This Productivity Hack Completely Changed My Life, and It Can Improve Yours
How do you accomplish that one task that unquestionably needs to get done but still have time for everything else?
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During your day, you have a lot going on. Email, phone calls, meetings, interviews, driving, answering questions, tech support, coding, hosting webinars and whatever else you have to accomplish during those hours that you've defined as "work."
Interruptions abound and productivity drops. Your day is spent playing catch-up on a million other tasks, trying to get your to-do list down to nothing, which rarely, if ever, happens.
The funny thing is so often, the thing(s) that truly need to get done to move your business forward never get accomplished. It's unlikely you are suddenly going to find 30 hours in a day and even more unlikely that people will suddenly stop making demands on your time. So how do you accomplish that one task that unquestionably needs to get done but still have time for everything else?
Time blocking is the concept of sitting down once a week for just five minutes and scheduling time for yourself.
First introduced to me in my current favorite business book, The One Thing, time blocking is the practice of using your calendar to schedule "me time." Or, as graphic designer Shawn Hooghkirk refers to it, "scheduling time for your most important client: yourself."
No doubt you've heard this concept before, yet so few people actually take the time to do it. They think, "I'm going to work for two hours a day on X," but then things come up. The phone rings. The baby cries. The boss walks in. Soon, that "me time" turns into "we time" and the can is kicked down the road for another day. That project that's going to revolutionize your life is, once again, put on the back burner, replaced by tasks that, in the grand scheme of things, don't truly matter.
Time blocking is more than simply hoping and wishing for the availability to work on a project. Hoping and wishing are not going to cut it in a busy world -- you must schedule it!
Some people want it to happen. Some people wish it would happen. Others make it happen. -- Michael Jordan
If you want it to really happen, you need to schedule it and treat it like your most important meeting of the year.
Time blocking is a mindset that says "no" to interruptions and forces you to specifically take time in your day to work on your most important tasks. It's a mentality that says "Nothing but life-or-death emergencies can interrupt me from my time." It's telling other people that this time is "off limits" for interruptions. It's a conscious choice that you make long before you arrive at the moment.
When you schedule that time for yourself and hold to it fiercely, two amazing things happen:
- You get your most important task accomplished quicker, more thoroughly, and with more enjoyment.
- You are still able to handle all those other tasks in your life.
People will adjust to your time blocking. You'll still get to your busy work. Emails won't get missed, phone calls will get returned, but you'll be immensely more successful because of your "me time."
Understand that time blocking is not just for business. Anything in your life that you want to focus on improving should be time blocked.
After all, what's more important? A meeting with a client or ongoing dates with your spouse? Hopefully, you said "ongoing dates with your spouse," but why do your client meetings get preferential treatment and dates relinquished to "when we have time"?
My first venture into time blocking was while writing my recent real estate investing book. Later, I used it to time block several hours a day to improving my book sales. Then, I scheduled more time to sit down and work on nothing but improving the weekly real estate investing webinars I host on BiggerPockets, the website I work for.
Today, I even time block my P90X workouts, to write articles for BiggerPockets and Entrepreneur, dates with my wife, YouTube videos, church activities and other things that I deem as "most important" in my life.
Time blocking is not difficult to plan for, but can be incredibly difficult to do. You'll be tempted to break from your time block to work on other things. However, the following six-step process has helped me time block my most important activities to get the most out of my day.
1. Schedule your time blocks.
At the beginning of the week (I like Sunday evenings), sit down and deliberately and specifically define your week. Physically write it on your desk calendar or make the dates in your computer's calendar.
2. Find a quiet place to work with no interruptions.
You may need to leave the office or your home to accomplish your task. Coffee shops, rented office space, the local park -- you get the idea. Pick a spot that will help you focus with minimal distractions.
3. Let others know.
If you work closely with other people, let them know (politely) that you'll be head down in some significant work for your time block, and you'll be checking your email when you return. Be sure to let someone know where you are, though, in case there truly is a life-or-death emergency.
4. Turn off your phone and other tech traps.
I know, blasphemy! But your cell phone will rob you of your productivity. Turn it off, along with anything else that will rob you of your time.
5. Be held accountable.
As with any new habit, it's a good idea to allow someone else to hold you accountable. Whether that's an individual, a mastermind group or some other structure, you are more likely to hold to your goals when other people are helping you keep your promises to yourself.
6. Keep your promise to yourself.
Finally, in the words of Nike, "just do it!" Actually sit down and work on your most important projects for your time block. Don't let anything stop you!
Time blocking has completely changed my life, and I believe it can change yours. People will begin to ask you, as they often inquire of me, "How do you get so much done?"
You'll be able to look at them, smile, and reply: "time blocking!"