Is your to-do list an endless source of frustration? At the end of every day, does it seem like you have more items on the list than when you started? Applying a simple productivity-changing principle to your daily list can change all of that: time blocking.
According to time management expert Kevin Kruse (author of 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management), time blocking is essentially organizing your day in a series of slots based on time vs activity. Instead of writing a list of tasks that take as long as they take, with a time blocked approach, each of these time periods is devoted to a task(s).
The system allows for flexibility so you can even re-work your time blocks throughout the day as circumstances change. The goal is to make sure that you always have an intentional plan for the time. This approach immediately lets you see where you’re being unrealistic about your time and keep yourself focused on what you’re supposed to be doing.
The other advantage is that “it provides more accurate feedback on how much free time you actually have most days and how long certain recurring tasks actually take,” says Kruse.
How do you time block?
Organize your time instead of your tasks. Giving every hour a job typically lets you make much more efficient use of your time. Organizing your day through time blocks instead of to-dos makes sense because of the discipline and order it applies to your tasks, says Kruse. Kruse’s research found that 41% of to-do list items are never completed. He says the high-performers he interviewed never talked about their lists, but instead talked about their calendars and how they were organized.
The Zeigarnik Effect
There is also a psychological reason why time-blocking makes more sense. The Zeigarnik Effect (named after Russian psychologist, Bluma Zeigarnik) states that we remember what we haven’t done better than what we have done, and uncompleted tasks weigh on us. “When we have all of our tasks placed into a specific date, time, and duration, we sleep more soundly knowing everything that needs to get done is in its place,” Kruse says.
Before you start slotting in tasks every 30 minutes or hour, think about how your energy and work both flow. Are there work cycles that could affect how much uninterrupted time you will have? What times of day do you have the most energy or are best suited to do the tasks you need to do? For example, if you know that Fridays are typically very busy in your office, you might want to allow more slack in your schedule than you ordinarily would. “Don’t schedule a hard task in a time of day where you typically lag, and don’t schedule a big task in a small amount of time,” Kruse adds.
Include time block buffer zones. In other words, add one to three 30-minute blocks of time so if you run over, you can bump another appointment into the buffer zone. “We chronically underestimate how long things will take,” stresses Kruse. So, we are constantly running over our time allocations and not getting to the things we have on our schedule. If you’re chronically running late, revisit the amount of time you’re devoting to your tasks.
Interruptions will try to take their toll. Do your best to eliminate them by turning off push/cell notifications and, if possible, turning off your phone. Kruse and his team also integrate a “power hour” - which is actually a power 90 minutes - where employees in his office can focus on their work with no meetings and minimal interruptions allowed.