Workplace efficiency is essential — especially for small businesses and startups. Time blocking is a powerful tool that can be used to multiply productivity and efficiency. How does time blocking work, though, and what are the benefits it delivers?
In this article we’ll show you some time blocking best practices to help you be effective and efficient.
Time management is critical to success in any business venture. All businesses, regardless of size, rely heavily on the availability and focus of senior team members. Small business owners and startup operators, however, work far harder than the average full-time employee — Gallup data reveals that startup and small business owners work over 52 hours weekly, with many working six-day weeks.
Additional data published by the Harvard Business Review found that the ubiquity of smartphones and an always-available mentality results in executives, managers, and business owners remaining connected to their role for over 13 hours a day.
The fast-paced nature of business ownership and executive management leaves little room for mistakes — making time management essential. A heavy workload may be unavoidable, but the way in which work is scheduled and organized can make a significant difference in efficiency.
Taking a proactive approach to time management and establishing control over your daily schedule will allow you to design your workday around the tasks that drive you toward your long term goals in the most efficient manner. Proactive time management is best achieved through a structured approach — such as time blocking.
Your time blocking best practices like every time management strategy should be built on a foundation of goal setting. Establishing long-term goals for your business and professional development will allow you to determine exactly the tasks you need to do, and how to do them — but determining when to execute these tasks can be tricky.
Time blocking is a methodological approach to time management that relies on goal setting and time tracking. After establishing clear goals, it’s important to determine exactly how long it takes you to complete specific tasks. Once you’ve identified the tasks you need to perform in your work day and how long it takes to complete them, you’re ready to start time blocking.
Time blocking is a time management practice that arranges tasks into varying time slots in order to maximise productivity. Though time blocking, tasks are scheduled and completed in a proactive manner, allowing business owners, startup owners, and executives to take control over their work day and work more efficiently.
There is an important difference between “busy” and “productive.” Back-to-back meetings, reporting, and team management tasks can leave professionals with little time to focus on long-term goals. Time blocking best practices encourage users to devote critical time to important tasks and identify areas in which time is being used inefficiently.
In contrast with “to-do” lists, which present professionals with an ever-growing list of tasks to be completed with no definite time scale, time blocking applies discipline and order to task scheduling. 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management author Kevin Kruse attributes the effectiveness of time blocking to the “Zeigarnik Effect” which causes busy professionals to forget about completing tasks in favor of tasks to be completed.
Placing tasks in order of date, time, duration, and completion status allows busy professionals to remain focused, minimising workplace stress and maximising organization. Time blocking dedicates specific windows of time to specific tasks, creating an efficient task flow that can be followed in a linear, methodological fashion.
Following a time blocking schedule provides busy professionals with a highly accurate understanding of exactly how much can be achieved in a single day, preventing stress and schedule conflicts, as well as allowing time blocking professionals to establish clearly defined and highly achievable goals.
What are the benefits of time blocking, though?
Calendar events are an important tool to any busy professional, and are typically used to schedule important meetings between parties, specific deadlines, or other critical business events. Time blocking does the same for every single work task in your day, placing a specific priority on all tasks and elevating them accordingly.
Time blocking schedules can be considered as a “meeting” appointment or a deadline set with yourself. Rather than set a mental deadline on a specific task, such as a presentation or the completion of specific work, time blocking schedules self-commitment and allows professionals to transform intent into action.
Distractions are highly common in the modern workplace. Other coworkers, unforeseen complications or delays, clients, and other tasks can all distract busy professionals from deadlines or schedules. Distractions don’t only occur in the workplace, either — daily commute delays, family commitments, and health can all interfere with even the most closely-managed schedule.
Time blocking takes into account the possibility of distractions and minimizes their negative impact, allowing time blocking professionals to dedicate specific blocks of time on a single task for a set period of time.
By allowing for short bursts of deep focus, time blocking leverages the state of “cognitive flow.” Focusing on a single task without the distraction of outside issues or interruptions allows professionals to enter a flow state of directed attention, maximising productivity and getting the most out of their scheduled work time.
Rapidly switching between different tasks can significantly reduce work efficiency. Psychological investigations into the relationship between focus and work efficiency reveal that task switching can severely impact critical reasoning skills — walking away from your desk in the middle of a complex problem to handle another, for example, can make it extremely difficult to return to the same pattern of thought.
Time blocking prevents concurrent tasks, ensuring that time blocking professionals are only focused on completing one task at a time. Following a strategically time blocked schedule will allow you to focus on the tasks you need to get done — and complete them — without impeding your efficiency with distractions or other problems.
Incorporating time blocking into your workday doesn’t have to be complicated. When executed correctly, time blocking is an extremely fast and effective method of dramatically improving your productivity.
The following three steps will help you establish a basic time blocking strategy and integrate it into your workflow.
The first step in establishing a time blocking schedule is to determine your productivity schedule. The time of day at which you are most productive versus least productive can differ from person to person — some individuals thrive in the morning, while others are slow starters and find that they are most productive in the early afternoon, for example.
A busy professional that is most productive in the morning from 6am to 9am may find that they are best able to clear complex and involved tasks in this time period. Identifying this time slot is essential to time blocking — this is where you will schedule your most difficult, time consuming tasks.
Time blocking is built around a single 60 minute time window in which you are the most productive, which will sit between less complex tasks. Determine which 60 minutes of the day you work most productively in, and you’re ready to establish a time blocking schedule.
Once you’ve identified your productivity cycle, it’s time to establish a strict schedule, and follow it. When starting a time blocking best practices schedule, it’s important to not immediately begin with a fully time blocked day. Setting aside a single hour of the day for one time block and slowly rolling out time blocking into your schedule over a transitory period will allow you to effectively incorporate time blocking into your work flow.
Begin by taking your most productive hour of the day and booking it in to your schedule as your first and only time block of the day. In this time period, it’s essential to remove all distractions. Set your phone on silent, hold your calls and meetings, and mute all email or message notifications. This hour should be used to focus on your most intensive, complex tasks.
Following this schedule for one week is the first step toward a fully time blocked working week. One single week should be booked with a single time block hour each day.
Once you’ve completed an entire week of single-block time blocking, it’s time to add additional blocks to your time blocking schedule. In addition to isolating one hour every day for your most important tasks, schedule in an additional hour for the medium priority tasks that you find interfere with your “focus hour” primary time block.
The first two steps in setting up a time blocking schedule involve isolating a single hour in which you are the most productive. It’s not efficient to fill that hour with mindless tasks such as email or reporting — this hour should be used to tackle your biggest, most stressful, most complex tasks.
For some professionals, this hour might be used to focus on marketing plans, budgeting, product requirements, or sales requirements. Others may use it to focus on development, coding, or preparing important business documents.
Moving critical tasks into your “power hour” block will ensure you’re not distracted by phone calls, emails, or other distractions. Easier tasks can be performed later or earlier in your day when it’s not necessary to leverage 100 percent of your focus. Place one single critical task in your most productive hour, and build your day around it.
Time blocking isn’t a foolproof solution to the problems that contribute to an overbooked work schedule. Like any plan, time blocking can cause obstacles that need to be overcome in order to succeed.
Addressing the following three obstacles will help you build an effective and efficient time blocking schedule:
Time blocking requires planning skills. If you find that you’re most productive working in a reactive and adaptive manner, it’s unlikely that time blocking will feel like a comfortable solution right away.
When attempting to design and implement an effective time blocking work flow, it’s essential that you prepare your tasks in advance and execute them in accordance with your schedule. While following a plan may feel limiting at first for reactive professionals, well-planned and structured workflow strategies will allow you to visualize and work towards your goals in a way that prevents roadblocks and threats to your productivity.
Determining exactly which hour of the day is your most productive hour may not be easy at first. You may identify your most productive hour as an afternoon slot, only to discover you’re really at your best immediately after your morning coffee.
If you’re not sure when you work best, try one time slot at a time on a weekly basis. At the end of the comparison period, assess the work you completed and determine which time period is the most efficient and productive for you.
Time blocking best practices establish a rigid work structure, and is focused on providing professionals with a single block of each day in which the most complicated tasks can be completed. Regardless of your individual work practices, there will be a time period in each day that provides you with the ability to focus.
Finding your most efficient point and leveraging it may take a little bit of experimentation, but once identified can dramatically improve your work productivity.
Time blocking best practices are not suitable for every workplace. The time you identify as your most productive hour of the day needs to be isolated from other work, which means no other calls or distractions. This practice may not fit a busy workplace or role that involves fast moving parts.
Your team members may need to be informed of your time blocking requirements. If your workplace doesn’t have the ability to work with your time blocking schedule, consider suggesting a pilot program and tracking your results when time blocking.
If it’s not possible to completely isolate yourself from potential distractions when time blocking, it’s also possible to minimize distractions as much as possible while still remaining connected. With careful calendar and schedule planning, even the busiest workplaces can accommodate time blocking best practices to boost productivity.
Creating a work sprint can be an effective method of incorporating sprints into your working week. In contrast with daily time blocking best practices, which focus on a single hour of the day, sprints take a small variety of tasks and set aside a week of time in which they are to be completed.
Creating a sprint is relatively simple — begin by creating a list of high-priority tasks that need to be done. Every week, these tasks will be prioritized until complete. Other tasks or less important tasks can be placed in a backlog, or scheduled in future sprints.
Your current sprint should include urgent or critical tasks, while your future sprint should contain tasks that can safely be completed at a later date. Your backlog should consist of tasks that can be completed at any time, and are picked up in between critical tasks in your current sprint. If some tasks in your current sprint are left incomplete, they are pushed into your future sprint and completed then.
The sprint approach uses the same elements as daily time blocking, but forces users to focus on immediate tasks that are more important than others.
Getting started with time blocking can be difficult. Adjusting to time blocking can be made easier, however, with tools that promote efficiency. A kanban board schedule and task tracking tool, for example, can significantly reduce planning and administrative friction between team members when planning tasks.
Other tools can be used to automate mechanical or time-consuming tasks, such as accounting, leaving schedule time free for task blocking. Cloud accounting software, for example, can be used to automate a broad range of daily reporting and accounting tasks, improving workplace efficiency.
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