As a writer, time is my most precious commodity.
And as a writer who works full-time, who also happens to be the mother of a rambunctious two-year-old boy, this is especially true. But once time has run out, it’s gone. There is no going back in time to do things differently. It just keeps ticking forward, whether you want it to or not. When you’re drowning and you feel like there isn’t enough time to do all of the things you want to do, chances are, you’re probably right. Don’t let that beat you into submission.
If you’re like me, you have only the best intentions when you set out to do everything that needs to be done. You might wake up one morning feeling motivated, only to lose steam. You tell yourself your goals were too hard or that your expectations were unrealistic. How did you ever think you could get X, Y, and Z done today? So discouragement settles into your mind, and pretty soon, you’re paralyzed by inaction.
Sound familiar? I’ve been there.
To-do lists aren’t enough anymore. They’re nothing more than surface-level reminders of all the things staring you in the face. What to-do lists are missing is time. They’re missing the clear indication that tells you when you will work on something. Introducing: time blocking.
Time Blocking 101
Time blocking differs from to-do lists in that it allows you to visually break down your day or week, so you can figure out exactly how much unclaimed time you have to get shit done. By pulling up your calendar and filling out all of the big rocks — those activities that stay the same day after day (eating dinner, working, spending time at the gym, etc.) — you start to see where you have the flexibility to squeeze something in.
Take a look at my actual weekly snapshot below.
On my calendar, I have myself getting up every day at 5:30am. For the next fifteen minutes, I make coffee, change my clothes, use the restroom — you get the picture. From 5:45am — 7:15am, I make time to write. Then, from 7:15am — 7:45am, I spend time with my son and get him ready for school. So on and so forth.
In doing this process, I found that color-coding different kinds of activities helped me quickly visualize my day. In my example, blue items represent time with my son, red items signal time spent for my job, and yellow signifies the time I was able to make for writing.
Take a few minutes to sit down and fill out your calendar, starting with the routine activities that occur every day. This doesn’t have to be exact. In fact, at some point, something will pop up that completely throws off your morning. The goal here is to be 100% honest with yourself and to identify those gaps of time you didn’t realize you had. You’ll be surprised at the slots of time you discover.
Your next step will be to prioritize your tasks. Remember, no matter how much you’d like to, you just cannot physically do everything. You’re a human being. Once you recognize and accept that, you’re ready to identify your priorities, and then you can start filling in those gaps on your calendar. You’re essentially ranking your to-do list items and taking the next critical step, which is to set aside a definitive time to do each item.
6 things to remember when time blocking
- Too much time is better than too little. Always overestimate the time you think it will take to complete a task. If you get it done faster, great! The point is to give yourself some flexibility in case things don’t go as planned. Like a complete redo. Because it’ll happen.
- Have a security buffer. I like to figure in an additional 15 or 20 minutes when I time block. This covers things like bathroom breaks, interruptions, “getting in the zone,” and other random situations. You might be organized, but others are not. Be ready for anything.
- Block time for breaks. As I said, we’re human beings. It’s important to claim time for things like eating lunch, taking a walk, checking social media, etc. You can’t be 100% focused on completing tasks all day, every day. Give yourself some grace if you value your sanity.
- Downtime is worthy, too. I tend to be a workaholic, but that doesn’t mean I don’t value my downtime. It just means I get completely engrossed in what I’m doing. Block time for the finer things in life to avoid burnout. Binge watch Netflix. Go on a date. Have fun.
- Be transparent with people. It’s awesome that you’re putting all this time and effort into making the most of YOUR time. Know what’s even better? When others get on board, too! If you don’t communicate your schedule to others, don’t expect to actually stay on schedule.
- Fine-tune as you go. Time blocking is not a one and done kind of thing. As you get better at blocking out time and sticking to your schedule, you’ll uncover the rhythms that work best for you. Life happens. Old routines might fall off the calendar while new obligations get added on. The good thing is time blocking is fluid. Make it work for you.
There you have it. Time blocking is a fantastic and simple way to visualize your day and improve how you prioritize your life (YOU included!). By identifying your unclaimed time, you can proactively set aside time to do the important tasks that have been weighing you down. For me, that was making time to write. By getting up a little earlier and being disciplined and intentional with how I divvied up my time, I was able to find enough slots of time over a span of 3.5 months to finally get my first novel written. Wowzas!
Another cool thing? Through the process of time blocking, you will form new habits and routines that will help you accomplish whatever it is you need to accomplish — just like I did. It’s a good feeling when you can actually finish things and no longer feel like you’re drowning in the guilt of not finishing them. When you start making the most of the time you have, life becomes a little less overwhelming. And isn’t that what we all want?