Yesterday I had four calls with my clients. And I had the same conversation with each of them. We spoke about the power of time blocking.
I told them that I think time blocking is the most stress-reducing activity I do on a daily basis. And in today’s episode, I want to explain why I think that, and also illustrate how time-blocking had reduced the anxiety, overwhelm and stress in my life. Let’s go.
How I started time blocking
I started time blocking when I was in grad school back in 2017-2018. I first heard about it from Cal Newport. I devoured his books. I especially liked So good they can’t ignore you and Deep work. I’m so glad I found his books when I started grad school.
I agreed with what Cal Newport was saying about productivity and his overall approach to work. I embraced the advice that he gave in his books. I started using time blocking. At first, it wasn’t perfect but I quickly got a hold of it.
I truly believe that time blocking and embracing deep life philosophy are the main secrets why I was able to finish my master’s a semester earlier while also being able to publish 3 academic articles and work part-time.
Time blocking is my form of meditation
When you hear people talk about time-blocking, they usually talk about productivity and efficiency. Don’t get me wrong, time blocking will give you the level of efficiency you’ve never seen before. You’ll be able to get so much done in your day it will blow your mind. What I want to focus on today is illustrating how time blocking is helpful for reducing stress, anxiety and overwhelm.
As I mentioned in the beginning, I think time-blocking is the #1 stress-reducing activity I do on a daily basis. It’s not meditation. It’s not even journaling. It’s time-blocking. And here’s why.
Stress levels before time blocking
Whenever life threw something unexpected at me, it would feel like the end of the world. I was already stressed out with the never-ending to-dos on my to-do list. If something urgent or unexpected happened, it felt like the straw that can break the camel’s back.
I could feel the weight of the world on my shoulders. This unexpected event felt like the end of the world.
Example – broken AC
So let’s look at an example, something that can happen to anyone. Let’s say something breaks in your house. Let’s say my AC broke down. It’s something unexpected. It will involve some work.
Before the time blocking, I would look at this event of AC breaking down and I would freak out. I would think, “This is too much. I already have too much on my plate. And now the AC not working. It is simply too much to handle.”
But now, after I’ve embraced the time-blocking, I look at the same event and it doesn’t feel like a problem anymore on the emotional level. There is not much stress. I look at it and I think, “Okay. It’s a time block of an hour that I need to block off on my calendar today or tomorrow. I will get all the research done. Then I’ll call the repair guys. And I will book the appointment.”
Before time blocking, a broken AC felt like the end of the world. Right now I approach the same event with a very practical and calm approach.
“Okay, how much time do I need to block off? Is it 30 minutes Is it 60 minutes? Do I need to break it down between different days? Okay. And let me schedule it for tomorrow. Ok. Done! I don’t need to think about it anymore.”
I cannot express how much stress I was able to eliminate from my life by following this approach.
Example – Vacation
Before time blocking, I would feel the same amount of stress even for the good things in life. Let’s say my husband and I decided to go on vacation. And now we need to plan that vacation. Just the sheer amount of work that needs to be done in order to plan a vacation was so overwhelming for me.
The number of things that I had to do in order to book any vacation created anxiety around going on vacation. Who can relate? On one hand, you really want to go on vacation. On the other hand, you feel overwhelmed by all the prep work that you need to do.
After embracing time blocking, I look at planning a vacation as a project that can be broken down into several 30-minutes time blocks that I can spread out throughout the week. By the end of the week, I will have my vacation planned and booked. And it will not take anything away from my life in any major way. I will still get the most important tasks done for my work, for my business, for my health, for my family.
Focus on one thing at a time
Another reason why time blocking is stress-reducing is that there is only one thing you need to focus on at any given time.
In contrast, if you are working off a to-do list, you are always looking at the entire list of 30 to-dos. You feel the pressure of needing to do all 30 things as soon as possible. Better yet now. This leads to stress and overwhelm.
When you time block, you are ok with not getting everything done in one day. You become more realistic about the amount of work you can accomplish in a day. You prioritize your to-do list and you select the most important tasks and schedule them in. And you focus on getting them done one task at a time.
Right now I am writing this blog post. I have it on my schedule 10-11 am. And this is the only thing that matters right now. Right now I have only one thing on my mind. I don’t have to worry about anything else. Everything else will get done because I’ve scheduled it for later in the day. But for now, this blog post is the only thing that exists in my world. This brings calm and presence.
This is not a problem.
This is a time block that needs to be scheduled.
I grew up in an entrepreneurial family. A lot of my parents’ friends were small business owners. And this is the phrase I often heard from them:
It is not a problem. It is an expense.
What they meant is that many things people stress out about and call problems are not actually problems but expenses. And when you look at a “problem” from that mindset, it becomes a lot easier to manage.
If it is just an expense, you can pay for it. You can save for it. You can adjust your monthly budget around it. You find ways to solve this issue rather than spiral in all the drama that comes from thinking that it is a “problem”.
Similarly, after embracing time blocking, I now look at most things people call problems as time blocks to be scheduled. I consider very few things being a problem that requires all that drama and stress.
If everyone is healthy and no one is dying, it is not a problem. It is a task that needs to be time blocked on my calendar.
Showing up for your time blocks
Every major goal or a project can be broken down into 30-60 minutes blocks of work. But this is the easy part. The difficult part is actually showing up for your time blocks.
Everyone can create a schedule but very few people can consistently show up for it.
I have written two detailed blog posts on this topic:
Do what you said you would do
If you become the person who is able to show up for your schedule, there are very few things left that you are not able to do in your life. This is the superpower of the 21st century. It Is being able to do what you said you would do.
Again, I’m going to repeat it. I truly believe this is the superpower of not only the 21st century but of any century is being able to do what you said you would do.
Just think about it.
How would your life be different if you showed up for every promise you had made to yourself?
Even if you showed up for just 80% of your own promises to yourself every single day. How would your life be different today?
And this is the question that I once asked myself. And I haven’t stopped thinking about it ever since.
I realized that it’s not the outside world that I need to blame for any of the problems. It’s not my husband. It’s not my friends, my family, or the country I was born in. None of that.
I did this thought experiment of imagining my life with all the outside factors being the same with the exception of me keeping every promise, every plan I created for myself. All the new year resolutions, all the promises, all the habits that I was trying to build. I realized that my life would’ve been a lot different. And once I realized it, I decided I have to find a way to become the person who shows up for what she said she would show up for.
And that’s when I discovered time blocking, the 10X coffee practice, and many other tools I now use personally and also teach my clients.
Different people embracing time blocking
When I was talking to my clients yesterday, all four clients expressed how incredible time-blocking is. It is something that is truly changing their lives. But here is the point. They’re from different walks of life. Different professions. Different family situations. Different countries.
One is an entrepreneur, two are doctors, and one is a mortgage broker. They are from Canada, UK, and the US. Three are married, one is single. Some have kids, some don’t.
As you can see, there is very little in common among them and yet they all agree that time blocking is a tool that accelerates the achievement of their goals exponentially.
I wanted to share my opinion on time blocking. And I didn’t just want to illustrate how efficient you become at getting things done, I wanted to showcase that time blocking is one of the most stress-reducing activities you can do on a daily basis. Even though it sounds counter-intuitive at first.
If you become the person who embraces time blocking on the daily basis, you will be able to notice that the number of so-called problems in your life goes down. You will start looking at them as tasks that need to be time blocked, not as problems that you need to obsess over.
Hopefully, you try time blocking for yourself. Come check out Monthly Method. I have a lot of information on how to create your schedule, how to follow it and many other unconventional personal productivity tips.
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