Time blocking

In my post on time tracking, I explain how recording and analysing how I was using my time brought up some questions.  Was I using my time productively and efficiently? To address this, I combined two well-known time management and planning techniques: time blocking and bullet journalling.

Time blocking, popularised by Cal Newport, has been quite successful for me.  The idea is to divide your day into blocks of time – half an hour is probably the shortest useful unit – and, at the start of the day allocate those blocks to the things you want or need to do.  You build in contingency time – because estimating how long tasks will take is a tricky business – and time for reactive work, so responding to queries, emails, dealing with problems that arise during the day.    You plan for every minute of your day, including breaks.  This works well, in my experience, because you’ve created a definitive schedule at the start of your day – you don’t need to keep deciding what to do next.  And because you’ve divided things up into blocks, you can swap them around if things change.

I combine this with my bullet journal. (Researching bullet journals is a remarkable time sink; here’s the original site that explains the method). Essentially, it’s a list-based paper diary where you track your tasks, goals and events and schedule them.  My daily plan includes my time blocking. My handwriting is barely legible so I’ve mocked up an example of a bullet journal page in Word:


On the right is the bulleted list of things I want or need to do that day.  On the left is a column setting out when I’m going to do them, with breaks built in.  I’ve got some contingency time there, and my reactive time is the hour allocated to emails – which is how all my work queries manifest. I check my emails more often than that, but I try to deal with responding to them in one go, usually in the afternoon. In this example, I’ve got an unexpected request to Skype with a client, and indexing Chapter 8 has taken longer than I thought, so I’ve had to move things around in my afternoon schedule. My contingency time has been used up, and dinner preparation will have to be a bit more cursory as a result.  At the end of the day, I check off anything I’ve managed to do from my list, and reschedule uncompleted tasks to the next day.

I like the analog aspect of this method; there are no pesky notifications annoying me, no crashing or data loss. The bullet journal principle of writing things down iteratively both helps me remember stuff, and also makes me think hard about my priorities.  There’s also a nice ritual quality to it. Currently, I take my bullet journal to one of Brighton’s many cafés on a Monday morning, and sort out my plans for the week, which is a pleasant way to be intentional about using my time.











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