My story is not unique. Once a focused individual who generally saw tasks through from start to finish, I suddenly found myself in the middle of 412 different jobs and never feeling like I fully committed to anything.
This seemed normal for a while since I am parenting while working from home part-time, combining my personal and professional lives in a never-ending loop. However, I noticed that I was losing time in a black hole, sacrificing to unimportant tasks that offered me no return. I couldn't even remember where the time was going.
I turned to time blocking to stop losing the most important commodity I have.
What is time blocking?
Time blocking involves listing our priorities for the day and assigning them blocks of time to be worked on or completed. This concept is simple, but the effect can increase productivity and tighten up the day, leaving those who practice it feeling like they know where their time went.
The process of writing down our intentions holds power. A study from Dominican University confirmed that people who write down their intentions are more likely to achieve them. Time blocking takes it one step further, requiring not only that we write down our goals but that we actually set aside the time to work on them.
Within days of committing to time blocking, I felt calmer and more focused, and my output was proof that it was working. Work deadlines were met, the house was relatively tidy, and I was exercising daily instead of just when I could fit it in. My time with my kids was focused and quality, and I lost the urge to follow whatever distraction popped into my life at any given time.
There are a multitude of ways that time blocking offers a controlled, calm environment, and I've benefited from them all.
We regain focus
What kills productivity in most cases is distractions. Time blocking sets our day up to be a practice in focus instead of jumping from one activity to the next, so we can see an increase in productivity if we stick to the plan.
A good rule is to group together tasks that are the same and can be completed in one sitting. For instance, we can set aside 15 minutes in the morning and afternoon to return emails and pay bills online since we will already be on the computer. We can group together all the phone calls we need to make and knock them out at once.
Since these tiny yet tempting distractions won't be peppered throughout the day, we can focus our time and energy on what we really need to do. This means more one-on-one time with people in our lives, more focused energy to complete an assignment, or complete relaxation when we sit down to partake in something we enjoy.
We realize our values
In Elan Mastai's sci-fi novel, "All Our Wrong Todays," one of his characters comes up with an app that tells people if the way they spend their time matches their values. For those of us who want to try this without the app, we can simply write down our values then write down how we spend our time each day. Most people find a startling disconnect between the two.
Time blocking ensures we schedule activities that are meaningful and that relate to our values. One of author Gretchen Rubin's secrets of adulthood is, "one of the worst ways to use your time is to do well something you didn't need to do at all." If we are spending our days doing a good job at things we don't care about in the long run, then it's an epic waste of time.
There are tasks we have to perform that don't particularly align with our bigger life goals. An hour-long commute may be unavoidable, but is there a way to block that time to catch up on audio books or podcasts that help us learn? Time blocking helps us find sneaky ways to grow even amidst the mundane tasks in life.
We plan guilt-free self-time
Writer Sarah Bessey shared advice on knowing the difference between self-care and self-comfort. Self-comfort involves things we enjoy that usually aren't good for us. It's probably self-comfort if we feel ever so slightly guilty when we've finished, such as eating loads of greasy food or binging on Netflix or Hulu for an entire day while wearing our pajamas.
Self-care means filling ourselves up with beauty that inspires us. It's different for everyone, but taking a long walk, reading engaging literature, or meeting a friend for coffee fall into this category. Self-care keeps us sane and grounded, and self-care practices leave us feeling uplifted.
Both self-care and self-comfort are necessary, but it's obvious which should be practiced the most. The good news is that time blocking allows us to track both, ensuring self-comfort doesn't become a daily habit and that self-care is in rotation regularly.
Why it's best to have a plan
One of the unintentional benefits of time blocking is how it changed my view of time. If I found myself engaged in an activity that wasn't on my time chart, I asked myself, is this really how I want to spend my time? The answer in every instance was no.
How I wanted to spend my time was blocked off neatly and included time with my kids, walks in the park, and research for projects. Tasks that could be addictive, like checking social media accounts or looking in on email, had their place in time on the calendar, so there was no reason for them to infect every minute of the day.
In what felt like a fairly sudden turn around, mindfulness came back into the picture. I started living my days with intention, and I consciously chose to stay the course and to correct if I started to derail.
Rubin again hits the nail on the head when she says that people only manage what they monitor. Time blocking keeps me focused on my goals and how to achieve them and allows me a visual way to see if I am going off course. It's an effective way to fulfill our true desires in life.