In mid-2017 I came across this delightfully written article by Laura Vanderkam. It was titled the ‘Busy Person’s Lies’. As a working mom, I was very curious to know exactly what she meant by the term lies and was keen to see if this would benefit me. I mean, I was exhausted by the end of the day and had hardly any work to show for the efforts I was putting into my routine! And that’s the first time I came across the term, Time Blocking. This is an integral part of time management that helped streamline my day, week and month.
Suffice to say, it has changed my life.
Sounds rather sweeping, doesn’t it? But it’s true! In the article, she mentions how she tracked various working women with kids who managed to head senior positions at their respective jobs. She also included women who volunteered their time outside the home and tracked their efforts at effective time management.
Vanderkam’s principle was simple:
- Track how many minutes/hours make up your waking day. She did this over a 12-month period.
- Analyse exactly what makes up each of those hours.
The results were surprising, to put it mildly. I won’t go into too much detail here since that article does a fabulous job of breaking it down.
But I will talk about a simple way to implement this in your own life. The post today talks specifically about blogging but it can be extrapolated to any field: Writing, Creative work, Dancing, Singing. The point is to keep the principles in mind and apply them accordingly. I’ll first refer to my blogging schedules and then explain how time blocking helps me achieve these things.
Are you ready?
Use a Planner/ Journal
Laura Vanderkam uses a spreadsheet. I use a paper and pen planner. It’s easier for me to keep track of tasks if I actually write them down by hand. At first, I tried to create an excel sheet and enter in all the data but that became too confusing. Instead I found the Bullet Journal method ideal for planning and prioritising tasks.
In a usual day, what are the tasks you need to perform? Categorise them into 4 broad headings:
Work (Depending on whether you work from home or outside)
Chores around the home
Time for the self (Reading/Workout/Watching TV/ Scrolling through social media)
Once done, list the tasks against each in a drop down column. Bullet points are great because they give you clarity on how many tasks you actually have in a single day.
Under ‘Blogging’ for example, if you only blog once a week, like I do, one day will be dedicated to writing the blog post. The rest of the week can be spent on:
- Social media promotion
- Engagement with readers
- Responding to e-mails
- Troubleshooting website-related issues
- Joining blog link ups
- Working on a social media/blogging strategy
- Coming up with resources for your subscribers
It can take a while for you to find that groove but pretty soon, you’ll be doing it on auto-pilot.
Also Read: 5 Simple Tips for Working from Home
Break down tasks by day/week//month
At the beginning of the week (usually Sunday nights), I plan out what I need to do.
Daily: I start with the day ahead, Monday. I jot down all the to-do tasks and notes on my list. This gives me a visual mind map for the day ahead. Doing this just before bed helps me to organise my head and get into the right space for work the next day.
Weekly: I then jot down important tasks for the week and categorise them broadly into 3: Urgent/ Important/ Can be done. Can the job wait till next week? It goes into the last slot. Does it need to be done as soon as possible? It goes into the first slot. Is it paid work for a client? It goes into the second slot.
Simple, isn’t it?
Monthly: This is kind of perfect because I get an overview of 30 days and how much I want to invest in each focus area. If I decide to write 4 blog posts a month, I plan the ideas ahead. If I know there are days when I have engagements outside, I move the posts around to accommodate the schedule. For example, this post was supposed to go up on Monday this week, but thanks to a number of extenuating circumstances, I’ve had to push it to Thursday.
If you are a food blogger, for instance, you may want to track important seasons and the kind of foods that do well in each month. This is also dependent on festive occasions and celebrations. See why a planner works?
A post I highly recommend if you are in this niche is this one by Nandita Iyer: the creator of the hugely popular food blog, Saffron Trail: How to plan your food blog editorial calendar for the whole year!
Of course, I am a planner by compulsion, so this tends to come easily to me. But that doesn’t mean it’s hard. Trust me. I love the Bullet journal video by the original creator, Ryder, for its simplicity and elegance. It’s just a very easy task organiser and, given my limited artistic skills, kind of perfect for how to organise my time.
How I use Time Blocking to get things done
Time blocking sounds like a very fancy term but it literally means just that: Blocks of time. It’s easier to break it down into measurable slots such as 20-minute or half-hour blocks and figure out what you’re doing in that time.
1. Figure out time wasters
So, the first thing you need to do is track a week of your schedule. Observe where you tend to waste time and where you are optimising it. Do you log on to Facebook to ‘just check one thing’ and find yourself going down a rabbit hole for 2 hours? Do you tend to pick up the phone at each notification sound and then end up swiping through the various Whatsapp messages wondering which video made it to your phone? Or perhaps you thought of reading ‘that one article’ and found that you spent over 45 minutes reading ‘related articles’?
Sounds familiar? I thought so. Don’t fret. This is a tough habit to break but it can be done. So, like I said, mark the minutes down in the notebook for each day.
*Number of minutes spent on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest (insert your favourite social media here)
See how many minutes you can shave off each session. Start by setting a timer and logging out of Facebook once 15 minutes are up. Do this regularly until it becomes a habit.
2. Commit to the Pomodoro Technique
I cannot emphasise this enough. If you can stick with a task, any task, for 25 minutes, you will find that your creativity grows and your productivity sky rockets. If you take a break to ‘just check Facebook’, your mind wanders and your focus plummets. Getting back on the work horse is nigh impossible. Set a timer and get to work. Don’t budge from your task for 25 minutes.
At the end of it, take a 5-minute break and stretch. Do not check social media or e-mail at this time. Just take a break.
Distractions can include:
*Multiple tabs open in a browser
Turn them off. Get work done.
3. Set short time-blocks for social media
If you are an active blogger with a presence on multiple social media platforms, it can get crazy to manage everything and not lose your mind. Set exactly 10 minutes at a time for any social media platform. Log into one, work on promoting your content, connecting with readers, checking notifications and then log out.
This is important: LOG OUT of the network. Re-enter the password each time you have to access it. This greatly reduces the impulse to check the notifications every 3 minutes.
I don’t have the Facebook app, the Messenger app or the Twitter app on my phone. But I do have 12 other important blogging-related apps. More on that in another post.
4. Don’t be always available
Instant gratification today gives people the impression that if a message has been sent, it must be acknowledged instantly. What’s worse is messages are now sent on multiple platforms if one doesn’t get a response! This is harmful.
If it is urgent, a phone call will do the job much better. If not, the task can wait till the next day. Have clear cut-off times from work. Separate the work day from the off-time you owe yourself. Block time for the family and stick to it.
5. Give yourself time to unwind
As much as work is important, it is equally crucial that you take time for yourself. Be it a regular workout, a good book to read, a movie you want to watch with the family, these help the mind de-stress. Social media would have us believe that if we aren’t up to date with every bit of news as it unfolds, we are missing out on something.
I can guarantee that the news is not going anywhere. You will get to it when you get to it. Be selfish with your personal down time. Time blocking works miracles here too. Think of it as a time when you get into a jacuzzi and relax. You don’t think of anything else but the water and how good it feels, right?
Make time for yourself. You’ve earned it.
So, do you think you have it in you to implement time blocking?
Go on and give it a try and let me know!
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