how-to-time-block-method
Mental Health

The time block method can help you become productive – here’s how to use it

Time blocking is a time management method that helps you break down all the tasks you have to do and schedule them into your week. Business coach Lisa Johnson credits time blocking with transforming her career prospects and outlook on life. Here, she explains how to use it. 

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Ever had the feeling that there just aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything you need to do? Whether it’s getting to the bottom of a full inbox, completing a big work project or getting on with household tasks, it can often feel that there just isn’t enough time to get through everything and be able to have some downtime for ourselves.

Burnout, or the feeling of exhaustion and mental detachment, has become particularly acute for many people over the pandemic, and it’s often spurred on by overworking when we feel like there isn’t enough time to get things done.

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If this feels like something you’re familiar with, a time management trick called ‘time blocking’ or ‘chunking’ could be the solution. It works by scheduling out every part of your week in advance – from work-related tasks to personal activities. The idea is that by breaking your week into bite-sized time slots you can get a better sense of where your time is going and focus on the tasks you have to do so you accomplish them faster.

It’s the opposite of multitasking, which research from Stanford University found actually impairs cognitive control and makes people less productive.

“Time blocking has changed my whole life,” says Lisa Johnson, an entrepreneur and business coach, who teaches the method to all her clients. Lisa started using the time blocking technique when she started her own business four years ago and credits it with taking her from being £30,000 in debt to earning around £4 million a year because she was able to manage her time more effectively.

“Starting a business and being a mum to twin boys, means I have to really prioritise my time,” she says. “Time blocking helps me do that and means I only have to work 30 hours a month to make my money because I am so good at managing my time. You don’t have to work hard, you just have to work smart.”

Here Lisa explains everything you need to know about time blocking and how to start doing it yourself.  

How to start time blocking

Write down all your tasks 

To start time blocking your tasks, you must write down everything you need to do that week. “And I mean everything,” says Lisa, “Make sure your whole life is chunked, not just work because then you’ll get everything done.” 

This means things like ringing your mum, going to the gym or spending time with a friend should be in your time block schedule too.

Make a spreadsheet schedule of your week ahead

The next step is to add these tasks to a spreadsheet and give each one a set amount of time in your week. “On Monday, I’ll plan that 7am to 8am is time just for me,” says Lisa. “Then 8am to 9am is time with my kids. Then I’ll divide the rest of my time into half an hour and hour blocks, each focusing on a specific task.”

“When we make a list of everything we need to do, we always leave things at the end that never get done and keep getting put off from one week until the next,” she says. “Whereas when you time block, everything you need to do is already factored into your week.”   

Remember, your phone doesn’t control you  

When it comes to getting things done, our phones can be a huge distraction. “I used to look at my phone first thing every morning and it meant I spent my morning getting distracted and not getting anything done,” she says.

Lisa advises putting your phone on aeroplane mode when you’re doing a specific task that you’ve blocked into your schedule so you can concentrate on it fully. “Don’t try to do a million things at once,” she says. “When you see Facebook flash up, put your phone on aeroplane mode so you can’t see it. If you want to scroll through social media mindlessly for an hour, that’s fine, but time block it into your day so you can do it for an hour without any guilt.”  

Have an intention for everything you do 

To make the most of what you’ve chunked into your day, Lisa suggests going into each task with a clear intention.

“If your intention is to play with the kids, then play with them and don’t get distracted looking at your phone under the table,” says Lisa. “If your intention is to make connections at a networking event, think about how you’ll accomplish that before you do it.”

It’s also important to factor in how you want to feel each week to be at your best. “Do I need to be confident that week because I’m standing on the stage? Do I need to be calm that week because I’ve told myself it’s about self-care? Always be intentional about your time,” says Lisa.  

Don’t prioritise quick wins  

Prioritising tasks that we know we can get done quickly may feel good as you’re ticking off your to-do list, but it can mean we end neglecting important things, according to Lisa.

“Sometimes we can spend two hours just getting rid of quick wins, like sorting through our inboxes, when actually it might not be the thing that we really need to do,” says Lisa. “You may have played with your email for an hour and put off doing something really important.”

“I time block an hour in to my day to deal with emails. That means when I’m doing my work I’m not overwhelmed or stressing about other things because I’ve already time blocked it into my day and so I’ll do it.”  

Time block your time blocking  

As with all your tasks, you also need to factor in time to do your time blocking for the week ahead. “Every Sunday evening I time block in an hour to plan out my week so I’m not stressing about it on Monday,” says Lisa. 

“I time block out my whole week so I know exactly what’s going to be happening and I write down my intention for what I want to happen that week.”  

You can still be spontaneous  

Just because you’ve got a schedule for the week doesn’t mean you can’t be spontaneous, Lisa explains. “You can move things around and still have a structure,” says Lisa. “In the past, I’ve time blocked my whole week and then decided to go on holiday at the last minute. It just means moving things around to accommodate that.”

Lisa also emphasises the importance of having blank chunks in your week. “You can also time block in time to do nothing in to your week. Life isn’t a race, so give yourself actual time to be creative or to do nothing. I have whole days where my time blocking is do nothing except whatever I fancy that day.”

“Before I started time blocking I used to prioritise work and I think a lot of us do that over everything else,” says Lisa. “But actually, if we want to be happy in life, we need to make sure we prioritise other things. With time blocking you won’t feel guilty about it, because work time has already been built into your week.”  

You can find expert-led guides and tutorials on The Curiosity Academy’s Instagram page.

  • Lisa Johnson, entrepreneur and business strategist

    Lisa-johnson-time-block

    Lisa is an entrepreneur, business strategist and passive income specialist who teaches time management to her clients. 

    Her Instagram account gives tips and advice on how people can grow their businesses. 

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Images: Getty, courtesy Lisa Johnson