Time Blocking: A Comprehensive Guide to Ultimate Productivity

By Seth ArBabian

SkedPal Founder

Time blocking is one of the best ways of turning good intentions into action. It's deceptively simple, however. The intention of this guide is to provide you with the best practices and research-based advice to get the maximum benefit.

Are you not happy with the progress, and momentum in your life?

You're probably here because you feel productive work is getting buried under constant emergencies as emails, social media and other interruptions are flying in too fast.   Do you feel you're contributing what you could? Perhaps, you feel a little overwhelmed (or a lot)? Sometimes, your workday is out of control and you are behind at work. Isn't it? Do you sometimes feel that you didn't accomplish anything today? Feeling stuck in a spin cycle heading downward toward burnout and stress? What about suffering the guilt from feeling like you didn't get nearly enough done? Does work-life balance sound impossible? Are you busy all day but rarely spend enough time with your loved ones?

If any of this sounds like you, you're in the right place!

The fact that you're reading this proves that you want to fulfill your desires and eliminate overwhelm. You want to enjoy productive days while keeping a healthy work-life balance. And, you want your life to give you all the good things that you deserve. YOU ARE INTERESTED IN SUCCESS, and that's a wonderful sign. It's the most important prerequisite, and you have it.

The fact that you are here also shows that you have the intelligence to look for the right tools that enable you in your journey towards success. You appreciate that you need the right tools, unlike many people who forget that there are tools to help them. You're here to learn more about the secrets of time blocking as a tool used by the highest performing people in the world. We are going to cover all the steps in making you more successful. And, you'll gain significant order in your chaotic workday and enjoy a refreshing feeling of confidence, and achievement. You'll feel more freedom, and more free time in your life because you're going to be more focused and clear in managing the time you have.

It's time to commit to change

Let's start with this thought that life is too short to be little. Start by committing yourself to change. You have had enough of procrastination, distractions, and getting stressed over deadlines. It's time to commit to change. We are going to see how from now on you can become a more productive person because the way you approach your day is going to change. Stick with us to learn the science behind how time blocking helps you work smarter and get more of what matters.

What is Time Blocking?

To understand time blocking, we first need to understand our perception of time. We think of time in a very relative and intangible way. Let's compare time with space for a moment. If you think of organizing physical stuff, people are usually good at learning to organize space even if they're disorganized. It's because space is so concrete and tangible. You can simply see the space and tell if you have more stuff than it fits. It's easy to say there is not enough room! But, we don't see time in the same way. It's intangible to us, and that's why we usually ask: where did the day go? Sometimes there are hours that feel like a day and sometimes it feels like a minute - depending on what you're doing.

to-do lists vs space management

A to-do list entices you to squeeze more tasks into your day. But, space is tangible, and you can easily tell there is no more room.

The definition

Time blocking is essentially an exercise in making your time more tangible by organizing your day in a series of time slots. This will make your day more like a limited space that can only fit a limited number of tasks. It’s unbelievable how we always think we can bite more than we can chew in a day. So, the first role of time blocking is to concretize time and make it more tangible. 

Let’s get back to our space analogy. When you have a limited space, you’re also conscious of what to keep in the space, and what to throw away. Once you start to see your time like space, you’ll start to realize you can’t do everything. There are only limited time slots in a day, and you want to give them to your wildly important tasks, things that move the needle for you.

Time blocking helps you budget your time

So, the second role of time blocking is to help you prioritize and budget your time for the right tasks. By dedicating a certain number of hours to just one task, you “block off” your time (and your mind) from everything else that is demanding your attention. If something is important to you, assign it to a slot and complete it. If not, kill it. Loose ends distract you from your main goals. 

Time blocking is one of the best ways of turning good intentions into action. It’s a simple exercise in segregating your day into various chunks of time that, if stuck to, helps you achieve your goals.

The Benefits of Time Blocking

It Keeps the Time Vampires Out

You know the ruthless people who feed off your time, always trying to get more. It could be your coworkers, clients, or customers who demand more than your better judgment says you should give. Time blocking helps you be very clear with yourself and others about your availability. When you don't have a set plan for your day, you're practically opening yourself up for interruptions. But, a skilled time blocker knows she has budgeted sufficient time for helping her coworkers, or customers at the appropriate times. So, she feels very comfortable to reply with offering a specific time with a pre-planned cap. "Let's talk at 3 PM. I'll have 15 minutes then to go over all your questions at once." You wouldn’t give away your money without careful consideration, so don’t give away your time.

If others refer to your calendar for your availability, time blocking is again a perfect way to explicitly indicate you're busy during certain hours. The word "block" has a double meaning: it reserves time for your tasks, and it stops others from being able to eat into it.

time blocking keeps time vampires out

Time blocking keeps time vampires out

It Beats Procrastination

Even if you do not have external time vampires, you still have your internal enemies: procrastination, bad mood, low energy, forgetfulness, etc. They’re far more difficult to overcome than saying no to others. We have all been struggling with delaying, avoiding, and procrastinating on tasks that matter to us. This has been the case for centuries. In fact, Greek philosophers called this Akrasia: the state of acting against your better judgment. It's when you know you should do an important task, and you do something else. It's a lack of self-control.

Nevertheless, research has shown this behavior can be improved through certain techniques. One of the techniques is to reduce the cognitive load of getting started with your work. When you want to start with a task, or you have just finished a task and need to move on to the next task, there is a mental energy demand that needs to decide what to do next. Time blocking significantly reduces this cognitive load as your next action is already preset.

If-then planning kills your procrastination.

Scientific research has shown that the best way to resist temptation and build good habits is to have an "if-then planning", a technique that is totally aligned with time blocking. Have you ever set your new year's resolution to lose weight, but it never happened? Research shows that if you set a specific plan like on Tuesday at 5 PM, you will be going to the gym, amazingly, you are up to 300% more likely to succeed! In one study, 91% of people who used this technique stuck to an exercise program. On the other hand, only 39% of non-planners managed to stick to the program.

The same is true with time blocking your tasks. When you set a specific time to start working on a task, your psyche is more prepared to get to work, and you're more likely to actually do the work.  You become mentally aware of the coming task and you are more likely to transition into this task with less friction. In some cases, you might even come up with ideas that improve your performance in doing the task.

The importance of commitment device

Additionally, you have created your 'commitment device' by time blocking on your calendar. A commitment device is a favorite tool psychologist use to overcome procrastination. So, committing yourself to the appointments you're making on your calendar - including the ones you make with yourself - will, in fact, beat procrastination.

It Reduces Overwhelm

Time blocking reduces the negative psychological impact of long to-do lists known as the Zeigarnik effect. The Zeigarnik effect is a psychological phenomenon describing a tendency to remember interrupted or incomplete tasks or events more easily than tasks that have been completed. This weighing of incomplete tasks on us can lead to stress and feeling of overwhelm. By time blocking, however, you have all of your important and high priority tasks secured and placed into specific time blocks. This is the same sense of security and calm when you have budgeted your money and you know your finances are under control. Time blocking is a kind of time budgeting. When you know you have allocated your core hours to your most important tasks, and all your priorities have a secure time block on your commitment device - i.e. your calendar, this will give you a sense of control and confidence.

Budget your time like money

Budgeting time reduces overwhelm

The other reason time blocking reduces overwhelm is that time blocking makes your plans significantly more realistic. Much of the stress is because of the due dates, and commitments. So, if you plan more realistically, you'll be in a much better position. Time blocking is a time-based approach to productivity. It's very difficult to plan based on a list of tasks to complete that take as long as they take. Time blocking requires you to carefully evaluate each task and estimate (or better overestimate) a duration for each task. And, if you can't estimate the duration of a task, it's a good sign the task is too long. It must be broken down into smaller sub-tasks. Forcing yourself to estimate task duration, and then allocating time blocks to each of those tasks makes you significantly more realistic in your plan.

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