A Comprehensive Guide to Time Blocking

how to set up a time blocking system

Editor’s note, Dec 2023: We’ve created a collection of printable daily calendars in PDF ready for print or download. If you prefer time blocking with a paper planner instead of digitally on Teamup, print the Teamup printable for your day, one day at a time or a whole month in a single run.

Time blocking is a powerful technique for enhancing focus and efficiency. It’s a simple concept: schedule time for unscheduled work. With the help of your calendar, you treat tasks and deep work sessions like time-bound appointments. By assigning each one a place on your calendar, you’re making it important. And you’re also forced to face what you do not have time for, and make decisions accordingly.

Why time blocking is essential for productivity

Time blocking has been around for a while. Benjamin Franklin’s famous daily schedule is one of the earliest modern examples. His method was a repeatable daily schedule. He assigned time blocks for daily routines and important work. Then he aimed to finish the task in the allotted time. The act of assigning a specific time period to a specific task made it much more likely that the task would be completed.

Understanding the science behind time blocking

Modern work requires a bit more finesse and flexibility. Most of us need to adjust to different demands and events each day. However, the effectiveness of time blocking lies in its simplicity. That simplicity allows for flex; you can adjust to varying schedules and unexpected changes. You can set up time blocks on a daily or weekly basis. You can have a different set of blocks for each day. And as the day unfolds, you can move blocks around as needed. It’s a structured, but not rigid, approach that increases productivity. Time blocking helps you prioritize tasks, get in flow state, and handle each day’s reality.

How time blocking boosts focus and efficiency

Traditionally, folks used good old pen and paper for time blocking. The physical limitations of these tools mimic the actual limitations of your time. So you’re forced to make decisions. What gets done today? What gets moved to tomorrow, or next week? What gets delegated? And what gets taken off the list completely?

If you want to try time blocking on paper, visit our collection of printable daily calendars in PDF. You can print the Teamup printable for each day, one day at a time or a whole month in a single set.

If paper’s not your style, there are plenty of digital tools to use instead. We like Teamup best, of course, and here’s why:

  • Easily rearrange events as needed to build out your schedule.
  • Add recurring events, with granular rules, for repeating tasks, routines, or sessions.
  • Set up a separate “parking lot” for unscheduled tasks to pull into your scheduled blocks.
  • Use custom fields to categorize blocks, add task status, or include key details.
  • Keep everything you need for the task right there with links, notes, images, and file uploads.
  • Zoom in or out for time blocking at the level you need, from 5-minute segments to months at a time.
  • Use colors and visual cues (like emojis in the event title) on your time blocking.
  • Work in different calendar views like Scheduler to easily compare open times, scheduled events, tasks, deadlines, etc.
  • Bring in all the factors that affect your scheduling with iCalendar feeds you can toggle on and off from view.
Use Scheduler view to see all meetings, scheduled events, and time blocks side-by-side.

Step-by-step guide to implementing time blocking

Whether you use a paper planner, blank calendar printables, Teamup calendar, or some other tool, time blocking can help you focus on what matters most. Here’s how to implement time blocking with your tool of choice.

Identifying tasks and setting priorities

The first step is identifying tasks and setting priorities. You may already have exhaustive tasks lists, project plans, and identified priorities. If so, feel free to skip ahead to the next step. For the rest of us, try some of these methods to get everything in the open so you’re ready to start time blocking.

  • Mind sweep: The purpose of a mind sweep is to get all those “undone items” from inside your brain to outside of it. Set aside 30 minutes or so to note all the little reminders and open loops so you can deal with them.
  • Review notes: If you’re a note taker, go over your notebook, notes app, index cards, or whatever you use. You want to find all actionable items and add them to your known tasks.
  • Inbox zero: You don’t have to get to inbox zero, but review your inbox and messaging apps for to-do items.
  • Eisenhower matrix: Classify tasks based on urgency and importance. Tasks that fall into the “urgent and important” quadrant get time blocks accordingly.
  • Energy levels: Consider how much energy you need for each task. Schedule tasks that require high focus and energy during your peak hours. Reserve less demanding tasks for times when your energy naturally dips.
  • Time sensitivity: Take into account deadlines and time sensitivity when assigning priorities. Typically, you’ll want to schedule tasks with imminent deadlines or high importance earlier in the day.

Breaking your day into time blocks

Once you’ve identified tasks and set priorities, you can start blocking time. Here are some ways to get started:

  • Daily prioritizing session: Begin or end each day with a brief session to review your to-do list or tasks. Identify the most critical items that require attention.
  • Limited priority tasks: Focus on a manageable number of priority tasks each day. It might just be one! Overloading your schedule with high-priority items will frustrate and overwhelm. Be realistic about how much you can do, and you’ll get more done.
  • Task categories: Identify the main categories of the work you need to do. This could include team check-ins, administrative work, meetings, or project-specific activities.
  • Time estimates: Allocate specific time durations to each task category, as a guide. Then when you block time for a task, use that allotment. Your estimates may be off at first. Note when a task takes more or less time than you estimated so you can adjust for next time.
  • First things first: Sequence your time blocks based on priority. Often, it’s best to start with the most critical or challenging tasks. As the day progresses, interruptions pile up. However, if you’re higher energy later in the day, you may want to reverse this sequence. The important part is to protect the time blocked for those critical tasks.
  • Buffer time: You need time to breathe, rest, move, go for a walk, or just stare out the window. After a particularly challenging task, give yourself a longer break. Buffer time helps reduce anxiety. It’s easier to focus when you know you have time for transitions, interruptions, and the little details of each day.
  • Time block review: Periodically review and adjust. Reflect on how well you adhered to your schedule, identify areas for improvement, and tweak what could be better.

Strategies for effective time allocation

Effective time allocation is the cornerstone of successful time blocking. If you block time for tasks that don’t matter, and ignore the ones that do, you’re not improving productivity. Effective time blocking means you’re putting time into what matters most for you. And it doesn’t happen automatically. These strategies can help.

1. Identify and prioritize high-impact tasks

As you review tasks, ask yourself two questions: 1) What larger goal or priority owns this task? and 2) How does this task make a difference?

If you can’t answer those questions, maybe it’s a task you need to remove from your list.

It’s also fine to identify high-impact tasks at a higher level. For example, if you’re working on an important project, you could schedule a focused time block for “Project work.” Then, when you start that block, you’d pull up your project materials and get started on whatever is next.

This strategy helps prevent the crucial tasks from being overshadowed by less critical activities.

2. Use the Pomodoro Technique

Break your work into shorter, focused intervals using the Pomodoro Technique. Allocate 25 minutes of concentrated effort to a specific task, followed by a 5-minute break. After completing four cycles, take a longer break.

This technique is great for certain scenarios:

  • Tackling individual steps in a bigger, intimidating project.
  • Having productive meetings with a clear start and end.
  • Getting through email without getting lost in it.
  • Making regular progress on important-but-not-urgent projects.

3. Time block for deep work

Reserve specific time blocks for deep, uninterrupted work. These focus sessions allow you to fully immerse yourself in complex or creative tasks. Give yourself 5 minutes at the beginning of each session to block out distractions. Turn the phone off, put headphones on, close the door, etc. Then give yourself the gift of intense concentration. The quality of your output will go up when you schedule times for deep, focused work.

4. Batch similar tasks

Group similar tasks together within dedicated time blocks. Batching streamlines your workflow by minimizing context-switching. You get in the mindset and have the right tools at your fingertips. As you repeat similar tasks, you’ll move through them more efficiently.

5. Allocate before-and-after time

Slightly different than buffer time, before-and-after time is there to help you prepare or process. Before a meeting: schedule time to get your materials, review the agenda, and articulate what you want to share. After a meeting: schedule time to go over your notes, consider needed follow-up, and add actionable items to your task list (or right into a time block).

You’ll stay more organized and eliminate redundancy with a few minutes of preparation and processing.

Overcoming time blocking challenges

Time blocking, while effective, is not without its challenges. In this section, we’ll explore common obstacles and provide strategies to overcome them.

As your day unfolds, add or remove events and adjust timing on your planned blocks.

Dealing with interruptions and unexpected events

One of the primary challenges of time blocking is managing interruptions and unexpected events that can disrupt your planned schedule. Here are strategies to navigate and mitigate the impact of these disruptions:

  • Reschedule blocks: Evaluate the urgency and importance of the interruption. If it’s critical, reschedule your time blocks, as shown above.
  • Move the interruption: If the interruption doesn’t take priority, protect your blocked time. Add it to your task list to address during a break time or block time for it on another day.
  • Give guidelines: Let people know what you prefer. Give your team communication guidelines. Be clear about what’s urgent and what can wait. Make your availability visible, and set up an accessible channel where they can park non-urgent items.
  • Be proactive: Notice the interruptions that happen repeatedly. Then find a way to address the root cause. For example, if team members interrupt to ask for project details or status updates, you need a project information hub.

Maintaining motivation and discipline

Consistently adhering to a time blocking routine requires motivation and discipline. Here are a few ways to boost both:

  • Set clear goals: Define your short-term and long-term goals. Aligning your time blocks with clear goals provides a sense of purpose and motivation.
  • Celebrate achievements: Acknowledge small victories. Did you complete a challenging task? Did you make it through 4 Pomodoros? Did you reroute an interruption and stick to your time block? Celebrate the wins!
  • Accountability partners: Share your time blocking plan with a colleague, friend, or mentor. Or get your whole team on board, so you can all keep each other accountable. Regular check-ins and team buy-in will help you stay on track.
  • Reflect and adjust: There’s no such thing as a perfect system. Schedule regular times (quarterly works well) to review. Identify what’s working, what isn’t, and where you can make helpful changes. Forget perfection and focus on continuous improvement.

Advanced time blocking techniques

As you become more proficient in time blocking, you can improve. Remember, as you adjust your time blocking methods: aim for progress, not perfection.

Batching similar tasks for increased productivity

This advanced strategy takes task batching to a higher level. You can train your team to use this method in project work, too.

  • Identify categories: Classify tasks into distinct categories based on similarity or relatedness. Sometimes it’s obvious (e.g. answering emails and responding to messages). Sometimes it’s not so obvious. For example, planning a project timeline may seem different than strategizing how to improve resource allocation. But both involve high-level thinking and complex decision-making.

    Use a custom field to track and filter by task type to see where your time is going.
  • Dedicate batching time blocks: Allocate specific time blocks for each task category. Think about how often each category of tasks needs to be done. Avoid pushing to the deadline; urgency may help with focus, but it doesn’t improve quality. For repeating tasks (e.g. monthly reports, quarterly budget reviews), create a recurring time block.
  • Optimize workflow: You benefit from batching similar tasks because you can work more efficiently. Your mind is able to focus and get in the groove. Optimize this efficiency by setting up workflows for each batch category. Maybe it’s a checklist, a set of files and links, or certain modes in the tools you use. Set it up with template events and uploaded files. Then plug-and-play when it’s time to power through a batch.
  • Maximize individual strengths: For better team management, try batching and assigning tasks based on proficiency and interest. Poll your team members, identify strengths, and help everyone do what they do best.

Theming days for better focus and efficiency

Theme days help with time blocking because they reduce decision making. Instead of looking at each individual block for each day, you focus on a certain theme. You’ll only block time for tasks that fit into the day’s theme. This strategy creates a rhythm for your week. Plus, it helps ensure that you spend regular time on each important area.

  • Define daily themes: Assign specific themes to each day of the week based on your priorities and responsibilities. For example, Monday is for strategic planning, Tuesday is for meetings, Wednesday is for deep work, and so on.
  • Align time blocks with themes: Schedule time blocks that align with the theme of the day. Then set up with the resources and tools for the day’s theme. It’s easier to immerse yourself in tasks when you reduce context-switching.
  • Enhance consistency: Themes help build consistency by providing a structure for the workweek. It reduces decision fatigue, so you’re putting more energy into the work and less into deciding when to do the work.
  • Think beyond weekly: You may need a biweekly themed day for meetings, or a monthly theme day for travel plans. It’s also a good idea to schedule certain days for catching up, conducting reviews, and setting up for the next month or quarter.

Using time blocking to manage complex projects

Set up a project timeline, then block out the specifics as you move through each phase (see image below).

We’ve mentioned time blocking in the context of projects a few times. Projects always have certain tasks that are urgent, and others that get ignored. There’s a level of administration work with every project. And timelines change, so project priorities and deadlines will shift, too. Time blocking is a great approach with the right mix of structure and flexibility.

  • Get your team on board: Unless it’s a solo project, you need buy-in from your team on this approach.
  • Mix timelines and time blocks: You’ll still need a project timeline, with deadlines and milestones and progress indicators. Within that timeline, you’ll use time blocks to ensure that the right things get done on time.
  • Break down project phases: Look at the project in phases. For each phase, identify the key tasks and milestones. Then block time for the work needed. If you run out of time blocks before you hit the next phase, you may need to adjust the timeline.

    Block tasks for each phase of a project.
  • Allocate resources strategically: When you know exactly what’s in progress during each phase, you can identify the resources needed. Thinking this through ahead of time will help everything more more efficiently.
  • Regular progress reviews: Schedule periodic time blocks for project progress reviews. This allows you to hear from your team, assess achievements, identify challenges, and make informed adjustments.

Time blocking tips for different audiences

Time blocking for students and educators

Scheduler view is a great tool to use for time blocking for better productivity
Use time blocking to make the best use of time between classes and office hours.

Educators have a lot to juggle as they manage academic responsibilities. And so do students! Here are some tips to apply time blocking for less stress and more focus in academic settings.

  • Classify study sessions: Categorize study sessions based on subjects or tasks. Assign time blocks for each study category for better focus and comprehension.
  • Balance academic and personal time: Integrate time blocks for both academic and personal activities. Burnout is real. Use time blocks to keep an eye on how you’re balancing things. If it’s all work (or study), and no play, time to adjust.
  • Use breaks wisely: Schedule short breaks between intense blocks. For students, that might mean a short walk between study blocks. For teachers, maybe some quiet time between classes. Use these breaks to recharge, stretch, or engage in activities that promote relaxation and mental rejuvenation.
  • Facilitate access to information: A huge amount of time goes into sharing the same information over and over. Don’t block time for that: set up a system so the info is accessible to the people who need it. For example, make class information such as homework assignments and resource links available to students. Set up a shared calendar with admin staff for working out academic scheduling. Solve the root problem by making information accessible, and get more time for the work you want to do.
  • Systematize scheduling and communication: Create visibility for office hours, resource sharing, and project timelines. This helps reduce redundancy and makes it easier to collaborate.

Time blocking for freelancers and remote workers

Amy’s view (left) includes her “To Do” calendar for time blocking. David’s view (right) includes only the Team sub-calendars.

Freelancers and remote workers face unique challenges, and time blocking can be a valuable ally. It’s easy to lose the plot when you have multiple clients, multiple projects, and aren’t working in the same physical space with your team. Time blocking can help you stay focused, while giving you the flexibility to adjust.

  • Sort out clients and projects: Set theme days based on clients, and/or assign dedicated time blocks for projects. Define project scopes and deadlines, then map out the blocks. You can even share a customized overview with clients so they can track progress without interrupting your work.
  • Balance work and breaks: Working remotely can easily be a seesaw of extremes. One day you’re so focused you skip lunch and power through till late in the night. Another day you’re constantly distracting yourself with chores, messages, and details. Set up time blocks to help establish a regular structure to your workday for better balance and consistency.
  • Flexible scheduling: Leverage the flexibility of time blocking. Freelancers can dedicate a whole day of time blocks to the big, looming project. Remote workers can adjust time blocks based on their peak productivity hours.
  • Keep stakeholders updated: Set up access to project-related documents and progress reports. Then block out regular time for updates. This bit of system-building will save time and make it easier to collaborate with colleagues or clients.
  • Make availability visible: For remote workers, staying connected takes a little more work. Set up a shared team calendar, and block time for regular meetings and discussions. Freelancers can use the same approach for client meetings.

Time blocking for entrepreneurs and business owners

View your meetings, time blocks, and your team’s schedule.

Entrepreneurs and business owners juggle multiple responsibilities. There’s team management, day-to-day operations, and long-term strategic work. All too often, the urgency of each day pushes out the high-level thinking and planning. To make time for what’s important, effective time blocking is crucial.

  • Strategic planning time blocks: Dedicate specific time blocks for strategic planning and business development. Make it a regular part of your week and month to stay proactive, avoid crisis, and take advantage of opportunities for growth.
  • Delegate and collaborate: Use time blocks to delegate tasks and collaborate with team members. Effective delegation is a skill; practice it regularly so you can focus on high-impact activities.
  • Regular review and adaptation: Schedule periodic time blocks for review. Look at the strategies you put in place and how they were executed. Notice both what worked and what didn’t.
  • Keep your team informed: Your team is only as effective as you allow them to be. Avoid the trap of micromanaging or isolating by sharing information and empowering your team to take action. Block out regular time to meet with your team so you’re all aligned on goals and strategies.
  • Share your blocked schedule: Build transparency by sharing your blocked schedule with your team. If they know you’ve deep in strategy, they can hold the non-urgent. Likewise, you can block time for “drop-ins” and let your team know those are your open-door hours.

Start time blocking with Teamup

Time blocking is a versatile and powerful strategy for enhancing productivity, focus, and overall work efficiency. Whether you’re a student striving for academic excellence, a remote worker navigating project deadlines, or an entrepreneur steering a business toward success, the principles of time blocking can be customized to suit your specific goals. Start with the basics, experiment with different techniques, and find what works best for you and your team. Along the way, you’ll adapt and refine your system. Get started with a Teamup calendar today.

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