Do you ever wake up in the morning and look at the list of things you need to do and instantly feel helpless to the demands of your time? I felt like that, too, until I learned about time-blocking like a boss. Effective time management is not only about adding things to your calendar…it’s about mindset, energy, and strategy. Here are my tried and true time management tips you need to know.
We have things that we can control in all areas of life and some things that we cannot control. The secret is to acknowledge this fact and allow space for both factors to coexist. Time-blocking is a method of organizing your week and days such that what matters most to you is prioritized and protected, with room for inevitable disruptions. When we are realistic and strategic about our time, we can better manage stress and overwhelm.
Put first things first.
When we don’t set priorities, someone else will set them for us…and that’s not usually a positive thing! You may be thinking you’re one of the best multi-taskers around (hello, type A, enneagram 3’s!) Friend, this is an all-or-nothing mindset in disguise. When it comes to cognitive tasks, you’re not doing multiple things at once but rather rapidly switching- like flickering a light switch on and off. It takes a lot of brainpower to switch between activities that require different parts of your brain. This is why you are so darn tired and struggle with decision fatigue!
How time-blocking works
Simply put, time-blocking is a method of segmenting chunks of time on your calendar for a specific purpose or task. It’s a way to organize blocks of time for focused activities based on mental energy and types of tasks. If you struggle with “monkey brain,” time-blocking will help you set strategic rounds of focus to get more done in less time. The process isn’t complicated, but it takes some practice and awareness of your habits and tendencies.
Step 1: Brain dump
I recommend starting small so that you can get a quick win and build confidence. Begin with brain dumping only the activities for one day. There’s nothing fancy to this step- just set a timer for 5-10 minutes and write down everything that needs to be done without judgment. Then, go back through your list and add a realistic estimate for how much time is needed to complete each task.
Step 2: Group similar tasks
Your brain loves to work with patterns and rhythms. Grouping activities and tasks that require similar brain effort will not only save you from decision fatigue but will also energize and help you stay “in the zone.”
- Priority needs. These activities nourish your body, mind, and spirit, fueling you to be the best version of yourself every day – quiet time for prayer, meditation, journaling, exercise, movement, reading for pleasure, or creative hobbies.
- Deep work. Tasks that require heavy focus and creative or critical thinking include writing a blog post, creating a report or presentation, Bible study, schoolwork, and research.
- Repetitive work. These tasks don’t require as much mental energy or decision-making -such as data entry, checking email, chores around the house.
Step 3: Time-block it.
You will have some tasks that need to happen daily and some with more flexibility. Creating blocks of time for similar activities (and nothing else) increases the quality of the time, improves focus, and reduces stress and overwhelm. It doesn’t matter if the time block is 15 minutes or 4 hours. What’s important is that you protect your time and allocate time for what matters most on your calendar. Then, when you know all of those swarming tasks have a spot on your calendar, you can stop worrying about when and how they will get done!
Your schedule, your rules
Your time-blocking will likely look very different from mine – that’s the beauty of it. You get to decide what fits on the calendar and what does not. By grouping similar tasks and estimating time to complete them, you can rest easy knowing you do “have time” to accomplish what matters most that day. For example, I like to roll into my day. I block off the first 4 hours of my day for prayer, meditation, journaling, exercise, reading self-development books, and healthy and satisfying breakfast. Once I’ve filled my mind, body, and spiritual needs, I’m ready to focus on creative work. And in the afternoon, I work on repetitive work that doesn’t require much mental effort and energy.
Time-block like you budget money.
In some ways, time blocking is like a budget. Just like any respected money management plan teaches, every dollar needs a bucket. We don’t want money floating around without a purpose. Everything is pinned to a goal, even if it’s spending or discretionary money. It’s the same with our time. Anything essential for you to accomplish needs to have a spot on the calendar. If it’s not on the calendar, it’s not going to get done. So we have to look at our priorities again. And by doing this, we can keep our commitment to ourselves, our priorities, self-care, and goals. And it also helps us to alleviate procrastination and distraction.
If you want to stop living reactively and start time-blocking like a boss, here’s how:
- Brain dump and estimate time to complete each activity and task for the day or week.
- Group similar tasks based on the type and mental focus -Priority needs, deep work, repetitive work
- Block it on the calendar
- “Me” time and vacation are first
- “Deep work” when you’re most mentally alert and energize
- “Repetitive work” for the time of day when decision-making and critical thinking are more challenging.
- Theme days for errands, appointments, and projects
Disruption is an inevitable factor in our daily lives, but we seldom figure that into our schedule. Typically, you will be interrupted or distracted for about 25% of your workday. One best practice is to schedule only 75% of your available time each day. That way, you have a built-in margin for the unexpected and won’t be stressed to stay on schedule. And finally, set a start and stop time for your day. Consistency is a wonderful remedy for reactive living. Set expectations with those around you and communicate clearly your availability. Managing your time like a B O S S is a healthy boundary that benefits you and those around you.
Want to learn more about managing distractions? Check out this article here.