Welcome to Practical Magic! A productivity and intentional living newsletter with quick, actionable tips to work less and build success on your terms.
Read time: 5 minutes
I know many people who avoid time-blocking because it feels too rigid. I want to offer another roadmap for all my free spirits out there who don’t want to be boxed in.
First, let’s all get on the same page – what is time-blocking?
Time-blocking is a method of scheduling your day where you break it up into blocks of time for specific tasks. The whole idea is that it helps you prioritize your to-do list, minimize distractions, and increase focus.
Time-blocking should make you feel more free, not less.
It’s not about creating blocks for every hour of your day. It’s about how you create blocks when you do.
I see it go wrong in a couple different ways (which I did myself and thus avoided time-blocking for years!).
Here are 6 pitfalls to avoid and how to fix them:
1. Underestimating how long each block should be.
When you’re constantly running over the time-block you set for your tasks, that’s going to feel stressful. You then write time-blocking off as ineffective.
Don’t blame time-blocking! The problem is that you’re underestimating how long it takes you to do things. (Totally normal!)
First, I highly recommend to track your time. When you know how long common tasks take you, it’s game-changing. You can price your offerings correctly, you can plan out your day with more free space, and you can confidently hire others to delegate that work.
But sometimes you are going to run into tasks where you don’t have experience (or maybe you’re not tracking your time yet).
Here’s a simple formula I use:
- Always double to triple your estimated time. Don’t overthink it! If you believe it’s going to take an hour, block out two to three.
We underestimate our time vs overestimate.
You’ll start to realize two things: 1) you don’t have time in your day to prioritize 10+ tasks, and 2) you will get much quicker and more accurate with your blocks.
2. Dedicating blocks for small tasks.
To get the most bang out of time-blocking, you do not want to schedule a bunch of 30-minute blocks. That tells me you’re likely using time-blocking for small and/or reactive tasks. Time-blocking is powerful when you use it for deep, high-impact work.
Time-blocks should be used for:
- Deep focus work that moves the needle (i.e. gets you closer to your big goals).
- Batching small tasks together and knocking them out in one swoop (ex: content creation, updating reports).
This means that in an 8-hour day, you shouldn’t have more than 2 or 3 time-blocks scheduled. It’s unlikely you will have the energy to do more deep work than that.
3. Not making time for reactive tasks.
In the HQ Alchemy world, reactive tasks = email, Slack (i.e. messaging), texts, or any other types of “pings” that this lovely modern world has created.
These pings are other people’s requests and priorities. The vast majority of the time this is not needle-moving work. It just feels productive and important because our brain is wired to feel good when we “complete” something, like sending a reply.
Regardless, responsiveness is important to customer experience. So how do you solve for this?
You need to schedule time in your day to batch these tasks together.
If you do not make time for it, you will end up reacting to these pings when they happen. Or “proactively” checking your inbox 5x per day.
I recommend scheduling three (and work your way to two) “check-ins” per day where you respond to all your requests.
When you read a request, take action doing the following: 1) respond, 2) archive/delete or delegate, or 3) schedule for later. When you get the hang of this, it will only take you about 5 to 15 minutes per check-in.
4. No down-time in between blocks.
Do you need to eat? Get coffee? See the light of day outside?
Your entire day should not be time-blocked.
I know some people who create calendar blocks for everything – their meditation and journaling time in the morning, their lunch break at exactly 12pm every day, the time they want to read their new book.
Absolutely no shame in that game! I’m all for whatever helps people make more time for themselves.
But we’re free spirits over here. We might want lunch at 12pm or we might get the urge to redecorate our office. Who is to know!?
The key is:
- Do not over-schedule your day. Leave time for decompressing after Zoom meetings, breaks after blocks of deep work, and maybe a walk or two for that Vitamin D.
- Do not schedule more than 2 to 3 important things each day. It is highly unlikely you will get to more than that if they are truly needle-moving activities. (Remember, we batch admin for another time.)
5. Not setting up systems to automatically protect your time.
If you do not protect your time, no one will know to respect it. People do not have bad intentions, they just have their own priorities they’re trying to meet.
If it isn’t automated, you will fall into old habits. (Like letting people schedule over your block for that “super important” meeting that has no agenda.)
There are many different ways you can create systems that protect your time.
Here are a few of my favorites:
- Choose your “meeting days” and update all your calendar scheduling links to only allow meetings on those days.
- Configure your scheduling link to prevent the ability to schedule meetings sooner than 3 – 5 days out.
- Choose your most important thing to do and BLOCK the time on your calendar so no one can schedule over it. Every day. Snooze notifications.
- Setup automated messages/texts that let people know you’re away or taking uninterrupted time. Communication is everything! Ease your mind so you don’t feel tempted to “just check-in for a minute.”
The key is that you have to take the “in-the-moment” decision out of the process so you’re not tempted by guilt, social pressure, or “emergencies.”
6. Not customizing your blocks for your unique patterns.
Lastly, we are all unique snowflakes (I don’t care who says differently!).
If you schedule a 3-hour block of time with the intention of working straight through, but typically take breaks every 30 minutes, that will not work for you.
You won’t stick to your blocks because you didn’t design your blocks around your energy patterns.
If you don’t feel like you know your energy patterns, I wrote another newsletter on that here. Once you have an idea, think of your day as blocks of high, moderate, and low energy.
You know yourself best! This is where your creativity should come into play. When do you work best?
Here’s a visual for how you can think of it:
You won’t get time-blocking perfect every time and it might take you a couple months to see it start working.
At the end of the day, time-blocking is about protecting your time for work that matters. How you design it is up to you!
Always in your corner,
If you implement any of these tips or learn something interesting, I’d love to hear from you! Just reply to this email or connect with me on socials.