Time blocking in my first week back at work

This week just past was my first work week for 2021. 

I had a very productive week. 

Some of that can be attributed to the energy I had for getting back into it. I was a bit bored during the holidays and was keen to get back into my projects. 

But a decent chunk of my productivity I attribute to some time blocking hacks I had put in place towards the end of last year. 

You can find plenty of articles online on the topic of time blocking. Put simply, time blocking is about allocating specific blocks of time during the day to specific tasks. 

My time blocking is as follows: 

9am to 11am is writing time. The priority is writing content for the Student Health and Wellbeing Blog, our Self-Help Library and for our therapeutic programs.

11am to 3.30pm is for ‘work of the day’. During this time I focus on tasks that have specific upcoming deadlines. This week, it was primarily about preparing for presentations or teaching that I had coming up.  

3.30pm to 5.00pm is about communications. This is when I work through my emails and post content to social media accounts that I have or manage (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn). 

This three block system seemed to work very well this week. I was able to write around 5000 words, got three presentations almost ready and didn’t fall behind on email. 

Some of my previous efforts at time blocking weren’t so successful. In previous attempts, I tended to make the mistake of trying to carve my day up into too many blocks. I had days with 5+ blocks that became unwieldy and meant I was never allocating enough time on any given task to actually progress it meaningfully. It also meant I was unable to respond to work as it came in. 

The focus on writing for Block 1 gets me off to a productive and focused start for the day. Writing can be hard and if you don’t get momentum early in the day, you can sometimes struggle to get it later. For example, I’ve observed that if I start the day with emails, I tend to spend the rest of the day focusing on minutiae. Conversely, days that I start with writing typically see me making much more progress on bigger and more important projects. 

The time block pattern I have is also set up to sync better with my natural energy patterns. I am much better at doing complex and thoughtful work early in the day, and much better suited to simple quick wins in the afternoons, so finishing the day with email and social media works well. 

I use Outlook as my diary, so the time blocking looks a bit like this. 

For the ‘work of the day’ block I try to limit it to 3 tasks and I sometimes enter those tasks as calendar entries. Those 3 tasks reflect what is most pressing to be done. 

The ’work of the day’ slot is also used to be able to respond fairly immediately to new requests from colleagues, bosses, collaborators for things to be done. 

It is only early days for this method, but this first week of using it worked well, both in terms of organisation, but also in terms of me finishing the day feeling like I had progressed significantly on important areas of work. 

Moving forward I will probably try to refine the process as the busyness of work increases. For example, I will try to limit meetings to that middle block of the day, to protect writing and communication time. I might also change the amount of time allocated to each block depending on whether I have a lot of deadlines or time free to focus on writing. 

If this kind of system sounds interesting to you, I recommend you Google ‘time blocking’ and read a few ‘how-to’ posts and see whether the system might work for you. 

I’ll post again on it in the future as I use it in 2021 to help me be more productive.

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