Remember when multitasking was all the rage? We thought we could get more done by doing a lot of things at the same time, only to discover that we can’t and that the quality of what we were doing suffered. Multitasking is a terrible productivity method; it just doesn’t work. The main problem with multitasking is the momentum lost in task switching. When you time block your calendar, you eliminate this problem.
Task switching is what it sounds like — switching from one task to another. It comes at a much greater cost than we realize.
It takes a person time to get in the “zone” where they are working most effectively.
The zone is where the work flows effortlessly and is high quality.
Getting into the zone isn’t instant, though — it takes a few minutes of work to get there. This is why task switching is so detrimental to true productivity. Often the person is switching tasks before ever getting into the zone where quality work can take place.
Imagine if you were writing a paper or solving a difficult math problem. Where would you be? How would you be sitting? What would your focus look like? Now, imagine that while attempting that task, children are coming up to you every two minutes, tapping you on the shoulder and asking you a question. How productive are you likely to be? What will the quality of that paper be like? How frazzled will you feel?
That sounds extreme, but that is the situation most of us deal with in our work lives, only instead of a paper it’s a presentation and instead of children it’s email, chat messages and co-workers.
Time block your calendar to control your schedule
Time blocking is the act of booking appointments on your calendar to accomplish tasks.
Let’s say you have a big presentation to prepare for a meeting next week and you know you will need two hours to create it. The best thing you can do is book two hours on your calendar that is dedicated to that presentation and nothing else.
Booking an appointment with yourself to complete an important task does a few things for you.
1. Keeps your time structured
Time blocking your calendar makes sure that your day doesn’t get too full with other stuff. Unstructured time at work is like an empty jar being submerged in water, it fills up instantly, and there is nothing you can do about it.
2. Puts you in the right place at the right time
Time blocking also makes sure you are in the right place, at the right time, to work on the task. If you know you need to be at a computer during a quiet time to build your presentation, you can block some time for yourself in your office early in the morning.
3. Makes tasks harder to ignore
Finally, time blocking forces you to confront the task that is due. It’s easy to ignore a task list, but it’s hard to ignore a time block on your calendar.
Blocking time on your calendar also helps your team
If you share your calendar with your team, they will be able to see when you are concentrating and should not be disturbed.
They will also be able to see what you are planning to work on in the coming week, so, if they need to complete something to contribute to your work, they will have time to get that done.
All of this sounds amazing, right? But, there is one catch.
When you time block and create space to complete important tasks, you must fully commit to it.
You must guard that appointment like it’s with your favorite person in the world. And, you must commit to only working on your task until it’s complete or until the time block is over.
It’s easy for this time to become a “catch up on email” moment, or a trip to the break room.
For this method to work, you have to commit to starting on time, as you would with any important meeting, and you must focus on the work at hand.
It’s best to shut down email, chat and everything else completely so that you aren’t tempted because as soon as you task switch that first time, you have lost productivity you will never get back.
How to get started with time blocking
1. Evaluate your task list
Start by looking at your task list. Identify the three biggest things on it that must be done next week. Estimate the amount of time each of those tasks will take to complete in full.
2. Block time on your calendar for each task
As you are blocking times, think about the time of day you will be in the best frame of mind to complete that task. Also, consider where you will need to be. You don’t want to end your two-hour gym workout and immediately roll into whiteboarding a new idea.
3. Set up some review points to use for future planning
I suggest setting aside time at the end of each day to plan the next day, and at the end of each week to plan the next week. At those review points, look at your task list, identify the top three tasks that must be done, and make sure to get those on the calendar.
4. Share with your team
Once you have all of your tasks planned out, talk with your team about your new methodology. If you don’t, someone is going to call and wonder why you sent them to voicemail, or barge into your office.
Create a way for the team to know when you are having focused work time.
You could ask them to check your calendar, or hang a sign on your door, or set your chat status to a smiley face with sunglasses.
Once your plan is made, your time is booked, your team is on board, and you are committed to fully focusing on the tasks at hand, you are ready to go. Now that your calendar is your best productivity tool, use it wisely.