Time blocking (or constructive scheduling) is a scheduling system whereby every minute is accounted for in your daily schedule.
It’s a step up from an organizational system like a todo list which only guarantees that you’ll know what tasks you need to accomplish, but not necessarily when you need to accomplish those tasks. Time blocking has both of those what/when requirements locked down.
Why does it work
Time blocking works because it solves some obvious problems such as procrastination, but it also helps diminish the effects of some of our subtle, but troublesome, tendencies that most of us probably aren’t familiar with — the most notable of which being a phenomenon described by Parkinson’s Law. Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”
This is why starting your tasks early isn’t the complete solution. If you have the rest of the day to work on something, it very well may end up taking you the rest of your day to complete it, when it could’ve only taken you a couple of hours to finish it. Time blocking doesn’t allow this to happen because you’re giving yourself a start and end time to allocate your efforts on any particular task.
What should I be tracking?
Everything. Well, if you’re a mostly disciplined person, then you really only need to track the tasks for which you only have an estimate of how long they will take. For instance, if you know you can eat lunch in an hour, and you eat lunch at the same time everyday, then you don’t really need to track a time block for lunch, because you’ll already know when to eat lunch and how long eating lunch will take you. Time blocking can only help you insofar as you are unsure of the time it takes to complete a task.
What are the downsides of time blocking?
Time blocking is tedious. You probably don’t have the same schedule everyday, maybe your tasks differ by the week, things inevitably change and now your time blocks are against your best interests, etc. Time blocking doesn’t take into account the uncertainties of life. The world will keep moving, whether it’s in your schedule or not.
This wouldn’t be a problem if you could time block your day or week in a couple of minutes. If such was the case, you could easily adjust your schedule to apologize for the time you lost due to forgetting your phone, your car battery dying, or even just you not having the energy to be productive.
Now if you’re a dot journal kind of person, then you may end up hating the practice of time blocking. However, there are ways to automate this organizational endeavor. If you’re a student, you might find TimeSort particularly helpful. It’s an app that can automatically populate your google calendar with all the tasks you need to get done. Your calendar events are all sorted in such a way that high priority, high time-commitment tasks are scheduled at the most optimal time. It can do all this in just a couple of seconds.
But if you’re a traditionalist who favors a pen and a field notebook, then time block away! No matter the mechanism by which you divide your day into productive timed chunks, you’ll find that doing so has a significant effect on your productivity.