Time Blocking, the other Time Management technique
Time Blocking, Tasks Grouping & Communication Batching
“Time Blocking” is most likely a technique that you are using without noticing it, like when you dedicate 1h30 for a yoga session or 45 minutes for a morning jog in the park. Especially if during this block of time, you don’t watch your smart phone, you don’t get interrupted and you make sure to focus all your attention in your practice. Blocking a period of time, like 90 minutes, for one activity is a proven way to get things done.
Working in Time Blocks, How-to?
- Make time for deliberate practice and deep work in your days. Think of the time of the day, when you feel creative to plan a block of deep creative work. Think of the time of the day, when you feel the more energized to plan a block of physical activity like walking, cycling or running.
- Define the duration of each block. How long can you sustain an activity with your full attention, zero interruptions and being 100% focus. For example, I hardly run more than 45 minutes on a morning jogging. I can not sustain more than 90 consecutive minutes of creative work.
- Organize intermittent isolation (time blocks) away of any noise or distraction… meaning to say that you smart phone has to be on Flight Mode and Silent mode. You need to find where and how you are the most creative and naturally in the flow. It is very personal and sometimes counterintuitive. For example, I write, stay focus and work well in a bar.
- Stay realistic. 4 to 5 hours a day of creative deep work is a lot. Don’t plan more than two blocks of deep work per half-day. Start small, make time for one or two blocks, focus on the quality of your work during each block, take a break, relax… Improving day after day, you may be able to sustain four hours of deep creative work. But you don’t need that much to get most of the benefits of being in the flow and working with your full attention.
- Take a break… go for a walk, move, go outside, take a coffee, talk with people, get your mind wandering and your legs moving. You will find it easier to get back in full focus after a short break. I like to take a walking break of 15 minutes between each 90-minute block of intense work.
Time Blocking, Why?
Sorry for the spoiler but multi-tasking just doesn’t work especially for deep work or activities that requires some meaningful attention. The good news is that almost nothing feels better that being in the flow or good work being complete. By focusing on one thing, you will get it well done and for good. You can get more things done, especially things that you won’t need to comeback on, to finish later or even to correct mistakes from being disturbed. The more focus, you will achieve, the better you will feel. Try it… you simply need to turn-off your smart phone for a block of 30, 60 or 90 minutes.
Group Tasks to Limit Context Switching
We happen to be as bad as multi-tasking as we are at switching from one context to another. Each time, we have to switch from one context to another, we lose our focus, most of our attention and thoughts. Stop playing at the game if you are sure to lose it. Change your game tactic to play smarter. Group similar tasks per day or half a day. By grouping administrative work during half a day in a week, you will get better work done and avoid postponing it. By taking a day for creative work, you will enjoy interruption-free and stress-free time to be fully immerse and dedicated to your project. Being 100% available for your team to talk in one-to-one conversations on a specific day, make it more meaningful and productive. I like to visualize my week around essential categories like Teaching, Creative, Research, Coordination or Administrative work. I will put myself in the right mindset, get into problem solving mood and tackle challenges with all my energy and possible focus. What’s essential especially for a manager is to control how you allocate your time and energy and don’t let interruptions, noises or outsiders take the control over your planning. You will be able to deliver solutions in time, if and only if you manage to stay in control of your time. Don’t feel good about being busy, feel good about getting the essential things done.
Social life, interactions and communication are vital, yet they prove being very time consuming activities, especially if spread thin over your days. The key idea is to adopt as much as possible an asynchronous way of communicating and sharing information. One simple way to keep your communication tasks under a relative control is to batch them. For example, I take 30 minutes to check my mailbox, read relevant messages and respond to the important ones preferably using templates to tackle repetitive answers. The idea is to define at what frequency you need to check your email box or direct messages and to dedicate a limited time for each. For example, you may need to check your email box every 4 hours and your direct messages every 6 hours. Now when you are batching messages, you are, of course, fully available to exchange a thread of messages. Being focused on this task helps again to give the right answer and helps to avoid never ending discussions, quiproquos or dead-ends just because you are doing something else while responding to a request.
Per project, you can define what is the right frequency of meetings, One-to-One conversations, email handling and direct messages. And then make time to batch these for more efficiency. I end-up realizing that there are almost no email, which can suffer from a 3-time a day checking of my mailbox — in the morning, at mid day and at the end of the afternoon. By tackling a batch of messages at once, I am making sure that I can provide relevant answers.
This article is directly connected to Time Boxing as well as work less but better with personal KAIZEN and how to manage your time with KANBAN. I also talk about these topics in the Blue Lotus Café Podcast.
For more on Personal Time Management, visit my webpage. — Christophe