Last week, we talked about managing your to-do list. In that post, I mentioned time blocking. This week, I wanted to share more about time blocking: why it’s helpful and how it can be a powerful tool for organizing and taking control of your day.
Why should we time-block?
We all know time is a finite resource, but most people don’t budget their time with the same precision as they budget their finances. Exhibit A: have you ever had Netflix ask, “are you still watching?” and wondered if you’ve really been watching that long? Or you’ve maybe gotten sucked into the social media doom scroll, and before you know it, an hour is gone. Minutes slip through our fingers as we bounce from one distraction to the next. I don’t know about you, but when I think about my answer to Mary Oliver’s question, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”, I think about those minutes forever lost.
Fortunately, there are life hacks. I’ve discovered that one of the best ways to maximize my minutes is to approach busy seasons with the superpower of time blocking.
Where to start time-blocking?
Some people view their calendars as a place to hold commitments and appointments. But if you only use your calendar this way, you might be over-scheduled. It is important to write down where you need to be, but it’s also essential to block off time to get things done. I think of it like this: if I’ve committed to go to lunch with a friend, it will take an hour. If my friend asks for a favor while we’re at lunch, I need to mentally quantify the number of hours it will take to get that favor done, and I will need to open my planner and block off that time before I commit to doing the favor.
If I want to write three blog posts this week, and each post requires two hours, I need to block off those six hours on my calendar. Otherwise, the hours fill themselves with minutia and sort-of-crises and suddenly I’m scrambling and stressing about everything—not just the blog posts.
In this way, a calendar acts as a gatekeeper for my time. Before committing to anything, I use my calendar to make sure I have time to prepare. If I’m asked to give a speech, and I want to spend four hours writing and polishing it, but I can’t find those four hours to prepare on my calendar, I will need to (regretfully) refuse the opportunity. When I add that preparation time to my calendar, it’s a firm commitment on my part. I will treat my prep time as an important meeting.
(Side note: this is another reason why a paper planner can be more powerful than a digital calendar. Digital time blocks are too easy to drag and drop, allowing me to push off my commitments and drag out the time on a project.)
A few more time-blocking tips to remember:
If you’re going to give time blocking a try, don’t forget prep time and travel time when you time block your commitments. It might seem silly to write “get dressed” or “driving” on your calendar but writing it out lets you see what time is free and plan accordingly.
Another caution: understand the power of a blank page. It can lure us in with a siren’s call of exciting potential, but white space is actually the quiet heroine of the moment. Blocks full of commitments and to-do’s can pile up, quite literally, (even color-coded blocks) if you let them! But the white space, the margin is equally necessary, as it gives us time to recharge, exercise our creativity, and employ the faculties of our bodies, hearts, souls, and minds in a different capacity.
So remember, it’s okay to leave blank spaces on your calendar—not every minute needs to be planned! Leaving margin on your calendar affords you valuable flexibility on those days when nothing goes according to plan. If every minute is scheduled, and you end up stuck in horrible traffic, your stress compounds, minute by minute, as you think about everything this traffic will leave undone. The stress is a downward spiral, as your thoughts may turn to dread: I‘ll never catch back up. Margin, or white space, acts as a buffer on these days. On better days, a buffer gives us opportunity to say yes to something fun, like a spontaneous coffee with a friend.
I designed our Day on One Page planner with time blocking in mind. While it has plenty of space for lists (you know I love lists!), having the thirty-minute time blocks on the page is so helpful when I’m planning out my days!
Do you have any time-blocking tips or ideas? Share them in the comments; I’d love to know what you think!