Why time blocking isn’t working & how to overcome its challenges

Amanda Dykstra • October 27

Time blocking is a popular time management technique. You break down your day into smaller blocks of time. Then you dedicate each block to a specific task, with the intention to stay focused only on that task. Time blocking is similar to a to-do-list, but goes a step further and tells you when and how long to work on each task.

Benefits of time blocking

Time blocking is popular because of the benefits it provides.

  • It helps structure your day allowing you to accomplish more.

  • Get more “deep work” done by devoting your full attention to the task at hand.

  • It helps manage your priorities.

  • Improved productivity.

  • Reduced distractions.

  • Gives you a record of how you spent your time.

“It’s been really helpful in organizing my tasks and setting up priorities the right way” - Aman Rath, Productivity expert, (@amantweetsdaily).

The challenges of time blocking

The reason why time blocking might not be working is that your day rarely goes according to plan.

Interruption by unplanned tasks or distractions

It could be a client who needs something urgently. A personal emergency. Distractions from family members or co-workers. These unexpected events can quickly throw off your schedule.

You’re not inspired to do the work that you allocated time for

If you allocate two hours to writing, but you’re not feeling it that day, it’s hard to get started and stay focused. This ends up wasting time you could have spent on another task. It’s also common to have ideas pop into your head for another project and you’re more inspired to work on that instead.

A task takes longer than you allocated time for

It’s hard to estimate how long a task will take because there are so many variables. The task could be more complex than anticipated, or it could be something relatively new to you. As a result, this could lead to underestimating how much time you need to complete that task.

Trying to stick to a rigid schedule can cause stress

Stressing over your schedule eliminates a lot of the time blocking benefits. This could end up resulting in reduced productivity and focus.

Doesn’t make time tracking easier

When your day doesn’t end up the way you planned, you can’t look back on your calendar and see where you spent your time. You end up guesstimating what you worked on, which is frustrating and time consuming. Then you end up with skewed data and inaccurate invoices.

How to overcome the challenges

Here are some tips to help you overcome the challenges of time blocking.

Be flexible

Don’t try too hard to stick to your schedule. Be flexible with it. Allow natural distractions and your ideas to flow freely.

If you’re not in the zone for working on what you had planned - work on something else. If you are in the zone but it’s time to work on something else - continue working.

If an idea pops into your head for another project - go ahead and work on that project. If unexpected tasks come up that are more urgent - go ahead and switch over to those.

Block “buffer time”

Allow yourself to be flexible with your schedule by giving yourself buffer time. Block extra time that you can use for those tasks that you didn’t end up getting to during their original time slot. If you find the extra time isn’t enough, you can plan a “catch up” day to finish those tasks.

Overestimate the time you need for tasks

It’s hard to estimate how much time a task will take, especially when you start out. Try to overestimate the amount of time it takes to do a task and block more time than you think it needs.

Using a time tracking tool will show you how long certain tasks and projects take. You can use this information to make better time estimates on future tasks!

Don’t get frustrated if you need to revise your approach

Experiment with different methods of time blocking. Every person is different and has different methods that will work for them. Once you start time blocking, you will learn what works best for you and can make adjustments as you go.

We aren’t going to get into the specific details of other methods in this article. Some different methods of time blocking that you can try are:

Task batching- group similar tasks together in the same timeframe.

Day theming- Dedicate a full day to a set of particular tasks.

Pomodoro- Set a timer for 25 minutes and work on one project. When the timer goes off, take a 5-minute break and then set another 25 minute timer for another project.

Know when you’re most productive

Schedule your “deep work” tasks for when you do your best work. If you work best in the morning - block that time. Chelsea Bradley, freelance expert of 14+ years (@ChelseaRhane), says she does work that needs her full attention in the evenings because that’s when she works best and when clients typically aren’t asking for things.

Ignore notifications

You can change your status on Teams and Slack to “Do not disturb” or “away” to avoid notifications. Chelsea Bradley (@ChelseaRhane) says she uses Apple’s “focus modes” to not see any emails or texts. If you’re not the type of person that can easily ignore notifications, plan your “deep work” time for when you're less likely to get notifications.

Conclusion

We hope that after reading this post, you feel confident and prepared to overcome the challenges of time blocking. It can be tough to adjust at first, but once you find a system that works for you, stick with it! You'll be surprised at how much more accomplished you feel at the end of each day.

Don’t rely on time blocking to see where you spent your time. Use an automatic time tracking app instead, such as Clockk. Clockk allows you to be flexible with your schedule and embrace the distractions. Your work will be automatically tracked for you and organized by project!

“Clockk is a MUCH better way to keep track of time than time boxing, much more reflective of our day.” - Ross Siversten (@RossSivertsen).

Sign up for Clockk’s free plan today.

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