Optimal Time Blocking

When you set out to complete a list of tasks, it’s advisable to delegate a specific time of day to devote to each task.  This is widely known as the practice of time blocking.  There are plenty of resources that discuss the importance of time blocking.  What doesn’t get discussed as much is deciding when each task should be completed.  In order to optimize time blocking, you should align your most taxing tasks with the time slots in which you will be most productive.   Let’s look at an example with our friend Sally’s to do list.

Sally’s To Do List

  1. Read one chapter of a book
  2. Clear her email inbox
  3. Finish her quarterly report

Let’s say Sally is awake 7am-11pm, which gives her 16 hours waking hours.  Like most people, Sally has obligations.   Let’s define obligations as any block of time in which Sally is busy.  This would include such things as driving to work, family time, and scheduled meetings.

After taking into account her obligations, Sally looks at her calendar and notices she has openings during the time frames of 7am-9am, 1-3pm, and finally 8pm-11pm.  This means out of Sally’s 16 waking hours, she has 7 free hours to plan out for the day.  Let’s define any waking and non-obligated window as “You Time”.

Sally must decide when to complete each task during her “You Time”.  When doing this, there are two variables Sally should take into account.  These variables are the task’s mental investment and her most productive time slots.  Let’s see how Sally addresses each variable.

Task’s Mental Investment

The first factor is to look at each task and grade how mentally taxing the task is.  Mentally taxing tasks require intense concentration, and in some instances involve high levels of creativity.  Sally recognizes finishing her quarterly report is the most taxing, followed by clearing her email inbox.  The least taxing is reading a chapter of her book.

Productive Time Slots

The second variable is recognizing when during the day one is most productive.  Sally has already made the self evaluation she is most productive first thing in the morning.  In the afternoon Sally is slightly less effective than the morning and by night time she’s least effective.

 

As mentioned in the opening, The key is to align your most taxing tasks with the time slots in which you will be most productive.  With this strategy in mind, Sally plans her day to complete the quarterly report 7-9am, clear her email inbox 1-3pm, and finally read a chapter of her book sometime during the 8-11pm time frame.

Many (including myself) have ineffectively planned our days in which our productive times don’t align with the most mentally taxing tasks.  If you’re most productive/creative in the morning, the most common pitfall is clearing your inbox right after you wake up.  There’s a desire to “catch up” and respond to a flood of unopened emails.  If the morning is your most productive time of the day, you’re better off completing a task that requires greater mental capacity.  The emails can wait!

If you aren’t as productive in the morning, than responding to emails upon waking up may actually be a good use of time blocking optimization.  You’re better off saving the major writeup for the early afternoon or late evening.

In summary when planning your day, identify your optimal non-obligated time frames and then plan your tasks accordingly.  Simply put, know when in the day you work best and make the most of that time.


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