What is Time Blocking and Why Do You Need It?
Part 2: Plan
Planning is the first - and foundational - step in the Time Blocking system. Without a solid foundation in this or any endeavor, you just won’t get the results you want. In case you missed it, here’s the link to Part 1: Overview of this 4-part Time Blocking series.
With time at a premium and since we all have different goals and styles, I will present two methods: simple and more detailed.
The Plan step will take you a full week to complete, but the amount of time it will take you each day will depend on how detailed and how accurate you want to get.
Choose Your Method
There are two ways to go about the Plan stage and variations within each method, so choose which one fits your personality better. Some of us want to guesstimate and take it from there; we just want to put in the important tasks to make sure we get them done. It can be just that straightforward and simple.
Others have very busy schedules and find themselves all too often wondering where the day went and asking, “Why do I feel like I didn’t accomplish anything?” It’s because we didn’t plan right. And to plan right takes a bit of effort.
Either way will require some fine-tuning because Life has a way of happening while we’re busy planning it. (Great quote, no idea who first said it.) So, this is why we’re going to build in buffers, and add in a little extra time to each task, as well as time in between tasks, to allow for the unexpected. More on that in the Scheduling phase.
It might be worth noting here that I’ve heard that Elon Musk worked in 5-minute time blocks to get him through all of his major endeavors. I’m not interested in being that detailed, but maybe you are. It depends on your goals and what actually works for you.
1. Quick and Simple
Do a brain dump.
Write down everything you can think of that you do during the week on a daily basis. Record it on the computer or on paper, using one page per day. Make it a simple list or create an Excel file and add an extra column to later track the actual time each task takes.
I guarantee you will continue to think of things to add to the list as your day and week progresses. Be sure to include the things you habitually do (unload the dishwasher, cook, shower, sleep.) Everything. Yes, including whatever you’re thinking right now.
If your days are fairly routine, this will be pretty easy but still be a little time consuming. If your days and weeks vary wildly, you may need this type of planning even more, so stay with me and keep reading.
When I taught fitness classes and trained clients for a living, I used this system to schedule everything. I mean, everything. Other than the 12-14 hour days (that finally caught up with me,) it worked beautifully, because I always knew what I needed to do next and when there were changes, it didn’t throw me.
A gig economy job like writing and other occupations, on the other hand, isn’t usually predictable. But I can still schedule my best hours for creativity and other phases of my writing during which I need to be alert and give my best. I can schedule things like chores or grocery shopping at other times. I’ll go into more of that in the Scheduling phase of Time Blocking.
Add a Buffer
You’ll want to add in a little extra time for each task or activity throughout the day - not a lot, but a reasonable one. For example, if you’re still commuting to your job, there could be a traffic jam, or construction work, right? These are always unexpected and unplanned, so depending on the type of commute and how far you travel, add in some extra time so that you don’t have to rush to get there.
You don’t need the stress - or an accident because you’re running late and “need” to get there on time.
Hint: Use your commute time to listen to an audiobook or a speech you’re working on, or if you take the train or carpool you can do something that requires more attention, like writing or reading.
2. Detailed Mapping
Write it all down. I mean - all. Here’s where you get to go through a full 7-day week with a pad and pen in hand so you can write down each and every activity you do during the day. This takes a lot of awareness! So much of what we do is automatic as we rush through our busy days just trying to keep up.
The purpose of going this deeply into how we spend our allotted 24 hour days is not only to bring awareness of how we really spend our time, but also learn how much time these activities take in real life.
For example, I can say I want to allow 30 minutes for lunch each day because I’m really motivated to get things done, but if I decide to juice instead, and what I’m planning takes 40 minute from prep to clean-up, I’ve just blown through that time block and taken 10 minutes out of the next one. Which clearly won’t work if I’ve scheduled client calls or a planning session in the next time block that I’m now heading into either rushed or late.
It’s also not about trying to squeeze more of everything into our days.
It’s just like living within a well thought-out budget. The idea isn’t to feel trapped, it’s to remove the stress, know where your money’s going, figure in some fun things, pay the bills, and still be able to save. It’s actually quite liberating.
You might be surprised at how you spend your time each day. This step alone can be very helpful.
Next week we’ll tackle the Prioritize stage, where you’ll need to distinguish the Urgent from the Important to make Scheduling easier, limit distractions, so you can get the things you really want done.
See you then - and please let me know if you’ve undertaken the Time Blocking challenge - I'd love to hear about your experience with it!