Learning how to schedule your day for maximum productivity can make a world of difference for even the most experienced project manager.
Of all the productivity practices and systems, time blocking has become a popular choice among professionals of all stripes. It's reported that Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk uses a time-blocking schedule to organize his daily activities. As one of the busiest yet most productive people on earth, that's a solid endorsement for combining time blocking and project management.
So, what is time blocking, and how can you use time blocking software to more effectively schedule and manage tasks within projects? Read on to learn more about the benefits of time blocking and discover how to use online project time tracking.
What is time blocking?
Time blocking is a simple yet powerful approach to scheduling activities and tasks that helps block distractions, boost focus and improve productivity. There are different ways to adapt time blocking to your busy schedule.
With a time blocking schedule, each task, activity, or day is outlined, planned, and executed in a focused, distraction-free "sprint." You can use time blocking to group specific types of tasks together. Here is a time blocking example:
- 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. – Reply to the emails and messages received while out of hours
- 10:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. – Make client calls for the day
- 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. – Campaign work
- 4:45 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. – Admin
Another type of time blocking can involve marking out days of the week for specific duties. While some professionals may choose to have "no meetings days," you may decide to segment your week in other ways.
For example: Mondays are creative days, Tuesdays are admin days, Wednesdays are client meetings/offsite days, and so on.
Different types of time blocking
Here is a brief list of time blocking variations that you can choose from:
Day theming is a time blocking method in which entire days are allocated to completing a specific task. By dedicating a full day to a particular work area, you can organize your workflows and complete tasks that need your attention.
For example, if you're running paid online advertising campaigns and want to utilize day theming, a sample workweek may look like this:
- Monday: Outline the campaign budget, goal, and overall vision
- Tuesday: Review all older campaigns to find the best- and worst-performing activities
- Wednesday: Review the strengths and weaknesses of available advertising platforms and finalize the ones to use for the campaign
- Thursday: Engage with cross-functional teams to conceptualize and create campaign assets, including images and videos
- Friday: Complete the campaign launch checklist, check if everything is going according to the overall campaign plan, and make course corrections as required
If multiple work areas demand your time, then day theming could be a good option. It also saves you lots of time in planning and helps you focus on getting things done.
Timeboxing is another variant of time blocking. A timebox is when a certain time limit is allocated for the completion of an activity. In Agile methodology, significant planning and estimation are done to minimize project risk. The intention of a timebox in Agile is to ensure that the designated deliverable is completed in the given timeframe.
It involves allocating a certain number of hours or days to an activity within a project and assigning different tasks to the final deliverable. Teams can avoid spending time on unnecessary tasks and work towards completing their deliverables.
Task batching is a popular way of managing time in which similar tasks are done together. It works best for similar tasks that can be time-consuming when done independently. However, when teams club these tasks together, they can complete them quickly.
For example, social media marketers may create content when they find the time. As a result, much of the content creation work may be scattered throughout the week. When the task batching technique is used, creating content will look like this:
- Creating all social media images in a three-hour time slot using graphic design software
- Writing all post captions for the week in one sitting
- Hashtags for the entire week of social media posts will be finalized together
Apart from being an extremely productive way to manage work, teams also spend minimum time on decision-making as the work is pre-planned. When you add batches of work to your calendar, everything gets done.
Why should you consider time blocking?
When different demands are competing for your time and attention, it is crucial to manage your schedule before it overpowers you.
Here is a list of situations in which teams should consider time blocking to organize their schedule and get things done:
- Project deadlines are frequently missed
- The number of tasks and responsibilities seems too much to manage
- Answering emails gets prioritized over actively getting work done
- Meetings take time away from your schedule, leaving little time to work
- You’re getting lost in the operational details and losing track of the overall direction
- You want to get more done in the available time
- You want to try out an effective time management technique
Benefits of time blocking
Managing time is critical to business success. Think about this: how many times throughout the day do you find yourself mentally engaged on a particular task? Are you often interrupted by an email alert or a Slack notification?
Every time that happens, it takes an average of 23 minutes to get back on track with what you were doing. Not exactly the definition of efficiency. Though time blocking seems to be an easy concept, regularly practicing it can have a profound impact on your work and productivity.
When teams adopt time blocking methods, they automatically become clear on why they are doing so. They will start prioritizing their deliverables to assign time to each one.
If they need to cut down on meetings or time spent answering emails, they will allocate a specific time for these activities in their schedule. Bigger chunks of time can be devoted to urgent and important activities. Prioritization will become an organic part of the time blocking process.
Did you know that the attention span of humans is lower than that of a goldfish? While goldfish can focus on one thing for nine seconds before getting distracted, humans can only focus for a measly 8.25 seconds! So, how can you increase concentration to get better results?
Do one thing at a time. Focusing all your mental energy on a single task produces phenomenal results. Since you're not stretching your focus and energy, this task gets all your time and attention.
Your performance takes a sharp nosedive every time you try to focus on more than one task. Recent research confirms that performance and multitasking are inversely proportional.
Cut out the busywork
Time blocking helps cut out the unnecessary busywork that teams may unintentionally indulge in.
Dwight Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States, once said: "I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent."
By using the Eisenhower matrix proposed by Stephen Covey, teams can eliminate time-wasting activities and make space for the important work they need to get done. For example:
- Important and urgent: Complete tasks that come with a deadline or adverse consequences of not completing them, such as a client project or responding to an important email
- Important but not urgent: Schedule activities that come without a deadline, such as strategic project planning
- Urgent but not important: Delegate anything that’s not urgent and important, such as scheduling tasks
- Not urgent and not important: Avoid distracting activities, such as endless scrolling on social media
Manage your time intentionally
Humans are known to be bad at estimating how much time a specific task requires to be completed.
The planning fallacy, proposed by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in 1979, states that humans have a tendency to underestimate the time, costs, and risks of specific tasks while overestimating the benefits.
Time blocking is an effective solution for this. It forces teams to get intentional about their finite time while confronting their priorities.
Replace to-do lists, if that’s your thing
To-do lists are an effective tool for teams to monitor pending tasks but are not so great at motivating them.
Besides being vague and lengthy at times, it’s too easy for to-be-done tasks to get rolled over to the next day’s list. To-do lists don’t help you prioritize important tasks, either.
However, time blocking isn’t so complicated. It helps you prioritize and connect the incomplete tasks with the bigger picture. Teams can replace to-do lists and use time blocking to organize their work and complete their deliverables.
Disadvantages of time blocking
While time blocking as a time management method sounds great, it may not be a practical approach for everyone. Here’s why time blocking isn’t always suitable:
Hard to estimate time
Some positions have responsibilities in which time estimation may not be possible — they’re more complex or have a different work design every day.
For example, an emergency room doctor can’t plan their day in advance, as their work is reactionary. Likewise, a customer care specialist who typically deals with different customers and issues every day cant be a time-blocking proponent.
Teams work on different schedules
Time blocking may not work well for dispersed teams working across different time zones. With different working schedules, they wouldn't be able to collaborate within a single time block.
How do I create a time-blocking schedule?
Creating a time-blocking schedule is pretty straightforward. Learn how to time block by following these simple steps:
Be clear on the ‘why’
Take some time to clarify ‘why’ you are considering time blocking. Is it to spend less time on emails? Or do you want to make your team more productive?
If the team is clear on what they care about the most, they will be able to connect the actual tasks to the bigger picture.
Identify what you need early
The importance of identifying key resources cannot be overstated. First, figure out what you need to complete a pending task, be that supplies, time, or other team members.
So, for example, if you need a whiteboard, markers, or a pack of sticky notes for a specific task, get it before you start.
Make a list of all the tasks
Before prioritizing, you need to lay out all the tasks that require your attention. Make a list of all your tasks for the upcoming work week. Remember to include any team meetings and administrative tasks, such as attending to your inbox.
Estimate how much time to allocate to each task
To start time blocking, you need to have a rough estimate of how long each task takes. Remember, this can be refined as you progress.
For an initial assessment, try to be as accurate as possible and account for the time you usually waste or spend on distractions.
Factor in some flexible time
Plan for any unexpected events and surprises. While it would be nice to schedule every minute of our day perfectly for maximum efficiency, the reality is that life may throw us a curveball.
Implement your time blocks
Setting alarms to alert you at the end of a designated sprint can keep you on track with your time blocks.
Group your meetings
Remember what we said about clubbing together and doing similar tasks at the same time? Apply this approach to all your meetings.
Even switching between tasks takes time. Teams can focus on doing more meaningful and productive work by bunching all meetings together.
How to time block and schedule your day for maximum productivity
When combined with the right work management platform, a time-blocking schedule can help you make the most of every day.
Since the day is divided into specific blocks of time, only the assigned activities are done. There are no open-ended time slots during that day.
Each time slot is planned and spoken for in advance. Teams start their day well aware of what they will be working on. Make sure that there is a weekly review to ensure that:
- Work is properly tracked
- New responsibilities are built into upcoming time blocks
Once this is done, minimize all distractions so that the team is able to work towards the implementation of their pre-scheduled time blocked weeks.
Time blocking tips to remember
The concept of time blocking may seem simple, but it can be very effective with the help of these time blocking tips:
Discover when you're most productive
Time blocks can be highly productive, but personalizing them to your preferences can make them even more effective.
Some people may do their most productive work by waking up early, while others may thrive at night. Identifying the time of day you're most productive can help. If you're most attentive early in the morning, schedule the most important tasks for that time.
Discover when you procrastinate
88% of people have a habit of procrastinating daily. That's a significant chunk of people who avoid doing what they need to do!
Find the time during the day when you tend to get distracted from your work and avoid scheduling any tasks at that time. Go with your natural flow by planning for some lost time!
Time blocking is a flexible task management technique that doesn't have a one-size-fits-all approach.
It is essential to try out different variations to see which one works for you and your team. Make sure to minimize distractions, take team feedback, and pivot as required.
Personal time matters!
66% of working professionals admit that they do not have a good work-life balance. What’s more, 77% of employees say they've experienced burnout in one of their jobs.
With an 'always on' digital life, technology has made us available for work 24/7. People spend more than ten hours looking at screens every day, so carving out time for ourselves and our families has become more important than ever.
To regain control of your schedule, it is essential to focus on what truly matters both at work and in your personal life. With time blocking, you can set time aside for personal activities. A well-balanced work week with adequate downtime built-in can help you become more productive and have a higher impact at work.
Why time blocking and project management go hand in hand
While time blocking can be an effective tool for any professional, it’s beneficial for project managers who oversee multiple team members while tackling various tasks and to-dos.
As a project manager, you must balance meeting and coordinating with your team and allowing them the space and time for creative work. This is why time blocking and project management match so well with each other.
Create a time-blocking schedule to designate specific days and times for meeting with your project team. This allows team members to fill in the rest of their weeks with blocks of distraction-free time where they can focus without fear of interruption.
As the PM, you can support the time-blocking strategy by not dropping in on team members amid a creative time block or calling for unexpected, unscheduled meetings.
Can time-blocking software increase productivity?
Distractions can be a huge time-suck. Using a time-blocking schedule can help boost productivity by keeping you and your team members more focused.
Time-blocking software can help you visualize and map out your daily, weekly, and monthly calendars for maximum efficiency. Time-blocking software can also help you refine your schedule by tracking how long it takes to complete specific tasks that you repeat regularly.
When you know how long it takes you to complete those tasks, you’ll be able to schedule them more effectively in the future. Additionally, with the right software in place, you can set sprint timers to know when to take a break or move to the next task.
How to use Wrike for time management and time blocking
With task management software such as Wrike, teams are able to organize their work, collaborate seamlessly, and deliver results. Say goodbye to traditional sticky notes with online to-do lists for the whole team.
Improve your team’s resource management by focusing on billable work hours with Wrike’s time tracking capabilities. Get complete project visibility by using the task list view, visual Gantt charts, and premade templates.
Use the online calendar to create balanced workloads, sync projects to the entire team’s calendar, and eliminate email follow-ups for everyone.
Put time blocking into action by starting a free Wrike trial to organize team workloads, prevent distractions, and deliver on-time results.