Best Year Ever: Think Ahead With Time Blocking

time blocking

It can be tempting to go about planning our goals this year the way that most people do—take out notebooks and calendars, make to-do lists of doom, and write out every single task that must be completed. Soon their sprawling list will have everything from creating a PowerPoint for a big presentation to cutting the lawn. This approach is just as jumbled as that junk drawer they probably listed for cleaning. The trouble is this: they’ve gotten lost in the list.

When everything is important, nothing is.

For 2023, let’s make a commitment to take a purposeful approach to conquer our to-dos and achieve our biggest goals. We’ve already discussed how to build our plan and create our success-list, and now we’re going to show you how to put those tools into action with a final skill: mastering the time block.

Time blocking is a method that treats your time like the precious resource that it is. Instead of allowing a to-do list to set the agenda of the day, time blocking means creating a schedule around what’s most important to you.


How To Time Block

First, you’re going to block your time in the following order of priority:

1. Time block your time off.

2. Time block your your 20 percent.

3. Time block your planning.

Time Block Your Time Off

Did the thought of planning vacation time ahead of your goals create a pang of guilt? It can feel strange de-prioritizing important work-related tasks, but setting aside time to reset and reenergize so we have the energy to power through to our goals is a key component to success.

A Harvard Review study also points out that with the right amount of planning and prioritizing, 94 percent of vacations can be beneficial in a productive way. Not only do you get the relaxation you need, but you have an improved outlook on the work ahead. Prioritize planning your time off so that you can be productive when it matters—and so that you have something look forward to.

Time Block Your 20 Percent

After you’ve planned your time off, now you want to block off time for your 20 percent. This is exactly how it sounds—you’re going to dedicate time to the actions that will put you on the path to your goals. Remember that when you need to tackle big goals, you have to spend time on what matters most and nothing else.

This is when all of we are tempted to resort to what we’re all mostly bad at—multitasking. In other words, if people think they’re doing their best work when working on more than one thing simultaneously—they are not. And it’s not just us who think so. Science shows that the human brain is set up to only tackle one task at a time. So, don’t fight nature! Keep focused on going small and building your success sequentially.

If you’ve read The ONE Thing, then you might remember that Gary and Jay recommend creating a time block for four hours a day. However, if you don’t have an entire four-hour chunk to spare, reduce the time of those blocks until they’re manageable. But make sure you’re working hard and smart during that block.

For example, we can all agree that Tesla CEO Elon Musk is a busy man. But how does he have so much time to invest in his impressive ventures? Simple. He time blocks. And each block is five minutes.

That’s it. Five minutes.

The amount of time you can dedicate to your 20 percent is up to you, but it might be helpful to work on your GPS and 411 so you can gain a realistic perspective on what you can produce.

Time Block Your Planning

If you want to win at staying on top of your routine, then the next thing you should do is set aside time to plan. Give yourself an hour to plan and/or review your monthly and annual goals to make sure that the prior areas of time blocking—your vacation time and your 20 percent—align with this final step.

Ask yourself the following: What needs to happen to be on track for your monthly goal, and then what needs to happen each month to be on track for accomplishing your annual goal? Your planning should ensure that your time is not being wasted, and all that you do follows that the goals that you set for the year in your GPS. Otherwise, why bother distracting yourself with anything else?

How To Protect Your Time Blocks

Although knowing how to time block is an effective way to approach success, many people still struggle with distractions. They think they can just knock-off an unimportant item on that big to-do list and it won’t hurt them. But the amount of effort, time, and literal cost it takes to get back to the task at hand is more than most think.

To treat our time well, we have to treat each block of time throughout the day differently. In other words, we have make sure our actions line up with our priorities. To defend your time blocks, try these four tips:

1. Exercise your right to say no to low-priority projects that come your way.

While your impulse to be a team player wants to kick in, remember that spreading yourself thin is not an admirable skill.

2. Communicate your limitations to your team and work with them to come up with solutions.

3. Make sure you’re in a space where you can focus.

Do your deep work in an empty office for a couple of hours. Leave a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the front door.

4. Give yourself permission to defend your time. Be a firm handler of your own time because it won’t be given back to you once it’s given away.

Time blocking is powerful skill to master. It will help you keep your priorities aligned with your actions, and your schedule, too. Cal Newport likens time blocking to a chess game: “…with blocks of work getting spread and sorted in such a way that projects big and small all seem to click into completion with (just enough) time to spare.” With this approach, you can be strategic about your time in a way that produces successful outcomes.

Most importantly, time blocking humanizes your professional time by accommodating your personal time. It makes sure that we treat our vacations or special occasions just as seriously as we do our hard work. Revitalizing these joyful moments breathes new life and perspective into our work and lives.

How has time blocking helped you reach a 20 percent goal? Let us know on our Facebook page. And check out our blog for other interesting research and articles.

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