Why Time Blocking Doesn’t Work

 In Time Management

I work with a lot of busy and occasionally overwhelmed people who are trying to do a better job managing their time.

Time management experts advocate blocking time out for particular tasks and doing only the assigned tasks during that time. Following this advice, my clients dutifully block out time in their calendars for category-specific work such as returning calls, filing, working on a project or report, etc.

Some go as far as blocking every single aspect of their lives with a time block. But inevitably, something happens and they get pulled away in fourteen different directions, and the block of time passes by without the task being completed. All of this is followed by the inevitable sense of failure and defeat.

This blog post challenges the traditional approach of time blocking and offers a more gradual and achievable method to regain control over time and increase productivity.

Why Time Blocking Advice Is Silly

When it comes to time management strategies, advising someone to start by setting aside three blocks of time per day to check email is like telling someone who has been a couch potato for twenty years to run the Iron Man (a 10 hour triathlon) as a way to get into shape. It’s too much too fast, and it’s a set-up for failure.

Recent studies show that a typical office worker day will turn to his email program more than 50 times and will use instant messaging 77 times in a day. (Source: RescueTime, a company that analyzes computer habits). We all want to be responsive and being responsive has turned into nearly an addiction. Even if the text or email is work-related and for most of us it absolutely is—it’s still an interruption of the pattern or flow of our work and it’s a productivity killer.

Try a More Gradual Approach to Regaining Control

If you want more control over your time and want to be more productive, start small and work your way up.

Choose a few important tasks, like finishing a report or prepping for a meeting with your boss, and set the timer on your phone for ten minutes. Do not allow yourself any email or IM interruptions during that time. Ten minutes.

Once you’ve mastered this, for the next level of focus, try not checking email, texting or looking at your device during your next two meals (yes, even if you are kept waiting and have nothing to do).

Gradually work your way up to time blocking, then honor what you put in your calendar like it’s a sacred mission. Don’t block time for anything on your calendar that you are not 99% certain you will do. After some time, successfully keeping promises to yourself, you will get better and better at it. Before you know it, you will be able to block out time and have it actually mean something.

Coaching Assignment:

Keep a sheet of paper at your desk and make a tick mark every time you stop a task due to interruption (self or other inflicted).

“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” -William Penn

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