Time Blocking: A Comprehensive Guide to Ultimate Productivity

By Seth ArBabian

SkedPal Founder

How to Begin and End Your Scheduled Task

You'll notice that there is usually a mental friction to start your scheduled task. Maybe, it has to do with context switching. That is detaching yourself from what you're currently doing and getting into a different zone. Or, it may have to do with a feeling of overwhelm. This feeling stems from worries, distractions, responsibilities, or maybe even some new ideas you want to work on. This friction to start must be handled first. Otherwise, you will either skip the scheduled task. Or, you will not be able to get your full attention and focus on it. Unsettled whims and worries will grab a good part of your attention and significantly degrade the quality of your time block. Remember, you can get a lot more done when you're focused. Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, believes that an hour of deep work is estimated to produce 50% more output.

Pause before starting your work

Always pause before attempting to engage with work

So, how do we settle our thoughts before we engage with our scheduled task? Kourosh Dini, Psychiatrist, and author of Zen and the Art of Work suggests that we must first pause before we attempt to engage with work. It may sound obvious and simplistic, but it's not. Pausing helps us realize we have a decision to make. It's true that you had previously thought about your priorities and committed yourself to this time block. However, a lot might have happened in your mind since then. So, it's time to reassess your values and priorities and remind yourself of why you decided to work on this task at this hour. 

Settle your thoughts before starting to work

Pause to connect with your thoughts. You'll start to see the pushes and pulls of the moment. An inbox can be incredibly helpful at this time. An inbox is a place to hold your ideas for a later time. Maybe, you'll need to reply to an important email and that's occupying your mind right now. Add it to your inbox. You'll need this pause to clear your mind and have a settled decision to start your work. And while pausing, if you decide that you want to do something more important right now, re-schedule your time block. That's perfectly fine too as long as you make a conscious decision about it. Whatever you do, do not start your task without a clear mind.

Ending Your Task

When it's the end of the task, it’s important for you to review and revise the rest of your work. It’s very likely that your day does not go 100% as planned. So, it’s important to revise your plan to avoid a delay ripple effect.

Three approaches to finishing a task

Previously, we discussed different approaches to finishing a task. They were mainly time boxing, event time, and the hybrid method (See Estimating the Effort for Your Tasks.) Depending on your preferred approach, you may have to take the time to adjust your time blocks. For example, suppose you prefer to take your time to finish a task regardless of the allotted time block. Then, you’ll probably be eating into other time blocks. So, take the time to reschedule them.

Now, suppose you follow the time boxing method, and you still feel there is more work to be done. Then, you should schedule the remainder of the work in a new time block.

It’s also important to review and revise at the end of each day. This process should reflect the fact that priorities change, new stuff come up, and projects take more or less time than you expect them to.

The Weekly Review

As mentioned earlier, the rate at which new ideas and time demands come at you far exceeds your realistic availability to do them. In other words, you’re never going to be able to accomplish everything you want to accomplish. Therefore, it's important to have a workflow for capturing your incoming time demands and reviewing them regularly. It's a mistake to try to schedule new ideas and time demands as they come in unless you're certain of their priority. You need to appreciate that you have a very limited time during each day. The difference between successful and unsuccessful people is in the choices they make on what to allocate their time to. So, it's a very critical decision what is going to go into your time blocks.

Having a backlog is inevitable

Prioritizing your work is not easy as there are always things you need to consciously put on the backlog for some time later. You might even decide to kill the loose ends. This process is best done on a weekly basis. Perhaps, every Friday afternoon, you can add a time block for your review process. This is an opportunity to review your lists and decide on the wildly important tasks you must be focusing on for the following week.

This process should be an integrated part of your time blocking practice. Without a review process, you'll find that things can get relatively out of control during the course of a few days. So, most of your time blocks for the following week should be set during the weekly review session.

SkedPal weekly focus workflow

SkedPal's weekly focus workflow is designed to streamline the weekly review process.

SkedPal Weekly Review Process

SkedPal allows you to cherry pick your priorities, and automatically time block them.

When you review your entire backlog and all the tasks you had saved before, you’re in a much better position to decide what you want to focus on for the following week. This is because you have a much better overview of the entire backlog which is the opposite way of deciding to schedule a task right off the bat. Time blocking tasks as they come in is a poor decision because you’re not considering other opportunities or commitments. 

Let’s use grocery shopping as a metaphor to elaborate this. When you go to a grocery market with a clear shopping list prepared in advance, you’re more likely to do a smarter job. If you do not prepare a shopping list in advance, you’ll probably be spending your money impulsively, and will end up forgetting to buy the right goods.  The same is true for planning your week. If you go through a review process to cherry pick the wildly important tasks, you’ll begin your week with a clear and smart agenda.

Watch out for planning fallacy

However, if you impulsively time block your tasks as they come in, you’ll either must bear the opportunity cost for the more important tasks that could have been done or fall into the planning fallacy. Planning fallacy is more likely to happen when you decide to schedule your tasks one by one as they come in as opposed to reviewing the entire lot before deciding what to do.

It must be noted, however, that you cannot set your time blocks in advance, and expect that everything must go 100% according to the plan. As mentioned before, the idea here is to create an anchor plan. Of course, unavoidable interruptions happen, and priorities can shift during the week. You should do your best effort to shape your future but be flexible to adjust when you must. 

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