But what about the important work? When does that get done? If you are always reacting to what is happening you can never really sit down and do the work that really matters. The work that absolutely, positively needs to get done and will have the biggest impact for you.
This type of work should be the most important thing you do all day every day. And it is. Just sometimes it does not get the proper attention it deserves.
So it gets pushed to the side and gets worked on when you have time – which sometimes is never or not enough. Or on that mystical day of the week – someday.
Instead of being reactive to completing your work what if you designed your day so that the important work got done first? The important work was given top priority. Total attention. Its the only thing that you did and you’d do it before you did anything else.
How much more productive would you be? How much successful would you be? How much more focused would you be? How much better would the quality of your work be? There is a simple but very effective method to accomplish all of this. To arrange your day so that it is the most effective and productive way to spend your time. It’s called Time Blocking.
THE DEFINITION OF TIME BLOCKING
For the purposes of this article time blocking is defined as setting aside a certain amount of time everyday to work on the most critical task of your job. During this time you are not to work on anything else but the task at hand. No checking email, taking phone calls or office chit-chat. You are laser focused on one thing and one thing only.
You should not be disturbed, interrupted or bothered with other things going on. This is your time to work, uninterrupted, on your most important thing.
It sounds deceptively simple – only work on one thing at a time. But in today’s world if you’re not “multi-tasking” people may think that you’re not doing enough. That you’re not working hard enough. That you should be able to juggle ten things at once and do them all in spectacular fashion.
But the brutal truth is that you can’t do it. At least not consistently. And the quality of the work that you will complete will be less than it should be. You’ll get distracted, off course and ultimately frustrated that you aren’t getting enough done with the time you are given.
Time blocking your day will help you do more with less! If you take the time to schedule your day so that you know what you are working and when you’ll be working on it your productivity will soar. Why is that?
WHY TIME BLOCKING WORKS
There are a couple of principles and quotes that help explain why time blocking is so effective and increases productivity. Let’s take a look.
Parkinson’s Law: this is the adage that says “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. So basically if you give a project a certain amount of time to get done, say two weeks, it will take two weeks to get done. But if you only gave it a week, miraculously, it would get done in a week.
Most people’s work expands to fill the time available for them to get it done. With time blocking you specify a predetermined amount of time to work on that task only. You are hyper focused on only one thing, one project, one job. You get into “the zone” or “the flow”.
By using time blocking then you are forcing yourself to condense the time period that is available to you to get your work done. You are making yourself get more done because that is all you are working on. Your focus is increased and by default, your productivity increases.
Pareto’s Principle: In one way or another we’ve all heard of this. Usually called the 80/20 rule it simply states “roughly 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the causes”. Or in other words 20% of what you do will produce 80% of your results.
When you think about it, it’s actually quite an amazing thing. So little (about 20%) of what we do actually matters and produce results yet we spend an exorbitant amount of time (about 80%!) on things that hardly produce anything! We use most of our time and energy on the insignificant. Time blocking takes that important 20 percent and prioritizes it so you get the most out of the work that you put in.
Quote from Alexander Graham Bell: “Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.” We’ve all heard this before. It takes the power of a magnifying glass to focus the sun’s rays to make it hot enough to start a fire. The same goes for your thoughts.
Concentration and focusing your thoughts on one task will always produce more quality work than if you are trying to do five projects at once. If you time block each project you can focus solely on one at a time and increase your productivity.
What is the common thread these principles and quote have? Concentration and focus on the important work will increase your productivity and quality of the work that you do. And the best way to accomplish this is by time blocking.
So how do you do it? How is planned out? How do you know what to work on? You time block some time to plan out your day, week, month and year.
HOW TO EFFECTIVELY PLAN AND IMPLEMENT YOUR TIME BLOCKING SCHEDULE
To get the most out of the is productivity tool you have to have a plan. You could just randomly start time blocking your activities and work day but if you haven’t identified what to do, how to do it, when to do, how long and where you are going to be working then you won’t be getting the most out of your efforts.
Taking just an hour out of your whole week to plan your schedule for maximum efficiency will set you up for success. You’ll be more focused, have better concentration and know exactly what to do and when to do it. So where do you start? A Sunday night planning session.
Spend one hour to take inventory of what you need to get done. Basically do a brain dump of all the work that you have been thinking about. Any projects, follow up, prospecting time, whatever you need to do for your job to get the most important work done.
You can write it down on a notepad or perform a mind map. The point of the exercise is to clear your mind so that you don’t have something in there that is distracting you. You want your mind clear of what needs to be done so you can see what’s the most important thing you need to work on.
So once you have your list of work you need to go through it and identify what parts of your job are the most important. What activities generate the most business for you? What activity impacts the bottom line the most? What activity makes you the most money?
For every type of job the answer is going to be different. For example, a sales job will probably a bigger focus on prospecting and follow up. A creative job will spend more time on designing a project. An artist will spend more time creating art. Whatever your job may be you have to identify what it is the most important thing you can do.
Once you know what you should be doing and why you are doing it you’re ready to time block your day, week and month. I like to have an actual desk calendar to write on but you can certainly use any number of online tools to create your schedule.
But before you start time blocking your work do yourself a favor and time block a couple of other activities: planning and time off. That’s right. Time block some time to do some weekly planning and review. Also, schedule in some time off or vacations. Life isn’t all about work so make sure that you take time to relax and enjoy life. Work will be there when you get back!
Now that you have identified what is most important time block it! Block off a portion of your day to do the thing that will have the greatest impact on your business. Ideally you should block off a minimum of 2 hours time devote solely to this activity. Two hours is the minimum too! If it is possible you should spend four hours a day on your most important thing.
It seems like a lot of time to spend on one task every day. And it is. But it has to be! You identified this activity as the number one thing that you have to get done every day. The number one thing that will make you the most money or make everything else at your job easier. So logically, scheduling time every day to do that thing makes the most sense for you.
TIME BLOCKING RULES AND EXPECTATIONS
During your time block you are not to be disturbed, interrupted or distracted. You are going to be 100% focused on this one task and nothing else. In order to accomplish that you have to set expectations for other people. You have to let them know what you are doing and why.
RULE #1 No distractions. Turn off your phone. Close your email account. Don’t have your computer on (unless you have to) with a Facebook tab open. The only thing that you should have is the work you need to do in front of you and that’s it! Simplicity at its finest.
RULE #2 Get away. I know this isn’t always feasible but if you can get away from Chatty Cathy and Talkative Tim. Find that place where you are not accessible. Close your office door, put up a do not disturb sign, shut the blinds. Do what you have to do so that people know you are working on something important and can’t be bothered with the unimportant.
RULE #3 Have your stuff ready. Before you get away make sure that you have what you need to do your work. Have pens, a notepad, your laptop, files and folders, a water bottle, coffee, snacks, etc. Whatever you need have ready so that once you are holed up in your workspace you don’t have to leave.
RULE #4 Protect your time at all costs. Once you have established with everyone what you will be doing do not let them overpower your schedule with their schedule. Your time is valuable – protect it. If they need to meet with you have them schedule a meeting with you during another time block.
For example, let’s compare two people working at the same job for the same company. They both are copywriters for an advertising agency. Tom is a creative genius and always is assigned to work on projects that need to be finished on tight schedule. Jerry is a master wordsmith and can create great campaigns when he’s on his game.
Both of them have the same amount of time in the day to do their work. Both work on the same type of projects. But one of them gets about twice as much work done and it’s better quality. Can you guess why? Time blocking of course!
Let’s examine the typical day of Jerry. He gets to work at about 8:00am. He grabs a cup of coffee, strolls around the office engaging in chit chat with several people about nothing in particular. Then he checks his email, responds to a some messages. A quick look on Facebook to see who’s going on vacation and what someone’s kid did this weekend.
Now he thinks about the projects that he’s working on and which one is due first. He’ll pull out the files and review the notes. He’ll try and get into the mind of the client and identify what the message that they want to convey. As he’s trying to do this, his phone has rung three times and he’s responded to five text messages.
Jerry thinks he’ll just take a minute to respond to each text message because he doesn’t want to offend anyone. And after listening to those three voicemails he decides that he has to call each person back right away because they needed an answer NOW. Someone else’s emergency should not be your problem but it will if you let it!
Before Jerry knows it it’s almost lunch time and he’s gotten practically nothing done. A few of his coworkers are headed to out and they ask Jerry to come with them. We’ll only be gone about an hour they say. That sounds reasonable so he heads out for a quick bite to eat with the gang. About an hour and a half later they all get back to office.
Now by the time Jerry gets back to his desk it’s almost two. He quickly checks his email (22 messages since this morning) and voicemails. He quickly deletes the junk mail and responds to the messages. That should satisfy everyone for now he thinks. It’s time to work!
Jerry finally gets the project files out and starts going over what he wrote the past couple of days. The work is solid but not spectacular. After reviewing what was done and getting idea of what else needs to be completed Jerry dives in head first to try and complete the project.
Only twenty minutes later someone stops by his desk and let’s Jerry know that people are going out for happy hour after work. Now thoughts of being done and going out are all that Jerry can think about. He’s distracted and can’t really get into what he is supposed to be doing. After another hour of sporadic effort and creativity it’s pretty much quitting time.
Instead of spending valuable time and energy on the project at hand Jerry spent the entire day in total “reaction mode.” Other peoples demands on his time are taking away from his scheduled work. Because of this he can’t really get into the project and give it his full, undivided attention.
Jerry takes away time from the most important thing he has to get done to deal with things that can wait – the unimportant. Never let the unimportant take priority over the important! You have to discipline yourself to work on the activities that have to be completed first. That is why you used time blocking to make a schedule with yourself to do that important work.
Now let’s compare that to Tom’s day. Tom is a top performer and is known for getting an incredible amount of high quality work done on time, all the time.
Tom gets to work at the same time as Jerry does. He also grabs a cup of coffee and then heads to his office. He places the Do Not Disturb sign on his door and the shuts it. Tom sits down at his desk and pulls out the file that contains the work for the big project that he’s working on. This is the only thing that he is going to be working on all morning.
No phone calls, no emails, no text messages, no interruptions. It is just Tom and the work that he is supposed to do doing and that’s all. Because Tom knows that he really can focus intensely on what needs to be done. He can really get into the flow of doing the work.
After 3 hours of uninterrupted work, Tom takes a break. He has made tremendous progress on what he was doing and is ahead of schedule in completing the project. A quick lunch is next followed by a brisk walk to get some fresh air and the blood pumping.
When Tom gets back to the office he now checks his messages and emails. Those that need attention get it now and those that have to wait until later are left alone. After about an hour of housekeeping, Tom hangs up his Do Not Disturb sign and shuts his door again.
He pulls out another file and gets to work on it. It’s a completely different type of client and job so Tom needs to concentrate only on this project so that he can create what the client needs. And because he wasn’t distracted by other things, Tom was able to dig into the project and truly understand what the customer wanted.
As the day draws to a close, Tom once again checks his messages and emails. As expected some of the problems that people thought were huge and couldn’t wait to have addressed miraculously worked themselves out and were no longer an issue.
Tom packs up his things and heads home right on schedule. He doesn’t bring his work home with him because he separates the two from one another. Because he uses time blocking effectively Tom gets the most out of his work day and the most out of his time. His productivity is sky high and it reflects in the quality of the work he gets done.
Now I know what some of you are thinking: there is no way that could work at my job – it’s different where I work. I have too many meetings during the day and too many disruptive coworkers around me. It just wouldn’t work.
But I am telling you it CAN work for you. You just have to set the expectations for people of what you are going to be doing. You have to let them know what you are doing, why you are doing it, how long you are doing it and then go do it.
Don’t let the unscheduled work time of others impact the time blocking of your work. You are choosing to get the most important work done first thing everyday.
COMBINING TIME BLOCKING WITH OTHER RULES AND TECHNIQUES
To get the most out of your time blocking you can’t just mindlessly work just for the sake of working. Don’t make the mistake of confusing action with productivity. A hamster running like crazy on a wheel is very active but doesn’t get anywhere.
Combine with the Pareto Principle (80/20 Rule)
Remember the Pareto Principle states that 80 percent of your results come from 20 percent of your efforts. Or stated a different way, 80 percent of your income will come from 20 percent of your clients/customers.
Purposely working on the most important task is the key to time blockings effectiveness. To figure out what that work is take time to examine your job and what needs to be done. The best way to do that is to take some time to plan out your day the night before. And to take it a step further use the 80/20 rule (Pareto’s Principle) that we touched on earlier.
The 80/20 rule will help clarify what you should be doing and help eliminate what you should be avoiding. Just doing this alone will dramatically increase the amount of important work that you get done. Being focused on the critical 20 percent is your key to personal productivity.
If you really want to drill it down some more and take it a step further too you can apply the 80/20 rule to your 20 percent that you identified as your most important. You do that by taking 20% of your initial 20 percent and work on that 4 percent of your work. This is like the most important of the important things that you have to get done.
Do it first thing
Studies have shown that you are the most effective at getting things done when you do them first thing in the morning. Your mind is rested and you are at your peak of mental clarity. Take advantage of this by purposely scheduling your time blocking first before anything else comes up that could distract you.
By doing it early in the day you’ll avoid being distracted by situations that come up. Do it before checking emails, checking Facebook or getting online. Your work is most important to you so don’t let someone else’s problem become your problem and prevent you from getting your work done.
So if you want to get more done use Time Blocking everyday to get the important and money making tasks done right with your full focus and attention. Your bank account will thank you!