What does your typical work day look like? Does your to-do list get hijacked by putting out fires, assisting others, and attending meetings? If your to-do list keeps getting longer, not shorter, you may benefit from approaching your tasks as if they are meetings.
“Oh, no, not another meeting!” you groan.
Let us explain.
Tasks Are Meetings for One
Why should you treat task time like meeting time? A meeting is a formalized way to reserve time with others to collaborate on work projects and get things done. You can also reserve time with yourself to attend to the items that you need to accomplish. This is called time blocking.
Time blocking is blocking off or reserving time on your calendar for a specific task. As with a meeting, you determine the time, place, and agenda of what you will do, and you stay focused on the task to respect your own time, just as you would the time of others in a meeting.
Here’s an infographic comparing time blocking and meetings.
5 Principles to Make Time Blocking More Effective
So you’re ready to start time blocking, but you’re not sure how you’ll handle the inevitable interruptions from others that fill your days. Let these five principles guide you:
1. Clearly identify priorities.
Decide what key actions will help you move work forward. First, make a list of what you need to do this week. Then, prioritize tasks using Eisenhower’s Important/Urgent Principle, more recently popularized by Stephen Covey. Do you need to write a blog post for publication tomorrow? That’s both urgent and important; time block it for today. If something’s not urgent but important, block a time to address it later. The real work here is identifying which of the four time boxes your work belongs in.
2. Protect your time.
Remove distractions. Set your time-blocked events on your calendar to “busy.” Turn off chat, email and other notifications. Hold your impulse to check email, chat applications and your phone. Don’t let “Fear of Missing Out” (FOMO) drive you. If someone approaches you in person with a non-urgent issue, tell them you’re tackling an important task and when you’ll be available again.
3. Know what works for you.
We now know that human brains cannot multitask in situations that require brainpower. However, some people may feel energized by switching up the types of tasks they do every 45-60 min, so that they spend some time writing, then some time planning, and so on. Figure out how you like to work and do what’s right for you.
4. Hold yourself accountable by sharing with others.
It might not be easy to stick to time blocking. Find an accountability partner or tell others what you’re planning to do. Every morning at Meeteor, we use a chat room to share what we accomplished the day before, our priorities for the new day, and what we still need from others to complete our tasks. It provides a sense of community and inspiration to work towards the same goals of making excellent meeting software to help our clients succeed. Even though no one is hovering over us to make sure we finish what we set out to do every day, it’s still helpful to set clear intentions.
Don’t overdo time blocking – planning every minute of your workday does not make you more productive and may make you feel overwhelmed. Leave buffer time for unexpected or urgent tasks. If tasks take more or less time than you think they will - fine! Your time blocking is not set in stone. You can adjust it as often as you want. In between tasks, allow yourself to breathe, take a walk, and recharge.
So what’s next?
Try time blocking for a week or two to find your own rhythms and patterns. Set aside a time every day or week to go through your tasks and time block those that need to get done. Check out online tools like Focuster or Plan, which are task managers designed to help you time block. You may need to “fight thru” some initial urges to quit until time blocking becomes second nature.
Habit changes do not happen overnight. Give yourself a chance to succeed. Even better, share these practices with others on your team and try them together. When everyone is practicing the art of time blocking, it may be easier to respect your own and everybody else’s time.
Have you or your organization implemented a time blocking system? What works? What doesn’t?