Time blocking is the technique of keeping your calendar as a kind of logbook and scheduling time for all other activities in addition to appointments or meetings. This means that you also schedule time for habits such as reading or exercise as well as other tasks. In theory, this sounds good, as putting things in your calendar ensures that you have enough time to complete every task you planned. However, I find time blocking impractical in everyday life for three reasons.
Time Blocking Is Based on Estimates
Since you don't know in advance exactly how much time you need for a certain task, time blocking is based on estimates. You do get better at it over time, but because you plan your entire day, small delays can add up to major shifts in your calendar. Unforeseen events can also destroy your plan, which means that you may have to reschedule entire days.
The time blocking system is therefore very fragile. If you try to plan for all eventualities, it also gets complicated very quickly, because life doesn't isn't made up of neat blocks that you can arrange in your calendar like in a game of Tetris.
Time Blocking Is Time-Consuming
If you plan every day (or at least every working day) with time blocks, it takes a lot of time just to plan and create the calendar events. Sometimes you can use templates and, create recurring events for habits, but you still have to plan every week. Especially for people who don't have a regular weekly routine, this takes a lot of effort. In addition, you have to allow extra time for planning if blocks of time shift during the day. In my experience, the time you have to invest in planning does not pay off.
The time blocking system is also cumbersome, as you have to make sure that the time blocks don't overlap. When a new task comes up, it not only has to be entered on a to-do list, for example, but also scheduled in the calendar promptly. This increases the friction for systematically recording tasks. Productivity systems should be simple and stress-free.
Time Blocking Does Not Take Motivation into Account
The time slots planned in advance do not take into account your current motivation and mood. Particularly in your private life, you should take these things into account in order to stay motivated and, for example, to keep up exercise habits while having fun.
For these reasons, after trying out time blocking for a few months, I recently switched to a different, easier system for my calendar management, inspired by the book “Make Time” by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky.
My New Approach
The basics of planning of course still apply. I only enter scheduled appointments in my calendar. These include, for example, the time spent working, deadlines, meetings with friends and video conferences. In addition, I only enter my runs in my calendar, as I need an uninterrupted time slot for these. However, the runs are marked in a different color so that I can see at a glance that they can theoretically be postponed.
I collect all my tasks for the day in my to-do list. There is a list for today and the current week, among others. Each day, I choose the most important or most urgent task that I definitely want to complete and schedule a time slot for it in my calendar (I name the event with a crown emoji). This is the only time block in my calendar that I use to make sure I have enough time for my most important task. All other tasks remain on my to-do list and are slipped in between the appointments and the most important task. Which task I work on during these periods depends on various factors:
- My motivation (for example, if I am particularly keen on a certain task)
- How much time I have available (larger tasks require more undisturbed time)
- How urgent the task is
This system has worked well for me so far because it is much simpler and easier to maintain than the time blocking system. Nevertheless, it still has to prove itself in the long term, especially in stressful times. In the meantime, I look forward to hearing from you about how you use your calendar and whether you have a system for managing it!