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It’s the end of the week and you’re exhausted. And yet, you look at your to-do list and see that most of it has been left unfinished. What?! You’ve been busy all week, how could so much be left undone?
That’s the problem with to-do lists. They’re all dream and no do. Yes, you intend to get all of it done but without a plan, it is incredibly easy to lose track of time and let your whole week slip away from you.
But I have a way for you to knock out that list and get more done than you ever thought possible. All it takes is a little pre-planning.
Time Blocking Basics
I’m talking about time blocking. Time blocking is essentially your to-do list with reworked with actionability. You take your priority tasks and give them a specific timeslot in your week that you intend on doing them. This allows you to see right off if you have overestimated how much you can do in a week, as well as allowing you give yourself a plan of attack. When you plan it, you are more likely to do it.
Time blocking also allows you to be more efficient by cutting down on the time you take figuring out what you are going to do next. All you need to do is look at your calendar to know what your next task should be.
To effectively time block you’re going to need a few things. First, is a planner/calendar that you will be able to reference regularly. I know a lot of people that use day planners or design pages in their bullet journal.
Personally, I prefer using Google Calendar because it allows me to easily reschedule tasks when I need to, plus it has a ton of app integrations. This is great for me because I’m able to see all my client requests from my main hustle TaskRabbit in my calendar without having to plug them in manually. It’s also pretty great because I can share parts of my calendar with the people that would benefit from knowing what I’m doing on a given day. For example, my partner is subscribed to my work calendar, so he knows when I’ll be home for dinner without having to text me when I’m with a client.
Second, you’ll need a list or a rough idea of the things you need or want to accomplish in the week. I use a to-do list that I add things to during the week to be accomplished the next week. Project tools like Trello and Asana are also great at holding tasks that you need to schedule.
How To Get Started
The time blocking basics are actually quite intuitive. Schedule your priorities from most to least important. Let me explain:
First, schedule in your immoveable appointments. These are typically your plans that involve other people interacting with your business. Things like meetings with clients, conference calls with the community, and doctor’s appointments would all fall under this placed first category.
High priority tasks
Next, schedule your high priority “have to do” tasks, which are typically related to upcoming deadlines. These tasks have a little more flexibility because they don’t need to be done at a specific time or on a specific day, just by a specific time in the week.
Medium priority tasks
Then, schedule your medium priority “would like to do” tasks. These are things that you would benefit from doing but wouldn’t do irreparable harm if you pushed them down to a less busy week. Generally, these are tasks relating to a project with a further out deadline than your high priority tasks.
Low priority tasks
Finally, if this is a particularly slow week and you still have large blank spots in your schedule, schedule your low priority or “would like to do” tasks. These are generally tasks in your business that are not critical or entirely impactful but that might increase your quality of life. An example would be redesigning your logo, testing new newsletter designs, or exploring new project management software. All these things work fine right now and don’t need to be fixed, but if have extra time just asking to be filled then schedule them in.
Flex and buffer time
One of the things I like to do as well is purposely schedule some blocked out “flex time” for unexpected tasks that might pop up during the day or week. These time blocks are then used to push back any tasks that get displaced by the unexpected. These blocks are also good for those times when you underestimate the time requirements of a task and need to reschedule the tasks after it or, if it doesn’t need to be finished in one sitting, to pick the extended task back up later to finish.
In addition to flextime, I also add a small amount of buffer time after any tasks that I’ve never done before or am unsure of how long they will take. This gives me a little breather just in case the task runs a little long, or a small break in my day if I finish quickly or on time.
Track Your Time
Time blocking is most effective if you know approximately how long your tasks will take you. One of the unfortunate tendencies of being human is underestimating how long a thing will take you to do, even if you do that thing regularly! It’s just really hard for our brains to estimate time.
Because of that, I highly suggest taking a week and tracking how much time each of your most common tasks actually takes. Keeping a record over time will help you more accurately the time needed for each task and make your time blocked schedule more effective and you more efficient.
Batch similar tasks
When you switch from one task to another it takes some time for you and brain to settle into the new thing. For example, when you write you need to be at your desk with your coffee and a snack, and your brain needs to be in the writing mindset. If you’ve just come from reconciling your receipts for the month it might take you a little while to get in the writing groove. This study from Standford University about the productivity damaging effect of multi-tasking and quickly switching between tasks is eye-opening.
If you have a bunch of similar tasks that need to be done in a week, consider batching them together and knocking them out all at once to cut down on time needed to “settle in” on each new task. I like to try and do all my errands together to minimize driving time. I also do all my pin designs for my posts each month in one sitting since it takes me awhile to get into the design mindset sometimes.
Try time blocking daily instead of weekly
If the idea of planning out your whole week in one sitting makes you break out in hives, just plan out your next day instead of the next 7. Sometimes if I have a highly variable week or am feeling overly stressed I will make a daily plan focusing on my highest priority tasks and appointments either the night before or that morning.
Don’t stress if you misjudge a timeline
It is so, so, easy to let your whole week get derailed by a wildly misjudged time estimate. Just like with dieting, don’t let a slip up ruin your week by throwing your whole plan out the window. The flextime buffer blocks are there to help you get your plan back on track, so you can finish the week strong.
If you find that you are regularly underestimating time requirements, consider taking a week off from time blocking and seriously tracking how much time things take you now. Situations and circumstances change, and we need to be able to change with them to be effective with our plans.
On the other hand, avoid procrastination
Sometimes, if we have a task that we really don’t want to do, the task before it just magically takes longer than we ever expected so of course, we need to reschedule it for later in the week. I see you. It’s incredibly important to avoid doing that though. Partially because these tasks end up causing a ton of psychological fatigue as you feel guilty about putting them off and stress/anxiety/distaste as you think about still having to do them. Believe me, I’ve been there, and I get it. It’s tempting. But I promise you, you will feel better by getting these tasks done as soon as possible so you don’t have to think about them.
Consider letting some tasks go
Repeated procrastination might be a sign from your subconscious that you need to reevaluate the place of this task in your life. If you’ve been procrastinating on a task for a long time, consider whether you need to do it at all. What will the impact be if you simply let it go or delegated it or outsourced it? Does this task impact you in any way or are holding yourself hostage over something that isn’t that important in the long run? It’s easy to let the expectations of others influence the things we feel we need to do, even if those things don’t align with our values or priorities.
I won’t go into it much here but repeated and consistent procrastination on my assignments when I was a finance major is what eventually clued me in on the fact that I wasn’t on the right track even though I was convinced that I just needed to work harder. I love all things personal finance, but I was struggling to find even the barest amount of motivation to do any of my coursework. There was a disconnect somewhere and my procrastination is how my mind forced me to confront it.
Time blocking isn’t for everyone. If you have a highly reactionary schedule you’re likely to find yourself frustrated by constantly having to reschedule.
However, if you have a stable set of things you do each week or are generally able to see what you need to do on a given day, you can use these time blocking basics use your time more efficiently and actually knock out that to-do list. All it takes is giving your list some actionability and a plan.