Time Blocking in the Digital Era and How to Get Started

how to set up a time blocking system

We know time blocking improves focus and productivity. But it can be tricky to set up a time blocking system that functions well for your life. Here’s how to integrate a digital time blocking routine into your day.

If you’re fascinated by productivity hacks and keen to optimize your working routines, you’re probably no stranger to time blocking. Time blocking has been around for a while. Benjamin Franklin’s famous daily schedule is one of the earliest modern examples. The principle is simple: each morning, in addition to listing your most important priorities, assign a specific time slot to each one and aim to finish the task in the allocated time.

From Franklin’s time on, the traditional method of time blocking has been to use pen and paper. The physical limitations of paper help to rein in your focus. It’s easier to ignore minor things, which makes work more enjoyable as you can get into a flow state more easily without distractions.

There is one important caveat: how to manage changes throughout the day? How to keep your plan updated, when a meeting with chatty colleagues runs long or a customer call gets postponed?

Time blocking in the era of pen & paper

According to time blocking gurus’ advice, the time blocking plan is not set in stone but it needs to be adapted during the day. If writing a research paper takes longer than expected, pause for a moment and adapt the plan. The goal is to make these changes intentionally instead of letting the unexpected control your days.

But this is where following the 18th century “Pen & Paper” model is a problem. Rewriting your plan several times during the day takes too much time and effort on paper. Many eager time blockers get discouraged and give up before reaping the benefits of improved focus and productivity.

Use colors and visual cues to time block

There’s a way around the inefficiency and frustration of rewriting your plan: Bring your time blocking to a digital environment. With a digital tool, it’s easy to draft the initial plan as well as make needed adjustments as the day progresses.

Whether you’re new to time blocking or transitioning to a digital tool, it’s worth taking some time to create a system that works for your needs. This way you’ll be able to leverage all the features of digital calendars, such as color codes and status trackers, that a paper system doesn’t have.

In the Teamup calendar, for example, creating color-coded sub-calendars is an easy way to differentiate projects and tasks.

For example, entrepreneurs may want to separate client projects from admin and planning work, marketing and sales activities. Students can use different sub-calendars for different classes. Busy professionals can allocate colors for different projects they are working on.

Color codes for different types of work help you see in an instant how the day will unfold and which projects take the most time.

Sometimes a task may fall into multiple categories. You can pick one main category to keep it simple, or assign it to multiple sub-calendars that each represents one of the categories. Multiple colors on a single task provide clues about the task being multi-dimensional.

Allocate time for routines and well-being

Some routines repeat themselves every day, week, or month. With a paper planner, you’ll need to start fresh every day, writing in each appointment. In a digital time blocking schedule, you can create recurring blocks for regular events. If you prefer adapting the time to the day ahead, simply drag-and-drop as needed.

Recurring time blocks are also helpful when creating new routines. If you struggle with taking time for a proper lunch break daily, you can insert a recurring “Lunch” block in your calendar every day at noon.

Other priorities can not take this block, as it’s already been booked in advance. Once your lunch habit is well settled in, try inserting a regular exercise block in your days, too. These habits support your overall well-being, and boost your productivity over the long term.

Get started in 5 minutes per day

If you’re new to time-blocking, it can sound complicated. Start simple. Manage your own expectations by allowing yourself a week or two to get used to the new rhythm.

In the first days, you’ll probably see your plan changing several times a day as events run over their allocated time. You’ll get better at evaluating your time consumption. You’ll also start to notice when you get distracted, when you need breaks, and how you can streamlined your days a bit more.

Start by planning one day at a time. Take 5 minutes each morning to complete your blocking schedule. In the beginning, it might be easier to plan your day in 30- or even 60-minute increments. You can get more specific as your time-blocking skills evolve.

When something changes, don’t panic but set aside a couple of minutes to update the plan.

In a few days, when you see the improved productivity and focus, you can integrate more features to your system and enjoy even better productivity and enjoyment of your work.

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