. When the timer goes off, that’s a signal when to move on to the next task or to take a break. This old-school time management technique is particularly effective when used together with time boxing as a way to ensure you stick to your plan.
Today, this technique is so commonly used that you can even see it in action on popular TV shows. For example, Jeopardy uses its theme song, rather than a traditional kitchen timer, to indicate how much time contestants have to answer. Once the music stops, their time is up, and they must provide an answer.
With these time blocking techniques in mind, let’s take a look at a time blocking example, based on a weekly work schedule.
Time blocking example
Time blocking tells you to set aside a chunk of time for a specific, high-priority, task. By tackling one thing at a time, task by task, you allow yourself to stay focused and productive.
If you’re part of a marketing team, say, like me, your weekly schedule might look like this using a time block method:
Use time blocking software to improve time management and boost productivity
There’s plenty of time blocking apps and time blocking software available on the market. And no wonder, as our environments get more busy and disruptive, it’s harder to manage time and stay productive.
Choose a time blocking app that works for you (and your team)
Today, there’s a time blocking app for everyone. Below, we’ve listed our favorites, some of them free, while some premium apps for time blocking come with a (small) price tag.
5 of the best time blocking apps
- Your phone timer: You don’t necessarily need to download a new app for time blocking. The timer on your phone is simple, effective, and—free. If you’re not sure time blocking is for your or you don’t want to clutter your phone with more apps, this is a great way to get started. Simply set a timer based on your time blocking agenda and you’re off to the races!
- Sunsama is one of the best time blocking planners for daily planning. This is an intuitive app that will get you started with time blocking in minutes.
- Planyway is ideal for Trello and Jira users. It lets you block off tasks based on what’s in those tools. This way you can get your time block planning and to-do list organized at once.
- TickTick Premium for an all-in-one app for task management and time blocking. If you’re looking for the two to work together seamlessly, this is the app you want.
- Sorted^3 for Apple users (and those that are into hyper-scheduling). With this app you can use time blocking categories to your heart’s content! Tasks, errands, groceries, you name it—they have it. So if you’re a super organizer, this is the app for you.
Use Resource Guru to create a time block schedule
Resource Guru’s Schedule view, as seen below, is based on time blocking. For example, you can:
- Choose a specific time and duration for your tasks for any given day
- Choose one or multiple people to work on specific tasks at any given time
- Block out as much or as little (if you want to use e.g. the 5-minute strategy) time as you want
- Get a full overview of people’s availability to make sure there are no clashes
- Block off time based on people’s availability and time zones
Once done, your week could look something like this:
Plus, if you want to have a complete time blocking calendar (like in the image above), Resource Guru integrates with both Google Calendar and Microsoft Outlook, bringing time block management to a whole other level and making sure you get your tasks done on time.
I’m telling you, time blocking for productivity just got easier!
Take Resource Guru for a test drive and discover how it can boost your (and your team’s) productivity by making scheduling a breeze.