Have you ever sat down to work on Friday morning and wondered, “What happened to this week? It flew by and I accomplished little to nothing that I hoped to get done.”
When I started working for myself 15 years ago, this was a recurring theme for me. As a rather obsessively organized person, I had lists of tasks I needed to do, but the week would start, the phone would ring, and the emails would roll in. Much like an overworked soccer goalie, I just fielded all the balls as they popped up.
This is a very stressful way to work. Important things get neglected in favor of urgent things, and you realize you forgot to send invoices (again) and that really exciting proposal is overdue, and the project you’re working on is slipping on its timeline.
While task and project management tools help you plan and schedule discrete tasks, block scheduling your time is a higher level approach. Before you plan and schedule specific tasks and activities, the exercise of time blocking helps you create a realistic plan of when and how you can be most productive and gives you a guide when you move to task and project management.
As you work through this process, you will naturally start to create new habits of focus. When it’s “project work” time, you concentrate on that and that alone. The hamster wheel of “oh that proposal, need to check my email, I should check Twitter” slows down considerably and may stop completely because you have specific times planned for those activities.
You can do this exercise simply with a paper and pencil, but the handiest tool is an Excel or Google spreadsheet. I’ve created a sample to get your started.
For this to be the most effective, you want to personalize it as much as possible. What time do you start your day? Do you have regular evening activities that need to be planned?
- Block out a day’s time in half hour or hour increments in the first column. We’re working on the big picture, so there’s no need to get more detailed.
- Label each of the next columns for the days of the week.
- I like to add a row above the days of the week to create some focus cues.
Now, think about your ideal week:
- What do you need to accomplish?
- What are key things that must happen regularly (get kids ready for school, attend a regular meeting)?
- What are things you want to happen (workout, yoga class, learning a new skill)?
- What business and/or marketing areas do you need to address each week?
- What types of tasks do you prefer to do when? Everyone has a time of day when they are at their best for focused work.
Start blocking in chunks of time by selecting the cells and merging them. If you do something consistently at the same time, block it out for the week. Block out smaller chunks for more diverse tasks. Work in all the things that are important that are important to you.
I keep my block scheduling at a fairly high level and only update it when I take on something new or need a change of pace to mix things up a bit. It doesn’t replace my calendar or project management tools, it serves as an overall guide for the week. If a call needs to be scheduled, it’s ideally going into the time reserved for that.
While focus and organization is critical, it’s also important to maintain some flexibility. Maybe you’re sick or just in a bad mood one afternoon, shuffle things around! It’s your plan and you can adapt as needed.
Have you tried block scheduling before? How did it work for you?