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Time Blocking 101

One of the many changes I’ve made this year has been adding time blocking into my days. In my never-ending effort to increase my productivity and avoid wasting time I gave this a try. And I love it. I’ve had a few requests from people wanting me to share how time-blocking works for me so here you go. I’m going to share with you what I shared with the BookEnds Team.

    Time Blocking

Using simple time blocking sheets that I’ve created (or you can create your own), time blocking can quite simply change how you work, increase your productivity, and move you ahead to achieve all your goals in a bigger way.

I’ve searched the Internet for the perfect article to send you to explain time blocking, but in the end I couldn’t find one. So I decided to write it. Here is my explanation on the steps you need to take to successfully add time blocking to not just your workday, but your life.

    Step One: Establish Your #1 Goal

To successfully time block the very first thing you need to figure out is what you really want to achieve and I don’t mean that day or that week, I mean what’s your #1 goal for the year, or even for your life. It could be personal, it could be professional, but by determining your #1 goal you’re setting the stage for everything else you need to do, including your other goals. The truth is, by establishing what your #1 goal is you could possibly make your other goals moot since they all might lead to the same thing.

Suggestions (all writing related of course): Are you looking to make a certain level of income? Are you looking to write the book of your dreams? Is there a publisher you want to be published by? Do you want to earn the money you need for a new car or a trip? Are you hoping to become a bestselling author?

Knowing your goal will help you plan your days and the things you need to be doing, all in an effort to achieve that goal.

    Step Two: Give Up Multi-Tasking

In order to make this work every single one of us needs to finally admit we suck at multi-tasking. I used to think I was incredible at it. I could do five things at once while chewing gum. And then I came to the realization that the more I multi-tasked the less I got done or the less thought and care I was able to put into what I was doing.

To write this article I time-blocked one hour, which means I committed to nothing else for one hour. I shut off Slack notifications, I turned off my email, I even shut down all notifications on my phone (permanently), and I shut off the phone. For one hour I was committed to this and this alone. And I got it done.

If I hadn’t done all of that this article would likely have taken me all day. Multi-tasking would have left me distracted and unfocused. Every time a Slack alert popped up I would have turned away from what I was writing to glance at it. Even if I didn’t answer, that’s about five minutes of writing time I just lost. Why five minutes? In that glance I read it, I thought about it, then my eyes wandered around my desk. I might have even checked Slack for other notifications. When I finally came back to what I was writing I would have had to reread the preceding paragraph to see where I was, get back into the mindset of what I was writing, and try to remember what line of thought I was trying to get across. Easily five minutes wasted.

If you really want to commit to time blocking you need to commit to give up multi-tasking. It’s not effective and it needs to stop. New mantra maybe?

    Step Three: Plot Your High-Priority Tasks

This means going back to step #1 and knowing what your goal is. If your goal is to make $500,000 this year what do you need to do to make that happen? You probably need to sell books. How do you make that happen? You probably need to submit books? write books and possibly excel at your day job.

At the bottom of my time blocking sheets I have prioritized my high-priority tasks, those things that will lead the most quickly to achieving my goals. They have nothing to do with email, nothing to do with blog posts, and nothing to do with social media. While those things are all a nice way to build our names, they are essentially low-priority duties that can wait until we either have time for them or we can block them for later in the day, when we tend to be the least productive.

For me, some of my high-priority tasks are editing client work so I can get it out on submission, following up on submissions with editors, getting submissions out (which includes writing my pitch letter and preparing my editor list), reviewing/negotiating contracts, and building my team so they are working at their highest potential. It’s why I made this article a priority in my day.

Other tasks I deem high-priority are those things that I’m avoiding. Anytime you’re avoiding something you need to take a close look at whether it’s holding you back. For me reviewing contracts is something I often avoid. It’s tedious and, frankly, I hate it, but without those contracts I’m not going to achieve my goals so contracts have to be blocked out in my high-priority time blocks.

I suggest you make a list of those tasks that you consider high-priority, a list you can refer to every week when you’re preparing your time blocking sheets so you know where to put what.

In addition to daily tasks, I have regular high-priority weekly tasks. These include: 30-60 minutes reviewing and updating my goals for the month or the year, reviewing the status of each of my clients, and following up on emails I don’t yet have answers to.

    Step Four: Create Your Time Blocks

Now it’s time! Time to actually sit down with the time blocking sheets and schedule your week. I would suggest you print out the sheets to do this, make it pretty with colored markets or pencils, and keep it in a place you’ll refer to it all the time.

I fill out my time blocking at the end of the day each Friday. It’s a great way for me to leave the office at the end of the week and it’s nice to have perspective on what the next week will bring.

The first thing I do when filling out my sheet is review my calendar and fill in any scheduled activities or events. That will eliminate over booking. I then fill out my non-negotiable items. For me, the first thing each morning is devoted to sorting email (and then shutting it off). Other nonnegotiable items are my workout, banking, my goal review, and my client review. Once I fill in all of those things I can start filling in other things I have to get done based on my high-priority list.

Here’s the key, I strongly recommend that all of your high-priority items are the first tasks you complete each day. This is likely when you are at your most productive, but it also allows you the freedom of being able to easily find places to add new tasks that might come up later (an offer, an email, a required phone call). If you keep your high-priority tasks until later in the day you might not be as productive, or you are more likely to have become distracted by all of the other things that have come up through the course of the day. The goal is to NOT let low-priority tasks get in the way of your high-priority tasks.

I believe the first 2-4 hours of your day should be devoted to high priority time block activities. That means no email, no Slack, no social media, no phone calls, no nothing until you’ve spent that time rewriting, editing, revising, writing query pitches, or whatever it is you need to do that points most directly to achieving that goal. For some it could mean researching agents.

    Step Five: Living by Time Blocks

Time blocking is not a perfect art. I work very hard to stick to it as closely as possible, but there are definitely times I’ve blocked too much time or not enough. The key is that you do what you said you’d do when you do it. If things shift a little, that’s fine. The other key for me, is that I leave openings throughout my week to finish other high priority items that might come up. Maybe Friday morning is free in case a client sent me something I didn’t expect.

Whatever you do, protect your time blocks vehemently, from yourself and from others. Before starting a time block I make sure I have a full glass of water, a cup of coffee, an empty bladder, and a snack. In other words, there is absolutely no reason I should be getting up from my desk until that time block is over. In fact, right now I’m dying of thirst because I was ill-prepared. No excuses. Here I sit.

The hardest thing you’ll need to learn to do is protect your time block from others. No slack, no email, no phone calls, no last-minute meetings. That revision you time-blocked is your meeting and, frankly, the most important thing you can and should be doing. You don’t give in to someone else and their desire for a meeting or a phone call at that time. You’re already booked. No matter how important you think the meeting is, you need to schedule it for another time. I will tell you right now, this is absolutely, #1, the most important thing you need to be doing. If you don’t stick to this, time blocking will not work for you.

Time blocking isn’t perfect for me yet. I’m still learning and honing my skills. I’m still trying to figure out what to do when I have empty time in my blocks or which tasks should be high-priority or low-priority. That being said, I think if you really embrace time blocking you’ll see a significant difference in your productivity and, therefore, your success.

Happy time blocking!

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8 comments

  1. I was lucky: I was raised in a time blocking home. When I was young it was annoying. Why is grocery day always on a Thursday and why do we always have to go at 7 pm? Now that I’m older, juggling this family and book writing thing, I am grateful for the environment I was raised in.

    You nailed it with multi-tasking. Most of us suck at it and all of us deny it. How wonderful it would be if we simply accepted it and moved on. By the way, I’m one of the few who is great at it. 😉

    Time blocking constantly changes. For me, now that the kids are back in school, I use the first hour that I am up…..that lovely quiet hour…..to catch up on my blog reading. Afterwards, when things settled down a bit, I dive in to my current writing project.

    You have keyed on so many important things that I hope those who bounce around wondering why nothing is never complete will read and follow. It has worked for me through all these years and I see no reason to change.

    By the way, grocery night is now Friday at 4 pm. I’m a rebel.

    Excellent article. Thank You!

    1. While I time block for myself, extending it that far beyond work never dawned on me. I thank you. My family probably does not.

  2. Incorporating this into my life will definitely impact my writing. I have the tendency to let everything else distract me. I’ve been making more of an effort to ignore distractions and finish tasks. Time blocking is a more rigorous way to ensure this happens and that my highest prioritized tasks get my attention. Thanks!

  3. This all makes a lot of sense. I hate to think of the minutes and hours I waste in a week. I work harder than I need to and accomplish less than I should.

    Do you have your blocking sheets available to reproduce?

  4. I agree with Brian – time-blocking can help outside of work, too, especially if one is making time to write. If x, y, and z around the house are scheduled, its much easier to not feel guilty during your writing blocks. I also block off sleep, with which nothing else may interfere.

    It’s also easier to get kids to do chores if it is blocked in, the same time every day – we have a morning, after school, and evening ‘block’ for their routines and jobs. It helps corral the crazy.

    In fact, I’m probably much better at it at home than I am at work. This article reminded me how much it could help me professionally.

  5. This was quite eye-opening. We’ve been brainwashed into thinking multitasking is the way to go. I’m most interested in time blocking my “free” time to pursue my writing goals (my day job can take care of itself lol.) The challenge is my family who have no respect for my time. My husband doesn’t think twice about plopping down in the chair in my office to talk to me about something he deems important. My daughter might phone me five times per day (the other one never phones.) The hardest part will be putting my foot down about interruptions.

  6. I like your idea of time blocking. I’ve spent most of my life working as a pharmacist, and it’s a job of multi-tasking and prioritizing.

    You’ve inspired me to prioritize and time block with my writing time. Thanks!

  7. Last night before bed I planned my regular working week “block” schedule. Looking forward to giving it a shot in two weeks after we return from holidays.

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