Using time-blocking to increase your productivity
So many things have my attention lately that I've been trying to figure out how to handle everything. I saw a product manager's tweet that showed a screenshot of what is (presumably) his calendar or an example of his and every moment of his working day was blocked off.
I sort of brushed the tweet off with a lol and a "I hope my calendar never gets like that" comment...except something kept nagging at me about it. I currently juggle 6 products at work and while I make a daily to-do list of things I'd like to accomplish, everything just wasn't getting done.
Time-blocking for work #
So I started placing project focus blocks on my calendar. "Focus time" to tackle my to-do list each day for work. But at the end of the day, sometimes only one or two asks were getting checked off my list. Sometimes I have upwards of 7 things I'm trying to accomplish in a day, both new initiative work and repeating admin work (waves to the multiple backlogs I'm trying to wrangle), on top of meetings, but generalized "focus time" wasn't working.
Enter time-blocking. I started blocking off half hour and hour long chunks of time with a designated project or task to work on in my calendar.
I've seen an improvement but not to the extent I want to. However, I've started to gain a better understanding of why things aren't improving like I want to. I work in a startup and when I start my day with my to-do list and hop on Slack, I have a whole list of things that may need my attention immediately or sometime during the day depending on the severity.
time-blocking does help make time for the things I need to get done but some of those things that need to get done can change day to day so I still feel a bit scattered. But I decided to read a book to see if I could help myself even more.
Time-blocking for your life #
I read Time-Blocking: Your Method to Supercharge Productivity & Reach Your Goals by Like Seavers to further help my productivity journey. It gives a good framework for how to time-block your life to maximize productivity and what's important to you. The three things that stuck in my head after reading this book:
- Being good at multitasking is a lie
- The maximum number of things you should try to accomplish in a day is 3
- time-blocking isn't just for work, it's for your whole life
Let's talk about point number one.
Being good at multitasking is a lie #
I remember filling out applications for jobs claiming I was a proficient multitasker when I first started working. And I think I was, but I say that because the work I was doing was not like the work I was doing now. I can multitask office work: preparing paperwork, writing receipts, checking rent payments. I cannot multitask high level strategy for 6 different areas of work.
I didn't multitask different design projects at the same time when I was doing design. In fact, I was even time-blocking work then, but in a bit of a different way because I had to keep track of billable hours. But I would focus on one design project for a client and then switch to another project for a different client.
We are simply not designed to multitask no matter what the modern productivity machine would tell you.
Three is the ideal amount of tasks you should focus on in a day #
Anything more than that probably won't be quality work. This is perhaps where I struggle. I cannot dedicate 3 big chunks of time in my day to only 3 tasks. So while I try to put a cap on what I say I can accomplish in a day...it's not three things. It's still in the 5+ range. But the book also talked about determining what your essentials are so perhaps I need to revisit what those essentials in my life are.
Time-block for all the important things in your life #
I appreciated Seavers' view of time-blocking. It shouldn't just be something you do for work. You should also time-block for the important things in your personal life. time-block for family time, for a workout, etc so those important things outside of your work are accounted for.
I personally like this. It helps to keep things in perspective and helps you be accountable to your personal goals. This is probably important to me because I've worked on some aspect of the web for the last 7 years in a way that creeps into my personal time. When I'm not PMing for API Developer Tools, I'm learning and writing about new web platform features. One of my hobbies is being online...so I'm online. A lot. time-blocking for the things that aren't online helps me ensure I'm stepping away from the computer.
I keep a habit tracker in my bullet journal as well to keep track of how often I work out, go for a walk, practice German, and read.
What's the point of time-blocking? #
Time-blocking ensures you're productive (and yes, spending time with your family is productive) and spending time doing the things that roll up to your high-level goals. The core of time-blocking is that you're scheduling blocks of time to help you work toward something. Whether it is spending more time with your family, improving your health, writing a book, or accomplishing projects at work, time-blocking is one methodology to help you allocate time.
Luke Seavers details a rather good blueprint on how to lay out your goals so that you ensure your sub-tasks track back up to high level goals.
Honestly it's like OKRs for your personal life which I'm finding helpful to put some direction in place after a chaotic international move, all the travel I do, and all the side projects I've got bouncing around in my head.
Resources for time-blocking #
Aside from books, there are daily planners that can help you time-block. I use my own bullet journal that I draw up every week because I find it quite meditative before diving into the digital world for the week. There are many options for planners available online already.
Cheers and happy time-blocking!