What are Time Blocking and Time Batching?
Time Blocking is the act of adding blocks of time to your schedule during which you can work on specific activities. Time Batching is when you group related tasks into a single block, allowing you to focus on related work. Both are tools that you can use to manage your busy schedule and tasks that you need to complete.
- Time Blocking ensures you are working on the most important things.
- Time Blocking gives you a more realistic insight into your workload.
- Time Blocking makes your availability clear to others.
- Time Blocking makes your priorities clear to others.
- Time Batching allows you to complete related tasks with less context switching.
Time Blocking is both very easy to do and challenging to master. It will be different for everyone. It depends on your workload, your goals, priorities, and comfort level.
What types of things should I Time Block?
Add the most important things first.
If you would like to exercise three days a week, put that on your schedule. If you want to write or read every day, block the time for it. If you have a report you need to write every week, add the time you need to your calendar.
Don't always add individual tasks to your schedule.
Instead of putting every small task on your calendar, batch similar tasks together. Batching is especially helpful if the work requires the same tools or mindset. You reduce the context switching that comes with jumping between tasks.
Schedule time to take a break.
It's necessary to take breaks. We often do better work when we're well-rested and not overwhelmed. Include time in your day to step away and grab some lunch, take a walk, or even a quick nap.
Schedule time for higher-level thinking and planning.
We need to take a step back from the day-to-day grind and plan at a higher level. If I don't schedule time for reflection and planning, it doesn't happen.
Analog Time Blocking
Time Blocking on paper can be helpful if you prefer using paper for your tasks and schedule. It allows you to get the main benefits out of Time Blocking. If you don't have a digital calendar shared with other people, this can work quite well.
However, suppose other people have access to your calendar. In that case, analog time blocking has a significant disadvantage—time Blocking on digital calendar blocks that time so others cannot add things to your schedule during that period. I suppose you could still decline those meetings or propose new times if analog works best for you.
Digital Time Blocking
If you use any digital calendar like Microsoft Outlook/Exchange, or Google Calendar, you can easily do Time Blocking. Suppose you have a shared calendar where others can see your availability. In that case, I highly recommend adding the Time Blocks on that primary calendar to reflect it as busy or available. Otherwise, you could create a separate calendar.
This example schedule is based on my actual schedule for next week. I have time blocked in the morning for me to research and write. I schedule lunch every day (so I don't forget).
My Focus Time is when I disappear and focus on deep work. Notice that it is not at the same time every day. I try to have a two-hour block in the mornings and another in the afternoons. But the time shifts a little depending on what other commitments I have.
I also schedule admin time. This is the time I use to check email, respond to admin tasks, and do other small things. I also work on these tasks if a few minutes before meetings or between Time Blocks.
Automatic Time Blocking
While nothing beats manually managing your schedule, You can use tools to block time for you automatically.
If you use Microsoft 365 at your organization, you may have access to MyAnalytics. You can easily configure it to automatically add 2-hour or 4-hour blocks of Focus Time to your calendar every day. During this time, your status will be in "Focus Mode," during which your Microsoft Teams notifications are disabled.
Google has a very lightweight automatic scheduling feature called "Goals." Goals are only available through the mobile app. You can say you want to Workout 5 days a week in the mornings and it will schedule that time for you around your other already scheduled events. This feature can be helpful if you only use Google Calendar and everything is on your primary calendar. Google Goals does not take any other calendar into account when adjusting your schedule.
Skedpal is very powerful. It can read all of your Google and Microsoft Calendars and schedule your tasks during your available times. You can even configure when you like to work on tasks of a specific type (e.g., focus work, admin work, creative work).
Taskline integrates with Microsoft Outlook and gives you the ability to schedule the tasks that are in Outlook. Taskline has been around for years and seems to be still supported even with the Outlook client's latest versions.
What to do during Time Blocks
Turn off your phone and computer notifications. Close any application that you will note need.
Prepare your resources
Gather whatever resources you need to accomplish your task(s). Ideally, these will already be part of the task details as notes, attachments, or links.
Setup your environment
Prepare your preferred beverage. Set up your environment so that you are comfortable and not going to get distracted.
Set a timer
You may want to use a timer. You can use the Pomodoro Technique to work in 25-minute increments, take a break for 5 minutes, then start again. Or you can set the timer to go off when you need to finish the time block. It is good to resurface from deep work and recalibrate your schedule. Do you need to stop and work on the next planned task(s)? Can you keep going for a while? Usually, the reminder for your next time block will suffice.
Make a note of what you did and what is left.
It helps to write down what you have finished and what you will finish later. When you come back to this task or project in the future, you can pick up where you left off.
More Time Blocking Tips
Update your schedule as often as necessary
I recommend planning out the week ahead, either over the weekend or late Friday afternoon. Depending on your workload, you won't want to plan out more than a week in advance. If you have a hectic workload, you'll likely need to adjust your schedule every day. If something comes up and requires you to shift things around, then make the change immediately. It doesn't take much time or effort.
The only time you should be changing your schedule is if the new thing is more important and can't be scheduled at a different time when you're available. This situation happens to me a lot with client meetings. I usually don't have a problem as long as I can shift my schedule around to fit it in. However, there are times where the tasks I have due will not be completed when planned if I accept the requested meeting. In that case, I bring it up with my project manager, and we prioritize as needed.
Find the right level of detail.
It can be a considerable challenge to block every task on your calendar. I don't think the calendar is the right place to manage your tasks. Keep a separate task list and block the time to work on a specific project or type of work (e.g., Administration, Website updates), and during that block, you open the list and start working.
It helps to have a specific color for your Time Blocks. It makes it easier to distinguish an actual meeting from the time scheduled to work on a project. I use a dark gray for my Time Blocks, green for client meetings, orange for internal meetings, and blue for personal stuff on my calendar.
Schedule to be efficient
If you do your best, most focused work in the mornings, block time each morning to do that work. For example, I find it much easier to write first thing in the morning before getting distracted. So I don't even check email until after I'll have my research and writing time. I also start to drag a little in the afternoons, so I try to block my mornings to do my more focused work and afternoons for the miscellaneous admin tasks and meetings.
Go for consistency
Blocking your schedule at roughly the same time every day is both good for you, in that you build a routine, but also for others since they'll know that you're typically unavailable during that time.
Leave some buffer time.
Don't try to block every minute of every day. Leave some room so you can shift things around. You can also use buffer time to rest or catch up on something taking longer than expected.
Your schedule will change.
Yes, your plans will change - all the time! Changing your schedule is okay. Move things around to make any adjustments.