In the 1990s, my company instructed me to order a Day Timer. I felt like I had made it. This was incontrovertible evidence that I was management.
The Day Timer was, and is, an awesome corporate planner. A choice of page layouts and form factors. A range of covers, including luxury leather. In the same vein as a filofax, I could customise what was in my daily carry, and what lived at home base (or my desk, as some people called it.)
My favoured layout was 2 page per day. The left hand side had a section for appointments and a task list. The right hand, a journal section - broken into six minute segments. Now - that’s productivity! Do everything in 6 minute blocks.
I was timeblocking a long time before it gained a hashtag.
These days - my timeblocking is done digitally. Just as with Day Timer, there are endless variations that I can use. Do a search for calendar apps - there are tonnes of them. The mandatory process is the same - agonise for hours over which tool/layout is best, and treat yourself to a new cover (app) every now and then. In fact, block some time in your schedule to pick your time blocking tool. Honestly, is there no end to the ways that I can procrastinate?
As with all these things, the choice of tool should be secondary. A blank piece of paper and a pencil will work just as well.
- Decide your start time. There’s no point in blocking from 6-7 for writing if you don’t get up until 0730.
- Block off time for lunch. Skipping lunch may seem a good idea; it isn’t.
- Put in your appointments. You need to work around these.
- Put in your finish time. I mean it. A hard stop. Leave the time open, and before you know it, you’re watching TV, reading your e-mail and ignoring your partner all at the same time. I’m terrible for this.
- Sit back and look. I am constantly amazed by how little time is left. That feels bad - but actually, it’s good. It forces me to focus. What is the most important thing that I need to do today? Where can I put it?
- What to do with the remaining slots? Put in 30 minutes for e-mail and messages? How about scheduling ten minutes to call someone?
- Empty slots are OK. Having just one thing is OK. You’ll end up doing more - but perhaps count those as bonuses.
Timeblocking is ostensibly about planning your time. It’s not. Life abhors plans and will sabotage them instantly.
Timeblocking is about prioritising. It’s about making sure that you make time to do the most important thing on your list, rather than the easiest thing on your list. Plans change fast, and my actual day seldom resembles my planned day - but the process of working out what is important has a tangible benefit.
The scarcity of time reminds me that life is short.
You can spend the next two hours decorating your planner layout, or customising your calendar view if you want - why not? But is it the most important thing you need to do today? Or, is that report that you have been avoiding actually the thing you should be doing?
Sure, there are days when I tear through tasks, and get loads done. But there are others, where, without timeblocking, a whole day will pass in a busy blur, without me actually doing anything important.
Here’s a #pro-tip for you. Timeblock the morning, the previous evening. That way, you hit the day running.
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