Finding new ways to improve my productivity and help bring order to my busy life has become a hobby. I’ve spent an unseemly amount of time trying to find ways of being more productive. Ironic really, all those hours spent trying to find ways to be more productive could have been used more productively. Enter calendar blocking.

What Is Calendar Blocking, or Time Blocking

There are so many articles, videos and books that are either specifically about calendar blocking or go over the concept quite well. So I’m not going to go into the full details of who came up with it or give you a full history lesson on the concept. Instead, let’s talk about the basics of calendar blocking.

To be as simple as possible, calendar blocking is exactly what it sounds like. You take a calendar, and you block out time. You assign each block to a task or thing you want to do. Then all you’ve got to do is stick to it. You can take this to whatever extreme you want, from blocking important parts of your day to blocking every single thing you plan to do in a week.

Each block within your calendar is on a set day and for a set amount of time. If you stick to it, you’ll always be doing whatever you planned to do with that time. So with a little planning, you could block out your entire day, week or month. You’ll always know exactly what you’re doing and when you’re doing it.

The Problem With Calendar Blocking

I have one major issue with calendar blocking. I know lots of high flying people swear by the method, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect for everyone. My problem with calendar blocking (at least in the extreme) is the lack of flexibility it offers. To be really effective, you need to at the least be blocking the most important parts and tasks of your day. But when you’re juggling so many different aspects of your life, you’ll eventually run into several problems.

The first problem I ever experience with calendar blocking and the flexibility with it was what to do when things take longer than expected. My initial thoughts were to just carry on. Push everything else further along in the day or week. The problem with this is it sort of goes against the entire principle of blocking your time in the first place, and it leads to some very late nights. Two examples I frequently experienced with this are where tasks just take longer than planned (could be underestimating the tasks, could be your computer not playing ball or any number of other reasons). The other most noticeable for me was meetings that overran (I’m not the sort of person to tell a client it’s time to wrap up a conversation because my calendar said so).

The next problem I encountered with the flexibility of blocking my calendar and time was the lack of freedom. If you stick to your plan rigorously, it doesn’t leave any room for the spare of the moment or last-minute plans. This really doesn’t play well when you have children and run a service/support based business. At any given time, one of the kids could want or need my attention, or I could get a phone call or email from a client who needs my help immediately. Or even just deciding to take the kids for ice cream. All these things don’t allow me to strictly follow my calendar blocking.

My New Approach

I’ve tried the strict version of calendar blocking to try and improve my productivity. It failed. The reasons for it failing are above. I love the method and the idea. I love the thought of knowing exactly what I should be working on and when. The reality is that it just doesn’t work for me, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

Even with a busy schedule, a full time job, hobbies, kids and everything else life throws at you, calendar blocking can still be a really powerful tool. It’s one I still feel can play a valuable role in my day to day life. It just needs to be more flexible. So my implementation looks a bit like this:

8.30am to 5pm is blocked out for my day job. This only changes if I’m on annual leave or have a half day or something. 5pm – 7pm is left completely free. The reason? That’s when I’m at home and the kids are up. This means if I want or need to work on something, I can. Equally, if I want to spend time with the kids or doing something else, my calendar doesn’t make me feel guilty. 7pm – 10pm is blocked out. This is where I schedule in the most important tasks that I know I need to do. I stick to these as strictly as I can.

Finally 10pm till whatever time I decide to go to bed, is left free again. I’ll usually keep working in this time, but I’ll work on anything I didn’t quite get finished earlier, or get a head start on something I know will take longer.

7pm to 10pm – That’s Not Long!

It’s true, it’s only 3 hours. I consistently amaze myself at how much I can get done in those 3 hours when I have a plan. This is the time where I schedule any meetings, conference calls and ongoing jobs. Combine the calendar blocking with a good to-do list and I always get to 10pm feeling like I’ve achieved something.

Having this time setout and not running any later has an extra benefit. It feels less restrictive. If I can just get through those 3 hours, without much distraction, I’ll know I’ve achieved what I set out to do that day as a minimum. Allowing me to feel guilt free about wasting an hour after binging YouTube or something else.

To Block, or Not To Block…

Deciding what to use the calendar blocking method for and what not to use it for can get tricky. Using the refined version described above, I’m trying to find the right balance myself. So far, I’ve opted to block all scheduled calls, conferences and large tasks. I’ve also set a small time block each day for ensuring my inbox is clear (I try to achieve inbox zero daily). Clearing my inbox is the last thing of the day. I love having it last in the day because it adds a defining moment to the end of my working day. I know that once I’ve completed that, my day is done.

It would be very easy to decide that everything I want to do, should be blocked in my calendar. But that then takes me away from my refined method of calendar blocking and reserving it for certain times of the day. Instead I’m opting to block out time for the things that feel they need it. These are usually unavoidable tasks, repeating tasks or other that need close attention.

What I’m not longer going to block off are things like breaks, down-time and family time. I want to keep these flexible, as long as they don’t impact the 7 – 10 routine.

Will It Work?

I’m wondering how long my new take on calendar blocking will last. So far I’m off to a good start (around 6 weeks in) and it’s going well. I’m really enjoying the more flexible way of working and being able to maintain structure where I need it most. I intend to write more about calendar blocking in the future, maybe a guide on the traditional method or the hard-core method.

For now, we’ll have to see how it goes. Am I feeling more productive? Absolutely. Has it been difficult to stick to even my slimmed down version? Sometimes. Do I intend to stick with it and try to make it an ongoing part of my life? Most definitely.