Optimal timeblocking

Posted on: Nov 26, 2021 Written by DKP

Time blocking has been much acclaimed as a wonderful means to get things done by not giving our mind an alternative - if it's there on the calendar, you do it. Come. What. May.

The premise is this - instead of dumping a list of tasks on the Todo list and getting to them when you 'feel like it', if you instead assign a time you'll do each task, you'll not give your brain a chance to procrastinate.

It takes various forms - Elon Musk plans his entire day in five minute chunks, with not a minute of his waking day left unscheduled, whereas many others only schedule the most important and unmissable events and tasks, and handle the rest on a 'will be taken up as possible' basis

In such a case, how do we make sure that we block times 'optimally', so that we get the tasks done, and at the same time, keep enough leeway for interruptions?

Here are a few steps you can take to ensure you're timeblocking 'optimally' :

  1. Block incrementally. A large number of us, in an initial spur of motivation, end up blocking the day down to the minute, only for the entire schedule to unravel at the first overrun task, or the first distraction. To steel your brain into following a calendar is a challenge, and it takes time to get used to it. Thus, start with blocking unavoidable meetings/events/tasks - these have the highest likelihood of not being procrastinated. Once your brain gets into the habit of checking your calendar before picking up a task, then start adding further tasks slowly - start with the ones you're most likely to procrastinate on, and then go to the relatively easy ones. The moment you feel an urge to NOT do a task inspite of it being on the calendar, take a day's break, without adding any further tasks, until you can steel yourself to stick to it. Reason being - the mind should see the calendar as sacred and unmodifiable. If you start pushing around tasks, you'll start doing that with every task on there, in no time.

  2. Block time, for not just work, but also 'non work' : 'Spending time with family' may not figure on many of our todolists, however, it does take time. Block time for stuff that's not a direct task/meeting, but is anyway gonna take time - otherwise, it'll feel like you had an empty calendar, and still got nothing done.

  3. Optimal duration : How much time should you give to a task? On the one hand, there's an idea that says that work expands to take up as much time as you allot to it, but it misses the fine print that there's definite upper and lower limits. You can't cook dinner in 2.5 minutes, no matter how motivated you are. Giving too little of time to a task will make you feel demotivated at being unable to meet the deadline. And at the same time, giving way too much time to a task will make you procrastinate - the very thing we're trying to avoid. Thus, spend a few extra seconds planning the optimal duration for each slot you block on the calendar. As a rule of thumb, always plan a few more minutes for a task than you think you'll need, since humans have a tendency to overestimate themselves and underestimate the challenges. If the task/meeting involves other people, make sure you finalize the agenda and the duration in advance, since it can otherwise derail very easily.

  4. Padding : Add a few minutes of padding after a task - say 15 minutes for every one hour. This is to ensure that you can take a break before getting on with the next task. This break is necessary, because no matter how motivated, humans' attention span for deep work is low, and needs constant replenishment. Moreover, you can utilize this

  5. Scheduling breaks : No, all the white space on the calendar is NOT a break. You MUST schedule break times on your calendar, wherein you can actually rejuvenate. And it doesn't mean scrolling socials. Your mind needs a break, your eyes need a break, and your body needs movement - so give it that.

  6. Rescheduling : No, you can't work without having to reschedule at least once a week. But at the same time, 'not feeling like it' isn't a valid excuse for pushing a task to the next day. Rescheduling has to follow the same discipline that you followed when scheduling, or you'll eventually end up rescheduling all the tasks you don't want to do. Rescheduling has to follow a careful evaluation process;

  1. Flexibility : This may seem counterintuitive, because the tone of this article has been to force your mind. However, flexibility does not mean to reschedule and reprioritize tasks at will. Instead, it's the freedom to reevaluate your scheduling strategies based on the insights you derive from your present schedule. For instance, you observe over a week that 9 PM - 10 PM is a super productive time for you, but your calendar is filled with relatively unimportant tasks in that slot - change it in your next schedule. If you observe your tasks often overshoot, reevaluate how you estimate the time block for each task.

Timeblocking is an effective way to avoid procrastinating on necessary tasks by leaving choice out of the equation, and if done the right way, can greatly boost net productivity