Jory MacKay
Jory is a writer, content strategist and award-winning editor of the Unsplash Book. He contributes to Inc., Fast Company, Quartz, and more.
April 09, 2024 · 11 min read

How to use time blocking to boost your productivity

How to use time blocking to boost your productivity

Time is one of the resources no one seems to ever have enough of — which is why it’s so surprising that a recent study found that only 18% of people use a time management technique to stay on track.

Even worse, the same study found that 25% of people openly admit to abandoning their daily schedule the second an urgent task comes across their desks.

Whether you’re a manager, developer, or team leader, one of the best ways to reduce the amount of chaos and reactiveness in your day is to practice time blocking.

Time blocking provides a simple “template” for your day, helping you to stay organized while limiting context switching between different tasks. Not only does this help you to be more productive, but when done correctly, time blocking will also boost your energy, increase motivation, and give you more time for the things that really matter.

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In this guide, we’ll walk through the theory behind time blocking, illustrate the benefits, and give you a simple eight-step process to get started time blocking today.

What is time blocking? Who should use it?

Time blocking is a time management and scheduling technique that divides your available time each day into “chunks” — each of which is allocated to specific tasks.

Where a traditional to-do list tells you what you need to do, time blocking allows you to know for certain when to do it.

A technique like time blocking can remove distractions, but it requires a serious level of discipline to do so. Unlike simply planning out your day, time blocking requires you to be diligent with your schedule and delay meetings, calls, and emails to specific times of the day.

For example, you could create a block between 9 am — 11 am every morning to do focused work, leaving another block at 1 pm — 4 pm available for meetings in the afternoon. This way, you organize your day to complete activities at a time that works best for you and your working patterns.

Illustration in blues and blacks showing
Source: todoist.com

But, time blocking doesn’t just help you stay organized. In a recent workplace study, 45% of people agreed that regular context-switching made them less productive. Time blocking is perfect for eliminating context-switching as it provides dedicated time to focus on specific tasks, such as analytical work, phone calls, or building presentations.

This boost in productivity means you get more out of your working day, allowing you to increase your overall output and free up time for new tasks, personal development, or even some much-needed rest. But it can also be hard to adapt to — especially if your workplace or working style is more reactive.

As a general rule, you should consider time blocking if:

45% of people agree that regular context-switching made them less productive. Time blocking boosts your productivity and gets you so much more out of your working day.

When people first read about time blocking, they often dismiss it because they’re simply too busy with reactive meetings, emails, and phone calls. But, even time blocking a small section of the day can make a huge difference to anyone, helping them stay on top of the to-do list, become more creative, or do some big-picture planning.

Why time blocking works: 6 benefits of blocking out your day

While time blocking is great for helping you be more productive, it also provides several other benefits, each contributing to an overall increase in mood, performance, and well-being.

Let’s look at the most common benefits of time blocking.

Illustration in blues and black showing the 6 benefits of time blocking listed below with small icons and the large title in the center

How to start time blocking your days in 8 steps

Getting started with time blocking is all about stepping back, reflecting on your work, and planning a more structured way-of-working in place.

Here’s a simple process to help you get started time blocking today:

1. List your regular tasks and break them into categories

To get started with time blocking, you need to create a clear view of the work that makes up your day. From there, you can assign each task into a category that will form the basis of your different work blocks throughout the day.

Screenshot of a Planio issue list with one main

Things to think about:

If you need some help…

Planio’s task management module provides simple and intuitive functionality to help you identify, plan, schedule, and view your tasks in one place. You can configure it to suit you and your team, with customizations for task categories perfect for getting started with time blocking.

2. Reflect on your own patterns and productivity peaks

We all have certain times of the day when we feel motivated and focused and other times when we feel lethargic and reflective. To get the best results from time blocking, you need to align your work with your working patterns. Understanding this will help you plan your time blocks accordingly.

Things to think about:

Illustration in blues and blacks showing the main Agile ceremonies that people use: Sprint planning, Daily scrum (or daily stand-up), Sprint review, Sprint retrospectives and Product backlog refinement

3. Set up individual blocks for each ‘category’ of work

With your tasks and working pattern locked down, it’s time to start filling in your blocks of time. It’s best practice to break these down by the categories you identified earlier, scheduling particular types of work at different parts of the day.

Things to think about:

4. Put aside some flexible time for reactive work

Just because you’ve time blocked your calendar doesn’t mean emergencies won’t come out of left field. To master time blocking, you need to keep some flexibility in your schedule, giving you the capacity to react to important work when it crops up.

Things to think about:

5. Add in some buffer for breaks and resets

Time blocking is excellent at removing context switching by splitting apart different types of activities. But at some point, you still need to change between categories, and the best way to do this is with a reset in between.

Things to think about:

When done correctly, time blocking will boost your energy, increase motivation, and give you more time for the things that really matter.

6. Communicate your schedule with the team

Before you jump into living your first week as a time blocker, you need to ensure everyone around you knows what’s going on. Communicate your new schedule with the team, explaining why you’re using time blocking, how your day is structured, and what changes it means for them.

Things to think about:

7. Get started by adding tasks for your first week

Now that you’ve laid all of the foundations, it’s time to start working in your time blocks. As you begin your first week blocking, add the specific tasks on your to-do list into your daily categories and work through them at the correct times to get your work done efficiently.

Things to think about:

8. Track your time on tasks, revise, and adapt as you go

Like many things in project management, you’re unlikely to get it right the first time. As you get into time blocking, keep track of the time you spend in each category to understand if you’re under or over time based on your workload. From there, adjust accordingly to find a schedule that works for you.

Things to think about:

If you need some help…

When we get busy, keeping track of time is hard. But, Planio’s time tracking feature can help, with a simple system toggle to start tracking the time spent on particular tasks.

Screenshot of Planio showing the issue list with the time spent on each issue highlighted in bold

Once recorded, you can measure your time using reports to see where you’re over or under on your time box schedule.

5 other methods to try if time blocking doesn’t work for you

Everyone manages their time differently — despite giving it a good try, time blocking simply might not be for you. Luckily, there are several other time management techniques to help you stay productive.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the most popular time management techniques and who should use them:

Method What it is Why it does/doesn’t work
Time blocking Break your schedule down into blocks of time, where you assign and focus on specific types of tasks without distraction. Provides dedicated time to assign and complete specific tasks to boost productivity and reduce context switching. It can be inflexible when your days are unpredictable.
Task batching Identify a group of similar tasks and complete them together in an allotted time. Unlike time blocking, this is a daily process where different task batches are completed at different times. Group activities together to improve focus, productivity, and outputs. It provides flexibility but can leave you open to distractions and daily decision-making.
Day theming Group similar tasks into a theme and complete them all on a given day of the week. Essentially, task batching, but at a larger scale. The same benefits as task batching. Theming entire days can lead you to fall behind with other types of tasks.
Time boxing Schedule a set amount of time to work on particular tasks. When the time runs out, you stop working, whether you’re finished or not. Strict deadlines help provide focus, reduce distractions, and remove perfectionism. But, it can drive incomplete work and a sense of failure.
Pomodoro Working in strict time bursts (e.g. 25 minutes), then taking a short break, before another strict time burst. Rinse and repeat throughout the day. Provides focused bursts of productivity for personal work. Doesn’t help decide ‘which’ tasks to work on and isn’t applicable for meetings/calls unless everyone is aligned.

Ready to start time blocking? Don’t fall into these traps

Managing your time is essential to boost productivity, balance workload, and promote a healthy sense of well-being. But, only a small percentage of people use a time management technique to help them plan their day.

Time blocking provides structure, boosts productivity, and reduces context switching between high-intensity tasks (such as meetings or phone calls) and focused tasks (such as creative work or reporting).

If you’re ready to start time blocking, keep an eye out for these three common pitfalls to ensure it’s a success:

If you need a little extra help with scheduling tasks, communicating with team members, and tracking your time, check out Planio. Our all-in-one project management tool provides everything your team needs to stay organized and hit your goals.

Try Planio for yourself — free for 30 days (no credit card required!)