Drew BarontiniProduct Director at Differential

Time Blocking

Published

January 23, 2020

Reading Time

3 min.

If you don't account for your time, plan for what's unavailable, and optimize the time you do have, you're going to waste time on inessential activities. "Time Blocking" is a technique for carving out time to do your best work, all while keeping yourself accountable and on task.

I have three types of events on my calendar on any given day:

  1. Events. These can be meetings, appointments, or any other timed events that occur in a specific place at a specific time. All-day events would fall into this category.
  2. Habits & Routines. Waking up, exercising, getting ready, breakfast, my Morning Review, etc. These are all habits and routines that take place at fixed times throughout my day.
  3. (Focus) Blocks. 1-2-hour blocks of time to dedicate to Deep Work, which means blocking out distractions and focusing heavily on cognitively demanding tasks.

Start with your "Ideal Day"

An important exercise for crafting productive days is to start by designing your "Ideal Day". If you were 100% in control of your time in a day, what would your schedule look like? What would make you the most productive and effective you could be? That is your "Ideal Day".

As an example, here's my "Ideal Day":

  • 5:00am - Wake up and go exercise 🏃‍♂️
  • 6:00am - Take my dog out 🐶
  • 6:15am - Get ready for the day 🚿
  • 7:00am - Breakfast with the family 🍳
  • 7:30am - Morning Review at the computer 👨‍💻
  • 8:00am - Walk my step-daughter to school 👧
  • 8:30am - Make coffee and hang with my wife and son ☕
  • 9:00am - Focus Block (2h) 🚀
  • 11:00am - Lunch 🥗
  • 11:30am - Focus Block (2h) 🚀
  • 1:30pm - Coffee, snack, and time with my wife/son ☕
  • 2:00pm - Afternoon Review 👨‍💻
  • 2:30pm - Focus Block (2h) 🚀
  • 4:30pm - Evening Review 👨‍💻
  • 5:00pm - Dinner and after-dinner playtime 🥘
  • 6:00pm - Bedtime routine for my son (clean up, bath, bed) 👦
  • 7:00pm - Open for whatever cleaning is left to do 🧽
  • 7:30pm - Read 📖
  • 8:30pm - Take my dog out 🐶
  • 9:00pm - Get ready for bed 🛏
  • 10:00pm - Be asleep 😴

Based on my "Ideal Day", I get 6 hours of focus blocks, which is more than enough for all the high-value essential work I need to do. This is a day crafted through several years of iteration and experimentation, but you'll find the right balance for yourself. And then keep iterating.

01

Take some time to write out your "Ideal Day". Think about your habits, routines, and the blocks of time where you are most productive and focused. Your blocks of focus time should be at least an hour, but preferably 1.5-2 hours. That's the sweet spot for most people, but your mileage may vary.

Set up your calendar

Once you feel good about your "Ideal Day", move this into your calendar.

  • Create a "Habits & Routines" calendar. If you have both work and personal calendars, create two calendars: one "Habits & Routines" calendar for personal habits and routines that occur outside work hours, and one "Habits & Routines" calendar for your work calendar with the habits and routines that happen within work hours. And make sure to set these events as recurring (they are habits after all). You'll be able to alter individual instances, should you need to make daily adjustments.
  • Create a "Blocks" calendar. This is where you will block out the 1-2 hours intermixed with your habits and routines. While you certainly can set these as recurring, I usually block them out for the following week during weekly planning where I plan the next week.

Use whichever colors you like, but I recommend picking a nice green for your "Blocks" calendar to accentuate its happy importance 😌

Bring reality into the equation

We both know our actual day isn't always (read: most of the time) going to reflect our "Ideal Day" as we've outlined it above. We have meetings and appointments that will interrupt. Regardless, though, it's important to start from the baseline and vary from there. Doing so allows us to better understand how effective we will be on a given day (as best as we can approximate).

Assuming your calendar already holds all your meetings and appointments — and you set up your "Ideal Day" within your calendar — you should immediately see overlapping events. That is, all the places where the reality impacts the ideal.

"This Is Fine"

Don't be alarmed! This is normal. It's how we start structuring our days to more closely match the "Ideal Day" we outlined above.

But it won't be pretty at first. You'll have to bend, flex, and push your "Ideal Day" as you work around your meetings and appointments. That's great! It's the path towards intentionality.

Be more intentional with your time

Rather than getting to "real work" whenever we can, we want to dedicate time to focused work — and, inversely, balance the time we're putting towards other, less-essential activities. Maybe it's time to set a threshold on meetings for a day or week. Or maybe this meeting next week in your prime focus block on Tuesday can hold for the following week.

These are the decisions "Time Blocking" puts in front of you. It is a forcing-mechanism for making choices about how to spend your time. Make intentional choices and create freedom through a clearly defined schedule.

Through order we find control.
Through control we find freedom.

Drew Barontini (this is awkward)