Originally published on Inc Magazine’s Process Playbook column by Chris Ronzio
If your best intentions have left your calendar completely over-scheduled, there is a simpler way to time block.
So, some life-hacker told you to time block, huh?
Or you read The ONE Thing, by Gary Keller & Jay Papasan, and decided to schedule out your most important activities on your calendar. At least it started with your most important activities.
Now, you schedule everything on your calendar. Every task, every follow-up, every reminder. And your calendar looks like a rainbow.
Your intentions were good, but if you go overboard with time blocking, you can actually become less productive, and allow more to slip through the cracks.
Here’s how to get time blocking done right.
Tasks don’t belong on your calendar
When I was consulting, I spent a lot of time working with entrepreneurs on their personal productivity. If you can’t control your time, it’s pretty hard to control your business.
So, I saw my fair share of rainbow calendars. The #1 thing that people do wrong is confuse their calendar with their to-do list. A to-do list is a place for your tasks to sit until you cross them off. A calendar is a place for non-negotiable time commitments. Let me explain.
Your tasks are negotiable time commitments. You might plan to do a task on Tuesday at 8am, but if something comes up, it gets bumped. Maybe a meeting ran long, or you arrived at the office later than expected. Not having a chance to work on that task just means that you need to schedule some other time to get it done. It’s negotiable.
But, you can’t plan to deliver a live presentation on stage at a conference, and then not show up. You can’t plan a customer demo, and skip it last minute. You can’t plan a board meeting, or a flight, or a networking event, and then push them to later in the day. If it’s not negotiable, it belongs on your calendar.
Why things slip through the cracks
How often do you scroll backwards through your calendar, week-by-week, reviewing all those faded meetings and appointments? Probably never.
This is where tasks get lost. When you add a task to your calendar and forget to reschedule it, it gets forever left behind until someone asks you for an update, or it springs into your mind while you’re commuting.
By contrast, tasks on a to-do list stay there until you complete them. I use Todoist (similar to Wunderlist or Clear), and even when I assign a date to a task, the list of overdue items stares me in the face until I deal with it. Nothing slips through the cracks.
How to time block correctly
The idea of time blocking is sound because you are carving out time to get things done, distraction-free.
But, your minimum time block should be 2 hours. No more 10 minute or 15-minute increments, because, be honest with yourself… you’re never going to stick to them.
Personally, I aim to block out 3-4 hours on my calendar for these types of work sessions. Likely, you’ll be tackling a whole list of tasks from your to-do list, in order of priority. So, no need to get specific with WHICH tasks you’re planning to work on when creating the time block on your calendar.
Just carve out the time, maintain a prioritized to-do list, and get to work.
Nothing will slip through the cracks, and you’ll save yourself the agony of scheduling and rescheduling every task on your calendar when your day doesn’t go as planned.