Are you looking for a productivity hack? The truth is the key to productivity is using your time well. Time is a finite resource and it is important to use it well. In this blog, we are going to talk about time blocking and how to use your bullet journal for time blocking.
What is time blocking?
Time blocking is the practice of planning out every moment of your day in advance and creating dedicated blocks for specific tasks.
Author of ‘Deep Work’, Cal Newport said:
“A 40-hour time-blocked week, I estimate produces the same amount of output as a 60+hour work week pursued without structure.”
Basically if you don’t have control over your schedule, it will control you. Time-blocking is an easy way to take control of your schedule and your time.
Time blocking is suitable for everyone but specifically for people who:
- Have many different responsibilities.
- If you spend time on reactive tasks like emails but not getting other tasks done.
- Spend a lot of time in meetings.
- Have lot’s of interruptions (like children) throughout the day.
- Struggle to find the time and space for ‘big picture’ thoughts.
The benefits of time blocking.
The practise of time blocking has so many benefits and once you start, you may find it hard to stop!
Here are just a few of the amazing benefits:
- Time – Time blocking allows you to track where you time is going and which tasks take the most time. By conducting weekly reviews you can start to weed out time wasting tasks resulting in more free time to do whatever you like with.
- Flexibility – you still have time within your day to be spontaneous without swallowing up time and loosing important tasks.
- Routine – if you are self employed or even working from home, the loss of a clear routine can be really difficult to adjust to. Having a time blocking routine can really help bring some structure to your day.
- More work completed – When I started time blocking I realised just how much time I was wasting on tasks which were not going to get me where I needed to go. Time blocking actually allowed me to get my work load done in half the time. I then added more ‘growth’ work to my schedule and the other hours I kept free for anything I liked.
- Satisfaction – Time blocking will leave you with a smile on your face at the end of the day. You will feel like you have climbed to the top of a mountain but you still have enough energy to come back down.
- Boundaries – Time blocking allows you to leave specific time free to attend things like meetings instead of being ‘free’ all the time and loosing precious hours. Just remember to communicate your schedule clearly to anyone you work with.
How to time block.
Now you know what time blocking is and the benefits of it, let’s look at how to time block!
To start Time-Blocking you can use pen and paper (your bullet journal) or a digital calendar like Google Calendars. Personally, I use both paper and digital which I will go into more detail about below.
Step One: Start with you reactive tasks.
Start with a blank digital calendar like Google Calendar. Write down on paper all of your reactive tasks which are things like:
- Other communications (Slack, Telegram, WhatsApp etc)
- Social Media
- Tasks for your family (like cleaning the house or cooking)
Now that you have these tasks, add them to your calendar. These are the bones of your day, they are tasks that need to be done but they are not big picture tasks. They are energy zapping, time wasting tasks which could take over your day…but no longer will!
I check my emails and other communications (like Slack) twice a day. Once at 9.30 am and once at 4.00. If answering emails is your job, this would be one of your main tasks but if it’s just part of your job then this system should work for you. I could spend all day on my emails and watch all of my other work fall to the wayside, it’s just not productive. Checking my emails twice a day (and sometimes again just before bed) has helped me save so much time.
Pick a time or times that work for you. Personally, I like to start my day with emails, this helps me clear my inbox, focus and slip into the routine of work. I then start to wind down at the end of the day with emails. This also helps me plan for the next day as work may have been sent through for me to complete tomorrow.
Have you ever been to a meeting that could have been an email? Because I have! I now have blocks built into my day that are meeting times. If someone wants to have a meeting with me, they can book me. It means that my day does not end up being swallowed by meetings (which can easily happen).
Top Tip! I time block 10 minutes before and after every meeting so that I can either prep for the meeting or write notes/break down the meeting after.
Step Two: Creating a book end for you day.
This was touched on above but it is important to create book ends at the beginning and end of your day. Book ends allow you to get prepped and ready for you day and then wind down from it.
At 9.00 every day I have a time block named ‘daily schedule review’. This is half an hour of time just for me. I make a cup of tea, sit down and revise my schedule. Things may have popped up that I need to add, I may need to do some prep work before the day starts or an event may have been cancelled that can be removed. I basically start half an hour getting my head in the game.
Sometimes reviewing my schedule will only take five minutes which is great! I don’t start my day early or skip to my next time block though, I read the news. Reading the news, reading an industry article or newsletter or just spending 10 minutes staring out the window are all better then getting sucked in to social media.
It’s time to cool down
Well done you. You have made it through another day! It’s time to cool down and power down your brain. Use your cool down to review your workload from tomorrow. Maybe you didn’t do everything you wanted to get done today or you have picked up some extra work and the deadline is tomorrow. See what you can shuffle around without changing time blocks…say what?!
It’s not has difficult as it sounds. If you have been asked to contact a customer tomorrow about an issues they are having and a time block for the next day that is ‘shallow work’ put a reminder to get this task done underneath it. You could add this under you shallow work to-do’s in your bullet journal or add it into the notes section of your digital calendar. Either way there is no reason to throw your schedule out the window just slot it in.
Step three: Set aside time for deep work and for shallow work.
Deep work is work that requires your full attention. It is the most enjoyable part of working for most people. Have you ever been so lost in a task and then looked at the time, wondering where it has all gone? That’s the beauty of deep work.
I block out two deep work sessions a day but it really depends on what type of job you have as to how many deep work sessions you can have in a day.
We can typically say on task for around an hour and a half and it takes around 15-20 minutes to go into a ‘deep working’ stage and to come back out again. For this reason deep working sessions should typically be 2 hours long.
I add my deep working time blocks at the start of each week into my calendar even though I don’t necessarily know what specific work I will be using that time for. Deep work is part of the ‘bones’ of my working week. Writing, creating social media content, website designing, business big thinking these are all the types of tasks that require me to deep work.
I have one deep working session in the morning and one in the afternoon. Sometimes my afternoon session is shorter as I have less concentration or have more shallow tasks which need completing but it is still always there.
Top Tip! Be fully prepped for deep work. Have everything you need ready before you start. Make sure to drink plenty of water, get up regularly and eat well during your sessions. Don’t go over time, this won’t lead to a more productive day.
Shallow work is often not as satisfying as deep work is but it is a critical part of anyone’s workday. If I was to define shallow work I would say it is tasks that we do on autopilot. They require very little thought and are easy ticks. When I started time blocking I found that shallow work was something that used to fill my day and I often did feel like I had achieved a lot when I sadly had not. Now, I normally spend 2 hours a day on shallow work (plus an hour on emails and communication) and the rest of my day is deep work and meetings. I get a lot more of the meaty, big picture tasks done while still keeping everything in my business running. Of course some days I spend five hours completing shallow tasks but I do try and keep these to a minimum.
Some examples of shallow tasks:
- Paying Bills
- Collecting information
- Admin tasks
- Writing up processes (if it is transferring over a transcript).
- Work tasks that you have mastered (deep work should be challenging to really pull you in).
- Signing papers, dealing with internal issues or looking after team development.
Step four: Break blocks, wild card blocks.
With basically any type of work things pop up throughout the day. Create blocks in your day to react to these things. For example: everyday at o’clock have an hour set aside to deal with things that have popped up.
Urgent – If the task is urgent and requires more than an hour, you will need to take a few hours from your day.
Non-Urgent – If the task is not urgent but does require some time spent on it. Use your wild card hour to deal with it and then look ahead to tomorrow and see where you can slot the task in to finish it (maybe during a shallow working block).
Make sure to time block your breaks (including morning tea and afternoon tea). I have lunch normally between 12-1 or 1-2 and I schedule another break for a walk outside. However you do it, make sure you put them in.
Step Five: Time block your home life.
Time blocking is not just for your work life, it is for your home life as well. I time block my shower time, exercise time, family time, time with friends and self care time. It might sound restrictive but actually I have more time to spend with everyone and with myself.
I leave my weekends free from time blocking (except my email checking times) and just let my time slip by.
Quick fire Time blocking tips
You are now a time blocking expert but here are some final quick fire tips to get you straight on the road to productivity.
- Place buffers between tasks (in case they over run)
- Overestimate your time and don’t try and fit too much in. You are a productive superstar but not a superhero.
- Put in time for downtime, relaxing and learning.
- Tell the people around you and people you work with, what you are working on.
- If you feel overwhelmed by your workload, set an overflow day. Sometimes on a Saturday, I will just work a day that has not been time blocked (gasp!). I will use the day to get rid of all the tasks that have been overwhelming me. Normally these are shallow tasks and I return to work on Monday a lot less overwhelmed and a lot more productive.
- Revise your time blocking schedule. I go over my time blocking schedule once a week and check to see what can be made better.
My Time Blocking Calendar.
Here is a sneak peak at my digital calendar to help you visually plan your own.
Time blocking in your bullet journal.
Whether you are strictly a pen and paper person or you like a bit of both, you can use your bullet journal to help you time block.
This month’s travel-themed bullet journal includes a time blocking spread that you can re-create at home. We even created a step by step video for you which you can follow along with! It will be posted further down this blog.
This month we have travelled to Spain in our Bullet Journal India journal. To create this spread, write the days vertically and the times horizontally (in the style of a monthly calendar). Instead of cluttering the page with words, use a colour coding method. This is a really simple way to start time-blocking especially if you have a bullet journal already.
VIDEO! Follow along and make this at home.
Let us know how you get on!
When you start time blocking let us know how it goes! If you have any questions about productivity or bullet journaling leave a comment below.
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