Time Blocking: How To Do More Work In Less Time

Written By Mike Bromley

Are you tired of feeling overwhelmed?

Do you often wonder how you can fit all of your urgent tasks into an already crowded schedule?

If you’re like most people, you have about 40 hours to do your work, and you aren’t coping effectively. A 2021 Indeed survey found that over 50% of workers are feeling burned out.

Thomas Edison once said, “time is really the only capital that any human being has.” The point he was making: you can invest time wisely or squander it.

One wise time investment is to use a technique like time blocking. It helps you work more proficiently and takes advantage of how most people produce their very best work; with focus and concentration.

Both Elon Musk and Jack Dorsey use time blocking to serve as CEOs of two companies at the same time—time blocking can help you achieve wondrous things.

This article introduces the main time blocking concepts and shows you how SavvyCal can streamline a time blocking work practice.

What is time blocking?

Time blocking (sometimes called time boxing) is a time management technique where you schedule chunks of time to work on specific tasks.

If you’re a software developer, you might time block the morning for writing code when you’re fresh and alert. After your lunch break, you could allocate a time block to debugging and schedule the day’s last time blocks for admin, meetings, and email processing.

During each time block, you work only on the task that you’ve planned and repel any other claim on your time.

Time blocking gives structure to your day and the freedom to focus on a task with total concentration. Conversely, an unstructured day fragments your work, making it harder to see each task on your to-do list through to completion.

An unstructured day is full of interruption and disarray, forcing you to react to events instead of working with purpose.

Here’s an illustration of how an unstructured day and a time-blocked one play out.

Time blocking illustration

Is time blocking effective?

Time blocking solves an efficiency problem you might not know you have.

While many think they’re super-efficient multitaskers, in reality, only a tiny minority can do it well.

A 2010 study found that most people’s performance degrades when they do two tasks at once. The study concluded that only 2.5% of the population are ‘supertaskers’ who can successfully work on two tasks simultaneously.

When people are multitasking, they feel they are working hard and operate under the false assumption that they’re getting more stuff done.

Allotting a time block for a task instead allows you to work on a task distraction-free and with focus. Cal Newport, a productivity writer, calls this type of working ‘deep work.’

Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time.

— Cal Newport

Distraction-free deep work helps to combat another productivity problem—work fragmentation.

If you take an unstructured approach to your day, your email inbox and telephone can end up dictating your schedule. When you react to every email alert or incoming phone call, it reduces your ability to focus on a task.

The University of California studied work fragmentation and found it took 23 minutes to refocus on a task following an interruption.

If you time block your day to focus on one task at a time, you should produce better quality work in a shorter period. You can always set aside time specifically for processing your inbox and returning phone calls.

What are the benefits of time blocking?

The main benefits of time blocking are:

A greater sense of control over your work. Time blocking forces you to understand everything you need to do and then schedule a time to see it through to completion.

Task batching of similar jobs. Some jobs require switching working modes, and others only take a short time to do. If you batch similar tasks together, you can tackle them in the same time block, which is a more efficient approach.

You can set themes for different workdays. Jack Dorsey runs two businesses (Twitter and Square) by day theming each workday. On Monday, he focuses on management, on Tuesday, its product development, Wednesday, its marketing, etc. He claims this disciplined routine helps him handle the extraordinary demands on his time.

Reduces context switching. Every time you switch focus between tasks, you reset your concentration. It takes a short time to get up to speed with the job you’ve changed to, lowering your productivity. When you add all the context-switching time parcels together, you’re potentially losing hours of productivity every week. Time blocking maintains your focus and helps you complete tasks faster.

How do I start time blocking?

1. Create a master task list

The first step in time blocking is to create a master task list of everything you need to do.

A popular productivity system — Getting Things Done (GTD) — advocates writing all of your tasks down because:

  • You know the full extent of your outstanding work.
  • Writing it down reduces the stress of trying to remember everything you need to do.

Next, categorize your tasks into those requiring deep or shallow work, and estimate how long it will take to complete each one.

(Estimating a task’s duration can be a little tricky. A known phenomenon called The Planning Fallacy proposes that people often underestimate how long a job will take them to complete. Try to remain objective with your time calculations, and add a 10-25% time buffer if you know you frequently take longer than planned.)

Next, process your list by batching shallow work items such as email, Slack communication time, and other general admin jobs.

If you don’t know the tasks you need to do yet, list down your usual duties so you can schedule a time block for anticipated work.

At this point, you can also assign tasks priorities and set deadlines for jobs that require them.

It is a detailed level of planning, but you should increase your amount of output once you’ve allocated tasks into time slots.

Keep your existing productivity system.

Time blocking doesn’t replace other productivity systems. If you use a digital task management system like Asana, or a simple pen and paper one like Analog, time blocking enhances their effectiveness.

The primary idea of time blocking is to book an appointment with yourself to do a specific task, and exclude all other distractions.

2. Decide if you’re a Manager or a Maker.

In his influential essay Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule, Paul Graham highlighted the difference in work patterns between those that manage and those that make.

“Makers” are workers whose roles require long uninterrupted periods of concentration to perform well. Writers, programmers, and similar vocations fall into this group.

“Managers” are people in senior positions (bosses) whose working day is broken into shorter time blocks. Tasks and duties change from hour to hour, and their day often follows a traditional appointment book.

3. Pick a time block app and plan your framework

There are no rules about which app you should use for time blocking, so pick one that works best for you.

A digital calendar works well. Google Calendar is free to use and also shows your appointments, reminders, and tasks. If your business operates outside of Google’s ecosystem, you can create one in any app with a calendar view, such as Outlook.

Time blocking framework illustration

(Source)

Analog solutions are also an option. Cal Newport prefers pen and paper for his daily planner. In his opinion, it is a low-friction method for time blocking, which is easily amended if priorities shift and your plan needs adjusting.

Time blocking manually

The way you plan your precise schedule will depend on whether you’re a manager or a maker. If you’re a maker, it’s best to schedule large blocks of time to focus on deep work. If you’re a manager, then you’ll likely have more obligations to structure your day around.

Time blocking tips

  • You should schedule the time blocks where you’ll work on your deep work tasks first. For most people, this will be in the morning, when you’re most alert and energized. But, if you’re a night owl, it’s OK to schedule your deep work for later in the day when you’ll have fewer interruptions.

  • Leave a little changeover time between tasks, so you can take a short break or prepare your resources for the next time block.

  • If you want to work uninterrupted, set boundaries with your co-workers and tell them not to contact you. If you explain what you are doing, you’ll hopefully find them respectful of your plans.

  • Reserve the last 20-30 minutes of each day for organizing and planning your time blocks for the next day. You can then start each day knowing what you need to do and launch right into productive work.

How to time block using SavvyCal

SavvyCal is the perfect app for preventing interruptions to your schedule when you need to plan a meeting - leaving you free to focus on work while improving your productivity.

With SavvyCal calendar integrations, someone can automatically schedule a meeting with you in the time block you’ve allocated to have your meetings.

Here’s how it works. Let’s assume you provide product demos to prospective customers, and you’ve determined the best time for these calls is a Monday afternoon.

Time blocks in SavvyCal

Create a time block for product demo meetings on your Calendar app, then set up a matching time block in SavvyCal.

To do this, go to SavvyCal’s availability settings and select Add a time block:

UI for adding a time block

Next, enter the name of the calendar event you wish to define as available for this preset:

UI for naming a new time block

Anywhere you have an event called “Calls” on your calendar, SavvyCal will mark it as available for someone to schedule a meeting with you hands-free.

UI for viewing time blocks in SavvyCal

Key Takeaways

  • Time blocking involves setting aside blocks of time to work on specific tasks.
  • Because most people cannot multitask well, this helps you focus more effectively when working on a single task.
  • Time blocking is perfect for those who need several hours to concentrate on a single task. It’s what Cal Newport calls ‘deep work.’
  • Time block your day in a calendar app or on paper, using time chunks that suit your Manager’s or Maker’s schedule.
  • You only have a limited amount of time to do your work. Everyone must make do with their 40 or so hours in a week. Time blocking helps you invest your working time wisely.

We recommend that you trial time blocking for a week, to see what difference it can make to your productivity. SavvyCal is a scheduling tool that helps two parties find the best time to meet, instantly. Get started for free today, then someone can schedule a meeting with you, at the time that works for you, in your time-blocking schedule.