Time Blocking 101 – Work Edition

Allright friends, you asked for it, here it is! I wrote a home edition of time blocking for all of you who are stay at home parents or in a season where it’s more home time than work time, but today… let’s talk WORK.

With SO MANY people working from home now, what I hear all the time is that it’s hard to manage time, it’s hard to turn off from work, it’s hard to get all you want done. I get it, I really, really do. I started working from home in 2008 and let me tell you… it was a bumpy start.

I’m going to give you my best tips on how to work from home efficiently, get it all done, and still find time to do the little chores, enjoy your meals at home (great perk) and have some down time.

Why is this important? You may have this question, and it is so valid! Being at home gives us a sense of more freedom, of being in charge of our time, of being able to wing it. However, that is the opposite of productivity. If you want to get more done, you need to set boundaries. Time blocking will help you accomplish your priorities, make you more efficient, help you say no to things that are less important, helps you focus, helps you get started, and helps you continue with a task when you’re not “feeling it” – but it has to get done anyway.

Let’s jump right in. There are 2 concepts you need to have in mind as you go through this post:
1. TB = Time blocking
Time blocking simply means that you block out your day to accomplish certain tasks. This usually means you have a fixed structure for your work day, and the day before your last task is to check the following day and make any minor needed adjustments (a meeting that overlaps with your email time, an appointment that overlaps with your work block, etc). This is spectacular because time blocking is designed for focus. As Parkinson wrote, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”, and time blocking will keep your time in check, which will in turn limit your work. Sounds simplistic, but it’s surprisingly accurate.
2. PM = Pomodoro method
The Pomodoro method is a simple way of interspacing work and rest. It has been widely studied and shown that we should not sit and work for hours at end without breaks. What the Pomodoro method does is specify how much time you will work and how much time you will have off. For instance, a 55min work block followed by a 5 min break, where you will stand up and move around. This is the perfect time to fit in a house chore such as putting in a load of laundry, or enough time to refill your water bottle, use the washroom, check your social media. The essential part of Pomodoro is that you use a timer, and you shift from work to break when the timer goes off. You’ll learn not to cheat yourself. 🙂 Rest blocks should be no shorter than 5min, and no longer than 15. More then that is a whole block (a 30min meal block, for instance).

Pairing Time Blocking and Pomodoro is a match made in heaven. Seriously, it is the perfect way to work. Let me tell you upfront that this is not the space for being spontaneous or random, your work hours are your work hours and the sooner you learn to focus and accomplish what you said you would accomplish the sooner you will understand what so many productivity geniuses have been saying for so long: structure breeds productivity. If you don’t know what you are going to do, when you are going to do it, and for how long, you are lost.

Ok, so how does it look to structure your day?

1. Designate blocks and stick to them

You will look at your day and designate blocks of time for all the things that you need to do. ATTENTION: this is not a to-do list, this is a framework for when you will accomplish activities. All your days will look the same in terms of blocks, but the activities within these blocks will vary according to what you need to do.
Let me give you a example of my mornings:
5:00-6:30am – Exercise, Meditation, Devotionals
6:30-8:30am – Prep for day, Prep for school, Play time
8:30-9:30am – School drop off, small home chores
9:30-12:00pm – Work

This is NOT how you should organize your morning, this is how I organize my morning. That being said, My work blocks (morning and afternoon) are split between 2 businesses, and I use the pomodoro method within those blocks.

What you can see is that this is not a to-do list, this is a time separated for certain areas. I exercise, meditate, journal, etc first thing in the morning because it’s the most quiet time for me to do it, and when I don’t actually put it off. I have found it also sets me up with a good mindset for the rest of my day. I have 2 kids in school, my early morning revolves around that routine. I run 2 businesses, so my time is shared accordingly. To me having time to develop a skill, read, and complete whatever course I’m working on is a priority, those activities are scheduled into my afternoon.

There is no freedom in chaos, there is only freedom inside of boundaries.

Myron Golden

What does YOUR life look like? What do you need to account for in your day to day? That will inform your block choices.
What are your priorities?
Do you have a specific time you need to be “in the office”?
How does your family factor in to your daily schedule?

The essential part is that you follow through with your blocks. If you’re in your workout block, go work out. If you’re in your play/family block, go be with your family. If you’re in your work block, hunker down and get it done. The blocks are for YOU, set what you need and adjust according to your reality.

2. Pomodoro your blocks

Within your work blocks, divide your tasks into smaller sections. This is where you may change things from day to day or from week to week, depending on your workload, schedule, to-do list, etc.

Let me give you a example of what could be one of my blocks on a given day:
Work Block: 9:30-12:00pm
9:30-9:55am: Answer emails, texts, messages from both businesses. Clear inbox of finished emails.
9:55-10am: Break (stand up, do a small chore, like a put in a load of laundry, make beds, tidy up the library books… )
10-10:55am: Business 1 (here I’d have a list of the things I want to accomplish for this business on this day)
10:55-11am: Break (stand up, small chore, washroom, etc…)
11am-12pm: Business 2 (again, I’d have a list of things I want to accomplish for this business on this day)

Pomodoro basics:
– Blocks are BETWEEN 30 and 55min long
– Use a timer
– Always stand up during your break
– Keep your task list realistic for each block of time, and be specific (don’t just say “work on the report” for instance)

Your pomodoro blocks depend entirely on what you have to do that day, and these are ideally the last thing you do on your work day, setting yourself up for the next day.

It may take you a little longer the first times you do it, but after a few days you will be doing this fairly quickly.

3. Schedule in down time

We live in the age of busy, we idolize the long to-do lists, the never having time, there almost seems to be a sense of pride in saying how exhausted we are and how much we have to do. However… rarely does busyness result in the most important work being done. We hustle, we work, we eat and sleep and for what?

A busy life is an unexamined life. And an unexamined life is rarely worth living.

Joshua Becker

Your busy life may be full, but is it really fulfilling? Are you using any portion of your time to become the person you want to be, the best version of you? Blaise Pascal said “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone”. We were not created to live busy lives. Busy seasons, yes, but not busy lives. If you are always, constantly busy… you would do well to give yourself some time to get to know yourself, to give of your time to other people, to invest in the lives of others.

How? It starts with making room in your schedule, with prioritizing it. People ask me all the time how I read so much, my answer is so much more mundane than they would prefer, but it is simply that I schedule it it, and I choose to prioritize it. I have a 30min block in my afternoon that is dedicated to reading for “work”, this means anything that is informational, self-development, etc. I love to read for leisure, and you will more often than not find me reading while I eat lunch (when I’m by myself) or forgoing TV to read before bed.

Schedule in time to step away from work. Your mental, physical, emotional and relational health are worth it.

4. Choose your tool

Our tools determine how well we can execute a task. You’d never butter a slice of toast with a spoon, it might get the job done, but not well. The tool you use to block your time will determine how well you can follow through.

A few options that could work for you are:
Google calendar
Phone app such as sectograph
Paper planner

These are 3 generic options, and the BEST one is the the one that fits in with what you already use to organize your appointments or to do lists.

5. Don’t complicate it

Creating a time block of your days should take you no longer than 20 min. This is not supposed to consume your time. I have a FREE booklet in my tool box (get the DOWNLOAD) which walks you through this process, and remember that this is about simplifying your schedule to give you more time and productivity.

Progress means simplifying, not complicating.

Bruno Munari

Take a moment to sit down and block out your days, and probably the most important thing: at the end of each work day, take 5min to go through your next day, make any necessary adjustments, and be prepared. Your day should not start trying to decide what to do, that is counterproductive. Prepare, clear your workspace, and tomorrow greet the day with a fresh start.

Let me know if you have any questions, and I’d love to help you set up a system of your own!

Keeping it simple,