When the idea of time blocking is brought to mind, one cannot help but think of time boxes that must be strictly followed. What if we instead used the idea of flexible time blocking? Well, you might raise your eyebrows, but hear me on this one.
Strict time blocking for busy seasons of life
In my busy seasons of life, I set strict schedules for myself. This included a clear time frame of how and when I do things. For example, I typically schedule recording podcasts on a Wednesday from 10 to 11 am. Before, I forced myself to act on these schedules I set. When it was 10 am, it was time to start recording podcast immediately. Don’t get me wrong, this self-discipline and diligence saved me in the hardest times of my life. However, there was always a limit after which I would feel burned out. I could not follow these strict schedules forever. I started to look for a way to be effective and efficient at the same time without feeling burned out. Thus I decided to have a different view of time blocking.
Flexible time blocking for normal seasons of life
I thought of having a different approach to time blocking — the same way scrum teams approach sprint capacity calculation, but I would do it every Friday for the coming week. With this in mind, I now plan my week on a Friday evening. Instead of doing it on a Monday, wherein I spend most of my morning thinking and planning what I need to do for the entire week, I give myself the luxury of planning on a Friday night. With this, I can spend my Monday mornings actually doing the demanding tasks or working on significant projects because I have the most energy, enthusiasm, and vigor on this day.
When I do my planning sessions on Friday, I look at my sprint goals, upcoming appointments and other urgent tasks that I want to get done. I start with the most important tasks and go down the list. I start plugging these tasks into my calendar. At the same time, I have clear boundaries for when my day starts and for when it ends. For example, I don’t like to schedule anything before breakfast. I only schedule home tasks for my evenings. And even those end at around 8 pm. I like to have few hours in the evening just for myself and do whatever I want to do during that time.
Like the Sprint Capacity concept, time blocking serves as a boundary—a stop sign, if you will—for you to say, “Hey, I cannot do more stuff on that day.” When you use your calendar to plan your week, you are less likely to overcommit on your tasks. You will simply run out of time slots to book your tasks in.
Flexible time blocking produces realistic to-do list
With the new approach to time blocking, I would look at my daily calendar and see a manageble to-do list for the day. I already accounted for how much time they will take. When I do these tasks, in what order and how is irrelevant. I can switch the order. I can spend a little bit more on one tasks and little bit less on the other. I give myself full freedom to do these tasks any way I want. As long as they get done by the end of the day, it all that matters.
Somehow, it made it a lot less serious and gave me a little more freedom to decide what activity I wanted to do at any given point. I have a list of what needs to be done today, but it’s up to me when and how I do it. If I finish earlier, that’s amazing. It means more time for myself.
For a clearer picture, I can compare this method to grocery shopping. You have a list of the things you need to buy. However, you don’t strictly follow the order of things to put on your cart based on the list, right? It doesn’t matter what item you pick up first. As long as these items are on your grocery list and within your budget, you’re all fine. All this extra time trying to be more “time efficient” by minimizing the time spent between the grocery aisles usually adds additional stress and effort. As a result, you are complicating a simple activity.
Again, right now, I decided to look at my time blocking as more of a way to figure out a manageble and realistic to-do list for every day. Without it, I would have the tendency to fill my to-do list with more items than I can realistically achieve.
If you prefer an audio format, please consider subscribing to the Monthly Method Podcast.