For most, we like to over-schedule our day – planning everything in neat 15-minute increments so that we can cram in every possible thing.
It’s a great theory if your plan is to impress everyone with your exclusivity and show how much demand there is for your time. But what happens when you get a call from your dream client who needs you right away, or your child gets sick, and you need to flip the whole day around. Did you plan in any flexibility? One deviation and it throws off the entire rest of your day, leaving you scrambling.
The best way to deal with life’s unpredictability is to make space for it, not to pretend it doesn’t exist.
When we build in a buffer and plan for unpredictability, it forces us not to do it all, but instead to do what is most important. You can choose to get things done because they matter, not just because they were all you were able to get done today. This leads to greater satisfaction with how you’ve spent your day and helps avoid business owner burnout. Below are some tips on how to use a time blocking planner to schedule your days and meet your priorities. No over-scheduling required!
With planners you’d plot out your day something like this:
9am: Get coffee
9:30am: Some business task
10am: Brainstorming session
11am: Physical activity
11:45am: Make lunch
12:30pm: Return to business tasks
1pm: Client meeting
2pm: Something else to fill the hour
3pm: Feel like you should have something in the space
4pm: More mindless tasks to fill empty space
5pm: walk away from the desk
So, what happens when you get that can’t miss call (family, kids, work, whatever) while you’re amid your brainstorming session? Do you take the call? Do you skip your run later because you need to wrap up the session? Then guilt sets in when you do skip your me time. Not to mention, but how freaking stressful is it to look at this and think, “I have to run from this to this to that?”
An ideal schedule is one where you don’t have to cancel the things that bring you energy and joy throughout the day.
With time blocking, you don’t let yourself get locked in hour-by-hour, filling tasks in. Instead, you start with the work that matters most and then you build space around that.
Here are 3 steps for setting up your time blocking planner:
- Write a to-do list of all the things you must do for the day, including personal errands, professional work, and goal-related tasks. Don’t separate your personal tasks from your work ones. They are all part of your day, so planning your day should take all of them into account.
- Identify which of these items are your big priorities. Unsure what’s a priority? Then ask yourself: if you could only complete 3 tasks today, which would they be? Your mandatory items will serve as anchors for your day.
- Figure out when your peak energy levels are for the day. Are you a morning person or a night owl? Do you get a second wind after dinner, or do you like to settle in for the night? Identifying your energy levels will help you realistically plan your day and ensure that you’re in an optimal state to complete your priority tasks.
With the time blocking method, I can prioritize my “quiet time tasks” for the time block that corresponds with my energy level. Because my morning isn’t packed with other tasks, I have flexibility and focus because I’m not rushing to get to the next task. If you have extra time, great — there is always more to do.
Here’s a snapshot of my ideal day:
How to make a time blocking planner work for you:
- Leave room for reactive time in your time blocks. We tend to imagine the best-case scenario when we’re laying out our days, but real life just isn’t predictable. By building flexibility in your schedule, you can prepare for interruptions and not let them ruin your day.
- Schedule times for deep focus. This is really the heart of time blocking: focused, meaningful work. Once you’ve scheduled all your time sensitive, mandatory weekly obligations, start looking for those big chunks of time (1-2 hours at least) where you can make serious progress on a goal. You might only get a couple of these per week, depending on how many other commitments you have, but these should be prioritized for your most important, focused tasks.
- Think carefully about how to fill empty time slots. For most people, we tend to have at least one or two quieter days each week with no meetings or critical deadlines. With this bonus time, you can schedule activities that you would like to do, but don’t necessarily feel obligated to do. You can refer to your to-do list for ideas (this might be a good opportunity to run a few errands all together) or a list of smaller goals (like cleaning and organizing your desk or catching up with an old colleague).
- Do an energy audit at the end of the week. Did you find yourself more tired in the mornings than anticipated? Then try scheduling your big priorities for an afternoon or evening time block the following week. Does that work better?
- Make room for your goals. In an ideal world, we could devote our days to meeting our personal, professional, or creative goals. More often than not, however, our days are tailored to meet the demands of others (whether it be our boss, our family, or friends). But with a time blocking planner, you have a visual layout of your schedule, so you can literally see your windows of free time. Where could you fit in focused progress on the things that truly fulfill you?
Rather than feeling weighed down by our schedules and tasks, we can streamline our day with a more practical approach. By using a time blocking planner, we can be realistic about our wants and needs while still trying to meet our goals and priorities. Ready to begin your time blocking journey? I’ve created a planner to help you get started.